Jennie R. Patrick

Jennie R. Patrick (born 1949) is the first African American woman to earn a doctorate degree in chemical engineering. A successful chemical engineer, manager, and educator who has applied her skills at a number of different companies and universities, she has also been honored with the Outstanding Women in Science and Engineering Award in 1980, and by CIBA-GEIGY Corp. in its Exceptional Black Scientist poster series in 1983.

Jennie R. Patrick was born January 1, 1949, in Gadsden, Alabama, one of five children of James and Elizabeth Patrick, working-class parents who emphasized knowledge as an escape from poverty. Patrick was both nurtured and challenged in a segregated elementary school and junior high, but in high school she was one of the first participants in a controversial and sometimes explosive program of racial integration, where she successfully overcame violence and unsupportive white teachers to graduate with an A-minus average in 1969.

Patrick was accepted at several prestigious universities, but chose to begin her pursuit of engineering at Tuskegee Institute, which she attended until 1970 when the chemical engineering program was eliminated. She then transferred to the University of California at Berkeley to finish her degree, receiving her B.S. in 1973 and meanwhile working as an assistant engineer for the Dow Chemical Company in 1972 and for the Stauffer Chemical Company in 1973. She continued her education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), receiving a Gilliland Fellowship in 1973, a DuPont Fellowship in 1974, and a Graduate Student Assistant Service award in 1977. She was also awarded a fellowship in 1975 from the American Association of University Women, and a National Fellowship Foundation Scholarship in 1976.

Her research at MIT involved the concept of super-heating, where a liquid is raised above its boiling temperature but does not become a vapor. She investigated the temperature to which pure liquids and mixtures of two liquids could be superheated. Patrick finished her research and completed her doctorate in 1979. While pursuing her graduate studies, Patrick worked as an engineer with Chevron Research in 1974 and with Arthur D. Little in 1975.

After completing her doctorate, Patrick joined the Research and Development Center at General Electric (GE) in Schenectady, New York, where she held the position of research engineer. Her work there involved research on energy-efficient processes for chemical separation and purification, particularly the use of supercritical extraction. In supercritical processes, the temperature and pressure are varied so that a substance is not a liquid or a gas, but a fluid. Unique properties make these fluids useful in both separations and purification processes. She has published several papers on this work, and has received patents for some of her advancements.

Patrick remained at GE until 1983, when she accepted a position at Philip Morris as a project manager in charge of the development of a program to improve several of the company's products. Patrick transferred to the Rhom and Haas Company in 1985, as manager of fundamental chemical engineering research. In this position she interacted with all aspects of the chemical business, from engineering to marketing to manufacturing. By being exposed to the overall business she was able to direct development of new research technology within her division and promote its implementation throughout the company. In 1990, Patrick became assistant to the executive vice president of Southern Company Services, a position that emphasized her management skills in both the business and technical aspects of the company. Having earlier held adjunct professorships at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from 1982 to 1985 and the Georgia Insttute of Technology from 1983 to 1987, Patrick decided to make teaching a bigger part of the her life. In January 1993, she left Southern Company Services and returned to Tuskegee University, as the 3M Eminent Scholar and Professor of Chemical Engineering. In addition to her teaching duties, Patrick is developing research projects in material sciences, is actively involved in leadership roles at Tuskegee, and remains firmly committed to helping minority students find success, particularly in the fields of science and engineering.

Further Reading on Jennie R. Patrick

Outstanding Young Women of America, Junior Chamber of Commerce, 1979, p. 981.

Sammons, V. O., editor, Blacks in Science and Medicine, Hemisphere Publishing Co., 1990, p. 185.

Bradby, Marie, "Professional Profile: Dr. Jennie R. Patrick," in US Black Engineer, fall, 1988, pp. 30-33.

"Engineering Their Way to the Top," in Ebony, December 1984, pp. 33-36.

Kazi-Ferrouillet, Kuumba, "Jennie R. Patrick: Engineer Extraordinaire," in NSBE Journal, February, 1986, pp. 32-35.