Emerging Leaders Workshop

Denice Denton

Denice Denton was an extraordinarily talented scholar, educational leader, and relentless voice for progress. She helped shape the direction of our nation’s science and engineering enterprise through her research, teaching, technology development, service, leadership, mentoring, public communication of science and engineering, initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion, and outreach to our schools.

She was bigger than life. She opened doors, and stood in them to let others through.

She mentored young scholars and students. Her enthusiasm for science was clear and infectious.

She was a force—a magnificent force. She pushed the institutions she inhabited to be better than they wanted to be.”

-Donna Shalala, “Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering,” The National Academies, September 18, 2006

Denice, Reza and some kidsThroughout this workshop, the legacy of Denice Denton will serve as inspiration to its participants, toward the dream of STEM as an inclusive world that embraces and inspires all.  Many who were lucky enough to know Denice knew her as an extraordinary human being who made a difference to so many individuals through her mentoring and advocacy, her talent and innovation as a science and engineering teacher, her passion and her zest for life.

Denice used mentoring not only to support colleagues but also to remedy the marginalization of those not in positions of privilege and power, using strategies she developed while surmounting daunting professional obstacles of her own.  Denice became a prolific mentor, and developed a reputation for aiding colleagues facing difficult circumstances.  Her tenacious approach to mentoring took a variety of forms – she founded and sustained informal but lively peer support groups, she made connections to advocates in positions of power, she sought out and shared information about institutional procedures, and in some cases even helped with fund raising for legal fees.  And often, mentoring took the form of simply going out for a beer or dancing.  All of these strategies contributed to achieving her ideal of institutions in which people could thrive personally as well as professionally.

She led seemingly impossible change in seemingly immovable institutions, aided by her own fearlessness and by friends new and old, enlisted as allies.   Overcoming considerable obstacles she encountered in her own career, Denice became a student of institutional inner workings and saw opportunities to improve them, when others might have given up in defeat.  A “systems thinker,” she devised ways to make the institutions themselves more humane.  To give just a couple of examples, her campaigns led to improved tenure practices codified into Wisconsin state law and to a new National Science Foundation requirement that researchers articulate the societal benefits of their research.

Denice DentonDenice Denton’s stellar academic credentials, therefore, tell only part of the story, and here we present only an abbreviated summary.  She obtained her BS, MS and PhD degrees in Electrical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  She was the first female engineer to receive tenure as a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.  Appointed at the age of 37 as Dean of Engineering at the University of Washington, she was one of the youngest as well as the first female dean of a top-ranked engineering program. While at the University of Washington, she was awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.  And at 45 she was selected as the Chancellor of University of California, Santa Cruz, the youngest and the first openly gay person to be appointed as chancellor in the University of California system.

Denice was devoted to promoting the advancement of women and minorities in science and engineering and encouraging diversity and inclusion throughout her career.   The trailblazing impact of Denice’s life’s work is honored at this 10-year award celebration of the achievements of the next generation of change-makers who have won the prestigious Denice Denton Emerging Leader ABIE Award founded in her name, impressive young professors who are carrying on and extending the work Denice started.