AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of June 29, 2006
eds. Patricia Knezek, Jim Ulvestad, & Joan Schmelz


1. Introduction

2. Denice's Career Accomplishments

3. University of Washington

4. A Personal Remembrance: AAS Seattle and WIA-II

5. Other Astronomy Connections and Comments

6. Summary

7. How to submit, subscribe, or unsubscribe to AASWOMEN

[Eds.:  The link to the STATUS issue in item #3 should be:
http://www.aas.org/cswa/status/Status_Jan04.pdf.  We apologize for the
1. Introduction
Denice D. Denton, the 9th Chancellor of the University of California
at Santa Cruz, passed away suddenly on June 24, 2006.  She was a
pioneer in the support of women and science in engineering, and was
an inspiration to many of our readers.  This special edition of AASWOMEN
recaps a few of Denice's accomplishments as they relate to the
achievements and advancement of women in astronomy.  We hope that our
readers will use this summary to remind them of the impact that a
committed individual can have on our field, and will motivate us to
renew our commitment to improvement of opportunity for women and
under-represented minorities in science.

2. Denice's Career Accomplishments
Denice Denton earned her bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. degrees
in electrical engineering from MIT.  She was appointed to the faculty at
the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1987, where she earned numerous
awards as an outstanding teacher and educator.  While there, she was the
recipient of a NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award.  She moved to 
the University of Washington as Dean of the College of Engineering in 1996, 
and was instrumental in the University's ADVANCE program and in developing
programs to enhance equal opportunity for women in engineering.  She 
received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematic and 
Engineering Mentoring in 2004.  That same year, she was appointed as 
Chancellor of the Santa Cruz campus of the University of California.  Just 
this year, Chancellor Denton received the Maria Mitchell Women in Science 
Award for her achievements in increasing opportunities for women in the 

For more information, and for many tributes to Denice's accomplishments,
please see the following web sites:

http://chancellor.ucsc.edu  (Includes links to many remembrances.)

3. University of Washington
* From STATUS, the newsletter of the AAS Committee on the Status of Women
   in Astronomy, January 2004.  "A Proven and Practical Approach to
   Hiring Women and Minorities," by Kathryn Johnston:

"In 1996, Denice Denton arrived as the new Dean of Engineering at the 
University of Washington (UW).  At 37 she was the youngest dean at UW
and the first woman dean of engineering at a major U.S. research
institution.  These might seem like challenges enough in a new job,
but they were really incidental compared to the expectations of her
employers; Denton was hired to take a traditional engineering division
and mould it to provide a model of how excellence can be achieved
through diversity.

"This article, inspired by her presentation to the CSWA at the AAS in
January 2003, summarizes Denton's own description of how such changes
can be achieved."

The full article can be accessed on page 7 of the January, 2004 issue
of STATUS, at

* From Julianne Dalcanton (jdastro.washington.edu)

Not long after I became an assistant professor at UW, I started
hearing stories about Denice.  Not the titillating stories that
dominate academic gossip, but stories of some mysterious (to me) Dean
of Engineering who Got Things Done.  Though varied, the stories all
painted an image of a woman who refused to be bothered by obstacles.
Was there red tape?  She'd cut it.  Did something need doing?  She'd
make it happen.  

Some years later, I finally met Denice, through an event organized by
the NSF ADVANCE program she'd brought to UW.  Spending 5 minutes in a
room with Denice was enough to see why every single story I'd heard
about her had to be true.  I don't think I've ever met someone, male
or female, who so completely owned their own power.  She radiated
strength, with no apologies or uncertainties.  And yet, she was
completely down to earth, seeing her work towards equity as simple
common sense, to the point where she'd punctuate discussions of some
obvious step towards gender equity with a jovial "Well, Duh!!!!".
However, what made Denice special was her ability to take common sense
and make it policy.  To a woman who never seemed to notice obstacles,
it was lunacy that an institution would _not_ embrace the policies she
advocated.  Thus, she never acted "embattled", and instead carried the
tone of a patient parent explaining why it wasn't a good idea to put
chewing gum in your hair.  She had no illusions about some of the
archaic thinking she'd have to counter, but in Denice's world, it was
just going to be a matter of time before you accepted her common sense
world view, so you might as well buy into the program now, or else
get left behind.

Key to her success at influencing policy at UW was her ability to
frame policy in a way that everyone could embrace.  She never saw the
lack of equity as a "woman problem" or "minority problem", but as a
climate problem that adversely affected everyone and weakened the
University.  She was unapologetic in pursuing equity, because to her,
broadening the talent pool was the obvious route to increasing
excellence -- a belief that was borne out by a sharp increase in
CAREER awards at UW after her policies began to be implemented.

Denice also believed strongly that leadership had to come from above.
Too many women and minorities were fighting isolated individual
battles that drained their energies while changing little.  She
therefore actively educated the leadership about climate issues,
focusing her efforts on the people who were actually in a position to
make a difference, rather than the junior women and minorities who
already had too much to do.  She also nurtured leadership in those 
same junior faculty, both by example, and by explicit training.  
I think all of us feel bolder and more confident about taking on 
leadership roles, thanks to Denice.

After she explained some of her ideas at the Seattle AAS CSWA session,
I had many colleagues wistfully tell me how lucky I was to have
someone so high up at UW leading these issues, and how lucky I was to
have Denice in particular.  Indeed, more than lucky, what I felt was
relieved -- relieved to not have to feel like I had to tackle every
climate problem myself.  All of us in the ADVANCE program felt
like Denice had our back.  We missed her when she left for UCSC, but
still felt like she was looking out for us (including giving Larry
Summers a piece of her mind:
http://currents.ucsc.edu/04-05/02-07/opinion-denton.asp).  It
is very hard to accept that she is no longer with us.  

- Julianne Dalcanton -

4. A Personal Remembrance: AAS Seattle and WIA-II
* From Meg Urry (meg.urryyale.edu)

Denice Denton and I met for lunch in a noisy eatery in downtown Seattle. It 
was January 2003 and the American Astronomical Society was holding its 
winter meeting in the Convention Center there. On behalf of the CSWA, I had 
invited Denice to speak at our session that afternoon, at 1 p.m., and the 
lunch meeting was my way of getting acquainted first. She had been recommended 
as a speaker by Julianne Dalcanton, a member of the CSWA and a colleague of 
Denice's at the University of Washington. I hadn't met her before, nor was I 
fully aware at that point of her many accomplishments. I did know she was the 
Dean of Engineering (and I knew there were not many women Deans of Engineering 
in our nation) so maybe I expected someone administrative - you know: 
business-like manner, deep authoritative voice, navy blue suit.

So Denice was, to say the least, a surprise. Funky glasses, curly hair, casual 
beach-style clothes, and slangy, hey-dude way of speaking. In my mind I 
affectionately dubbed her "surfer babe." Years later, when it was announced 
that Denice was going to Santa Cruz, I thought, oh yeah, makes sense. The 
whole laid-back California hippie thing seemed like a great fit.

Her style was as effective as it was refreshing. That afternoon in Seattle she 
had us all riveted to our seats (when we weren't rolling in the aisles with 
laughter - her comic timing was spot on), describing her program to increase 
diversity in the School of Engineering at the University of Washington. You 
can find her very useful "toolkit" for hiring on the UW web site 
(www.washington.edu/admin/eoo/forms/ftk_01.html), as well as resources 
associated with the larger NSF Advance project she led 
(www.engr.washington.edu/advance/resources/index.html). Much of her advice was 
common sense: go search for candidates, don't wait for their resumes to come 
in over the transom; sell applicants on your institution, don't act as if it 
would be their privilege to join you (even if it would be); consider the 
situation of spouses and partners, if needed (and learn how to assess that 
need without offending the candidate or breaking the law!); talk to search 
committees about how to search, what to say, and especially what not to say; 
and most of all, let everyone know the Dean is fully engaged in the process. 

Denice's talk generated so much discussion and so many questions she got 
through fewer than half her viewgraphs. But it was enough, even without the 
additional hour of questions she patiently answered after the hour-long 
session ended. Realizing now the demands of her job, I marvel that she even 
found the time to come speak to us in the first place. It's a sign of her deep 
dedication to improving things for women and minorities in science and 
engineering, a dedication that was recently recognized with the 2006 award 
from the Maria Mitchell Society of Nantucket. (Mitchell was a famous woman 
astronomer of the 19th century, and the award recognizes a person or 
organization who has helped to advance women in science.)

When it came time to plan the 2003 Women in Astronomy II conference at 
Caltech, Denice was at the top of my wish list of speakers. To our delight, 
she agreed to speak, and in the event, kept us all laughing with her talk, 
even as she fed us a very serious message. I can still picture her in her 
trademark surfer-dude style, light green jungle-print pants with matching 
loose top, curly blond mutton cut, those funky glasses, referring to the old 
guard as "bubbas" and boldly exhorting us to get on with the business of 
transforming our institutions. 

Mainly, she taught us that problems can be solved. Like the engineer she was, 
Denice analyzed the issue, developed a solution, and implemented it. She 
showed us that, instead of worrying endlessly about what to do, getting 
distracted by all the many areas that needed attention, instead of trying to 
fix everything at once, you could just do this, you could hire a diverse 
faculty. Most importantly, she showed once and for all that diversity does not 
come at the price of excellence. Her faculty of color and her women engineers, 
with success upon success after their arrival at UW (Denice described the 
abundance of NSF Career Awards that followed), demonstrated explicitly how 
diversity enhances excellence. Her school's reputation climbed, and Denice's 
did, too. Val Kuck, one of the leaders of the women chemists' movement (and a 
former graduate student of my dad's), wrote me that, "At UW, the female 
faculty couldn't say enough good things about her work and how she really 
drove the reforms in the engineering community." Tons of emails like that flew 
around last Monday.

Everyone in "the movement" knew Denice. We all admired her dedication, her 
energy, and her success. Whenever faculty hiring is discussed at my 
institution, Denice's work follows in the next breath. She taught us excuses 
are no longer acceptable. In large part because of her pioneering work, we 
don't buy the claim that "there aren't any candidates" or "we asked Sandy 
Faber and she wasn't available." We know we can do better.  

But Denice did more than transform academic hiring. By example she taught us 
to be tough, to shake off criticism and get on with what has to be done. 
Denice apparently had some hard times early in her career. How much more 
impressive, then, her confidence, her authority, her unhesitating attack on a 
difficult problem. She triumphed where others might understandably have 
retreated. Even without specific opposition, it's very stressful being a 
pioneer. All bystanders are natural critics (especially scientists!) and those 
whose oxen are being gored don't take kindly to change. I wonder sometimes if 
the majority can ever understand how difficult it is - how much energy it 
takes - just to maintain your self, just to hold up your outer envelope, when 
you're in the minority, and a path-breaker to boot. Last weekend, Denice's 
energy got used up. Like all her admirers, I wish we could roll back the clock 
and beam her a huge energy infusion from her thousands and thousands of fans. 
It's too late for that, so instead we'll have to use our energy to bring to 
pass Denice's agenda: excellence, diversity, equal opportunity, and 
ultimately, a workplace that looks more like us.

- Meg Urry -

5. Other Astronomy Connections and Comments
* From Steve Thorsett (thorsettucolick.org)

I served on the search committee that brought Denice to the UC Santa Cruz 
campus as Chancellor. She was, of course, an outstanding scholar who had 
also been a successful academic leader for many years, but what set her 
apart was her articulate and effective voice at both Wisconsin and Washington 
for access to higher education and particularly for bringing more women and 
underrepresented minorities into science and engineering.

Within weeks of her appointment here, Denice joined the national debate over 
Larry Summers' statements about women in science, and she lost no time in 
Santa Cruz establishing excellence and access as her twin goals. Her 
inaugural address, "Excellence through Diversity: Leading in the 21st 
Century" and an accompanying two-day symposium keynoted by President Shirley 
Ann Jackson of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute kicked off a series of campus 
meetings and conversations on the topic, together with a comprehensive campus 
climate study, now nearing completion.  (Video, transcripts, and podcasts of 
the symposium and her address can be found at 
http://www.ucsc.edu/news_events/celebration2005/) Although her time at Santa 
Cruz was too short for her impact to be measured in statistics of admissions 
and graduations, she changed the way we think about ourselves and our 

Although Denice was an engineer, her first connection to the UCSC campus was 
through astronomy, when she served as chair of a site visit committee that 
recommended the establishment of the NSF Center for Adaptive Optics here. As 
Chancellor, she served on the board of the Thirty Meter Telescope project.  
She approached technical engineering challenges in the same way she 
approached the problem of how to expand educational access: with confidence 
and high expectations for both herself and those around her. All of us across 
the Santa Cruz campus will miss her way of celebrating excellence and 
achievement while never forgetting that we can do, and be, better.

Steve Thorsett
Prof. of Astronomy & Astrophysics and
Dean, Physical and Biological Sciences
UC Santa Cruz

* From Donna Weistrop (weistropunlv.nevada.edu)

I was shocked and saddened at the news of Denice Denton's death.  Many 
attendees of the Women in Astronomy II conference in Pasadena, 2003 were 
impressed by her practical ideas for improving diversity among science 
and engineering faculty.  Her passing is a great loss to us all.

- Donna Weistrop -

* From Tammy Smecker-Hane (tsmeckeruci.edu)

I am profoundly saddened and shocked by the death of UCSC Chancellor
Denice Denton. She was a hero to me, personally, and an inspiration to
myself and the other Equity Advisors in the ADVANCE Program at the
University of California, Irvine. She was an exceptionally talented
engineer and a passionate leader in higher education. She was an
extremely powerful advocate for increasing the participation of
women and under-represented minorities in science and engineering.
She demonstrated through her own success as Dean of Engineering at
the University of Washington and by communicating to others the
published research on the subject that diversifying faculty does
not mean reducing its quality. More often, diversity leads to enhanced
quality. I will sorely miss her leadership, courage, devotion
and enthusiasm. At the National Academy of Science Convocation
on Maximizing the Potential of Women in Academe: Biological, Social
and Organizational Contributions to Science and Engineering Success
on in December, 2005, Chancellor Denton gave a remarkably
stirring speech as the concluding remarks. She challenged us to get
involved, to make change happen locally at our universities and
also in the wider world of higher education in order to ensure that
the odds of women and minorities achieving success is maximized.
Creating a level playing field for women and minorities will take
more work as well as continued maintenance, neither of which is easy,
but it is the right thing to do. I am deeply saddened by how Denice
Denton's life ended, but I rejoice and marvel at the successes she
achieved in her life and the outstanding role model she is.  She
continues to inspire me. My thoughts and prayers go out to Denice's
partner, Gretchen Kalonji, to their family and friends.  We will
miss her very much.

Tammy Smecker-Hane
Associate Professor, Department of Physics & Astronomy
Equity Advisor, School of Physical Sciences
University of California, Irvine

* From Jane Rigby (jrigbyas.arizona.edu)

For many of us who attended the Women in Astronomy II conference, the
highlight was Dr. Denton's presentation on increasing minority
participation in engineering and science.  Through the ADVANCE program at
U. Washington, she worked tirelessly to recruit outstanding new professors, 
many women and/or people of color, and retain them through a supporting 
atmosphere and vigorous mentoring.  She was an inspirational presence at 
WIA-II and her talk made many of us rethink how to expand the participation 
of women in astronomy at our own institutions.

She also famously stood up to Larry Summers at his infamous "why girls
aren't as good at science" talk at Harvard, and brought to the resulting 
brouhaha an articulate voice for women in science.

Dr. Denton was the first woman to become dean of an engineering college at
a major research university.  As the new Chancellor of UCSC, she was that
very rare thing:  a woman running a major research university.  And even
rarer, as an openly gay person, she was "an outstanding role model by
showing that being out at work, including a life-partner in a public manner, 
and obtaining career success, are not mutually exclusive parameters" (NOGLSTP). 

She'll be missed.

- Jane Rigby -

*From Andrea Schweitzer (schweizfrii.com)

I greatly appreciated Dr. Denice Denton's mentoring while I was a grad 
student at the U. of Wisconsin-Madison.  She gave an excellent CSWA talk at 
the Seattle AAS in 2003, and through her leadership she demonstrated 
practical ways to increase the numbers of women in science and engineering 
through better faculty searches and and "climate change" within departments.  
Rather than write more about what her mentorship meant to me, I thought I'd 
share a few quotes from her speeches.

Sincerely, Andrea Schweitzer, Little Thompson Observatory

My favorite quotes from Denice Denton:

On recruiting:
"You have to change the way you look for people. If you use the same nets, 
you catch the same fish. You want to catch fish that wouldn't have come 
into your net." - Denice Denton
[Note multi-line web link. --eds.]

On diversity:
"Fund-raisers talk about leaving money on the table. In our case, if we 
don't broaden our recruiting approach, we are leaving brains on the table. 
What we are missing is talent -- talent that could make us a better society." 
- Denice Denton

On Larry Summers (Harvard University's former president, who suggested women 
had achieved less in science because of innate gender differences):
"Here was this economist lecturing pompously [to] this room full of the 
country's most accomplished scholars on women's issues in science and 
engineering, and he kept saying things we had refuted in the first half of 
the day." - Denice Denton
[Note multi-line web link. --eds.]

On cultural change:
"Cultural change requires real transformation around policy. ... Companies 
that want to take diversity seriously and particularly with respect to women, 
really do have to change the culture. Who is responsible for change? If you 
want to work here do you need to act like people here? We've spent 30-40 
years asking women to change and developing programs for women and 
minorities. 'Why can't you just get with the program? Come on, come on. Let's 
go. Here's a little help for you.' Move into this male-dominated structure 
that has its own philosophy. If you want to be in Engineering and study it, 
act like that. What we want to see now is these systems moving over a little 
bit, to accommodate the needs of a more diverse group of people. There's some 
responsibility on all sides. It's not only that women and minorities need to 
change, or do something different, but that the organizations need to change 
to accommodate people's needs." - Denice Denton

Read more about her at:

"Leadership and Strategies for Cultural Change in a High Tech Environment"
speech given by Denice Denton at Google in 2005

The "Faculty Recruitment Toolkit" Denton inspired at the U. of Washington

Denice Denton Interview from 2001

6. Summary
This issue has highlighted a few of the direct contributions Chancellor
Denton made towards advancing the opportunities for women and minorities in 
astronomy and its related fields, both professionally and on a more personal 
level for the many people she inspired.  What is more difficult to measure, 
but equally important, are her indirect contributions.  For instance, many 
departments and astronomical institutions have used the Faculty Recruitment 
Toolkit developed during her tenure as dean of engineering at U. Washington 
as a template to guide their own recruitment policies.  Her success at 
recruiting and retaining women and minorities effectively silenced the 
argument "There just aren't any good women and minority candidates," and 
showed that with the adoption of practical measures, those candidates can be 
identified, hired, and retained.  She raised awareness of the issues and 
raised the bar on finding solutions.  

Dr. Denton said during an interview published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel
on March 27, 2005 
(www.santacruzsentinel.com/archive/2005/March/27/local/stories/01local.htm ) 
"When you're first, everything you do is magnified.  One of the things you 
can do is take advantage of the spotlight to highlight values and societal 
issues you think people should be working on." We have lost a great talent, 
but hopefully her legacy of many firsts will be a ongoing effort by those 
she inspired to continue to promote excellence in all fields of science and 
engineering through diversity and gender equity. 

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