Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb, an influential educator, trailblazer and scientist who served as the sixth Dean of Douglass from 1976 to 1981. Dr. Cobb passed away on New Year’s Day, 2017, at the age of 92, in Maplewood, NJ.
Born on January 17, 1924, Dr. Cobb was the granddaughter of a freed slave and grew up in Chicago, the daughter of a doctor and a school teacher. She overcame racial segregation and sexism throughout her career, excelling in her work throughout the country as a researcher, professor and higher education administrator. As a scientific researcher, she studied the skin pigment melanin and the testing of new chemotherapy drugs to treat melanoma; her research is still widely applied to the treatment of skin and lung cancers.
Dr. Cobb was the first African-American to be appointed Dean of Douglass. A researcher with an impressive background in cell cytology and cancer research, she was also a role model for women in science. Throughout her career, she advocated for women and minorities to enter careers in science, math and engineering. Dr. Cobb influenced countless alumnae through her leadership and achievements. She worked closely with the late Adelaide Marcus Zagoren ’40, former longtime AADC Executive Director, to engage alumnae and share her vision for women’s education. Her leadership was instrumental in the creation of the AADC Black Alumnae Network. “Dean Cobb impacted my experience and was a role model. She helped encouraged those around her to achieve at the highest levels,” says AADC Executive Director Valerie Anderson ’81, recalling her days on campus.
During her tenure as the Dean of Douglass, Dr. Cobb was a proponent of women’s education in New Jersey, conducted a thorough review process of the curriculum, revised the advising system by adding peer advisors, and boosted both career counseling and community outreach. She also developed the Scholars Program and taught in the Biological Sciences Department. Dr. Cobb took pride in being accessible to all, even hosting special events at the Dean’s Residence.
Following Douglass, she was named the third president of California State University at Fullerton, serving from 1981 to 1990, where she expanded the campus and advocated tirelessly for equal access to education and professional opportunities for women and minorities. Recognized as one of the first African-American women to lead a major university, she was known nationwide for her research accomplishments and educational leadership.
She began her distinguished career in 1950 after earning a Bachelor’s Degree in biology from Talladega College, and a Master’s Degree in cell biology and a Ph.D. in cell physiology, both from New York University. As a graduate student, she was an independent investigator at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. After graduation, Dr. Cobb completed prestigious post-doctoral fellowships at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the National Cancer Institute. She also served as the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Connecticut College and a Professor of Zoology.
Dr. Cobb was the recipient of numerous awards, including The Douglass Medal, The New Jersey Association for Biomedical Research Legends Award and was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame. The AADC Black Alumnae Network/Jewel Plummer Cobb Senior Recognition Award was established in her name in 1984 to honor an African-American senior at Douglass who best demonstrates academic achievement and extracurricular involvement and who is a positive role model for other black students.