January 1, 1949|
Gadsden, Alabama, U.S.
|Alma mater||Massachusetts Institute of Technology|
Jennie Patrick (born 1949) is an American chemical engineer and educator. As a high school student, she participated in the integration of Alabama's public schools. At Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1979, she became the first African American woman in the United States to earn a doctorate in traditional chemical engineering. In industry, she did pioneering work on supercritical fluid extraction. Her educational work has focused on the mentoring of African American and female students.
Jennie Patrick was born on January 1, 1949 to James and Elizabeth Patrick of Gadsden, Alabama. Her father was a laborer, and her mother worked as a housekeeper. Neither had more than a sixth-grade education, but they believed that education was the way out of poverty. They bought two sets of encyclopedias for their children, which Patrick read, along with books from the local public library.
Patrick's elementary and middle schools were segregated, but supportive. She was curious about how things worked and was very imaginative. In 1964, Patrick was one of a group of African American students who integrated Gadsden High School after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Gadsden had the scientific equipment Patrick needed for scientific studies, unavailable in the local black schools. She experienced discrimination from both students and teachers, and had to challenge the staff to be considered for college preparatory classes. She said of her experiences, "The initial months were a living nightmare. The emotional, psychological, mental, and physical violence against us was difficult to comprehend." Of the eleven black students with whom she entered Gadsden, half left the school before graduation. Patrick graduated with honors in 1967. She was not allowed to join the National Honor Society because she was African American.
Though offered a scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley, Patrick initially studied closer to home, at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. There she majored in a short-lived program in chemical engineering. When that program collapsed, she transferred to Berkeley, but was no longer eligible for a scholarship. She worked to pay her way through Berkeley, and graduated in 1973 with a B.Sc. in chemical engineering. During her time at Berkeley, other students and faculty felt and expressed that she did not belong at Berkeley, and even destroyed her work. Patrick credits her experiences at Berkeley with helping her to develop mental toughness and independence.
She went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she earned her Sc.D. in chemical engineering. MIT was one of the best schools in the United States for engineering studies. Patrick enjoyed the tough and challenging atmosphere. She also found MIT a more positive environment for black students in science and engineering. She studied thermodynamics, homogeneous nucleation, heat and mass transfer. Her advisor was Robert C. Reid, and her thesis topic dealt with nucleation phenomena. She graduated in 1979 with her Sc.D. in chemical engineering, the first African American woman to earn a doctorate in chemical engineering. The title of her dissertation was "Superheat-Limit Temperature for Non-ideal Liquid Mixtures and Pure Components". In it she examined superheating, in which a liquid is raised above its boiling temperature without becoming a vapor. She studied the temperature to which pure liquids and mixtures of liquids could be superheated.
After graduation, Patrick joined the General Electric Research Laboratory in Schenectady, New York as a research engineer. She helped develop a program in supercritical fluid extraction technology. She went on to head a new supercritical fluid extraction technology program and design a pilot plant at Philip Morris Research Center in Richmond, Virginia. In 1985, she became a research section manager at Rohm and Haas. In 1990 she was the assistant to the vice president at Southern Company Services in Birmingham, Alabama.
During this time, Patrick also served as an adjunct professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1980–1983) and at Georgia Institute of Technology (1983–1987). In 1993, she moved from industry to academia, returning to Tuskegee Institute as the first scientist to occupy the Eminent Scholar's Chair at Tuskegee University. From 1993-1997 she was active both in research and in helping minority students interested in science and engineering. At Tuskegee, she developed a mentoring program for girls in science. She taught students strategies for survival in hostile environments. She was a technical consultant at Raytheon in Birmingham, Alabama and studied the education of urban children.
During her career in the chemical industry, Patrick was exposed to many chemicals, which may have affected her health. Since she retired in 2000, Patrick has worked to establish the Environmental Wellness Institute to educate the public on environmental dangers.
Patrick received the Outstanding Women in Science and Engineering Award in 1980. She was granted an Honorary Doctor of Science from Tuskegee University in 1984. That same year she received a Candace Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. She was presented with the William W. Grimes Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers in 2000, and the Black Achievers in Chemical Engineering Award of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers in 2008.
- "Jennie Patrick: Pioneering Chemical Engineer". HistoryMakers. April 10, 2013. Retrieved 8 February 2014.
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- "About the College of Engineering". Tuskegee University. Retrieved 8 February 2014.
- "Candace Award Recipients 1982-1990". National Coalition of 100 Black Women. p. 3. Archived from the original on March 14, 2003.
- "Minority Affairs Committee's William W. Grimes Award for Excellence in Chemical Engineering". aiche.org. American Institute of Chemical Engineers. 2015. Retrieved February 15, 2017.