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Dr. Mary James is the daughter of a Tuskegee Airman. She enrolled at Hampshire College, in Amherst, MA in 1972. Growing up, she loved science, but surmised after a challenging introductory physics class that her dream of becoming a scientist might not be possible. However, through the relentless efforts of a professor that believed in her, she persevered in her coursework and applied for a summer research internship at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC). It was there at the lunch table sitting next to several senior scientists talking about physics, that she realized she could make physics a career. She returned to Hampshire College where she received a B.A. in Physics in 1976.
After graduation, James moved to California and began working as a Junior Engineer at SLAC. She began working on her Ph.D at Stanford University and completed her studies in Applied Physics in 1986 and was awarded her degree in March of 1988. In 1987, Dr. James joined the faculty of the University of Maryland, as an Assistant Professor in Electrical Engineering. In 1988, Dr. James moved on to become a Professor of Physics at Reed College in Portland, OR. In 2013, she was promoted to Dean for Institutional Diversity, a position she holds currently.
Dr. James has worked throughout her career to help the physics community become more welcoming and supportive of students from historically marginalized groups who wish to study and work in the field. She helped to establish the Center for Teaching and Learning at Reed College, which fosters inclusive pedagogical and advising practices shown to support and retain women and gender minorities, first generation students, and racial and ethnic minorities in STEM majors. She currently serves on the leadership team of Liberal Arts Diversity Officers, a consortium of diversity and inclusion senior leaders at liberal arts colleges. She has served as a member and chair of the American Physical Society (APS) Committee on Minorities in Physics and worked to create APS's National Mentoring Community that supports students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. From 2018 to 2020, Dr. James served as co-chair of the American Institute of Physics Task Force to Elevate African American Representation in Undergraduate Physics and Astronomy (TEAM_UP). The TEAM_UP report has been widely disseminated in the physics and astronomy communities.
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