Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb: A Role Model in STEM and Higher Education

Louisa Iacurci and Liz Krebs
Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame


Historical Background

As a groundbreaking researcher, distinguished professor, and top university administrator, Jewel Plummer Cobb (1924–2017) forever changed the face of the scientific community. Her research advanced our understanding of the skin cells that produce melanin and how those cells become cancerous. She also led the way for equal access to education and professional opportunities for women and minorities. Despite personal challenges stemming from racism and sexism, she was committed to using her success to encourage women and minorities to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and higher education. From 1967–1975, Dr. Cobb was a Dean and Professor at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. She became President of California State University in 1981 and received more than 20 honorary degrees and a Lifetime Achievement Award from The National Academy of Science. In 2008, Dr. Cobb was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.

D1: Potential Compelling Question

To what extent is it easier for women and people of color to enter the fields of STEM and higher education today than it was in the 1950s–1990s?


  • How do role models influence children and teens?
  • Why is it important for women and people of color to see people who look like them in the educational programs and careers to which they aspire?
  • In what ways did Dr. Cobb inspire women and people of color to enter the fields of science and higher education?



1. Introduce the compelling question: To what extent is it easier for women and people of color to enter the fields of STEM and higher education today than it was in the 1950s–1990s? Have students brainstorm and share some supporting questions that help answer the compelling question.
2. Students will watch the Jewel Plummer Cobb Tribute Film (6:36) and take notes about Dr. Cobb’s life and her influence on equity in education and the sciences. Students should also record further questions after watching the film.
3. In order to reinforce the biographical background provided in the video, have students read the level-appropriate one-page biography provided in the toolkit [04.1 (easiest)–04.6 (hardest)] and respond to the questions on the worksheet provided [05.1 (easiest)–05.4 (hardest)].
4. Students will read and highlight or annotate the three newspaper articles written about Dr. Cobb at difference points in her life/career.
5. Working in small groups, students will use the “Word Cloud” worksheet to create a word cloud that they feel represents Jewel Plummer Cobb and share their word clouds with the other groups.
6. Students will revisit the compelling question and discuss their observations and opinions about the challenges women and people of color encounter going into STEM and higher education today in comparison to the 1950s–1990s.


  • Using page 16.1 from the curriculum unit (provided in the toolkit above), students will read quotations about racism today then write about their own feelings regarding gender and race inequality.
  • Students will research clubs or organizations at their school or in their communities that they can join or support in order to improve gender and racial equity in our society today.
  • Students will read about and/or interview other women in STEM and higher education and compare and contrast their experiences to that of Jewel Plummer Cobb. What are the similarities or differences? To what extent do race, age, or time period seem to have had an effect on those women? What about economic, geographic, or educational background?


Place to GO

Things To DO

Tour Connecticut College in New London or another university campus

Nominate a future inductee to the CT Women’s Hall of Fame

Read the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot or watch the movie based on it.

Websites to VISIT

Articles to READ

Women in Science: Jewel Plummer Cobb (1924-2017).” Ellen Elliott, Ph.D. JAX Blog, The Jackson Laboratory. May 14, 2018.

Jewel Plummer Cobb (1924-2017): MBL Affiliation from 1949 to 2007 as an Investigator, Library Reader, and Corporation Member.” Legacy of Leadership, University of Chicago Marine Biological Laboratory.