Catherine Hurt Middlecamp

Born: June 25, 1950 | Queens, NY, US

Catherine Hurt Middlecamp attended Cornell University, where women made up about one-fifth of the undergraduate student body. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a BA and a major in chemistry. She was selected as a Danforth Fellow for graduate study and chose to enroll at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she entered Robert West's research lab on organosilicon chemistry. After finishing her Ph.D. , Middlecamp served for a year as a Danforth Teaching Intern at Knox College, then she took a faculty position at Hobart & William Smith Colleges before moving back to the University of Wisconsin, Madison. While there she developed (and still teaches) a general chemistry course for non-science majors, Chemistry in Context . In 2003, Middlecamp was elected chair of the Integrated Liberal Studies (ILS) program, a long-standing interdisciplinary certificate program on campus. The interview concludes with Middlecamp's views on teaching versus research, which she believes is a false dichotomy; what she believes are the many nefarious ways in which women are seen as unserious scholars; the undervaluation and dismissal of women and teaching; and the inherent difficulties of the tenure system. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0638
No. of pages: 85
Minutes: 209

Interview Sessions

Hilary Domush
10-11 December 2008
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin

Abstract of Interview

Catherine Hurt Middlecamp was born in Queens, New York, though she grew up in Garden City, New York. Hers was a family of teachers and so Middlecamp wanted to be a teacher as well. She loved school, was active in many sports, and played the piccolo in the band and orchestra. In 1968, she wanted to go to college at Princeton, Harvard, or Yale, but at that time, women were not admitted to these schools. Instead, she selected Cornell University, where women made up about one-fifth of the undergraduate student body. In 1971, when Princeton began to admit women, an administrator attempted to lure Middlecamp away from Cornell, but she was no longer interested. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Cornell with a BA and a major in chemistry. She intended to teach high school, but her mentor, Professor James Burlitch, encouraged her to attend graduate school. In addition, she was selected as a Danforth Fellow for graduate study at any institution of her choice. Middlecamp chose to do her graduate study in chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison), where she entered Robert West's research lab on organosilicon chemistry. Though only about 15 percent of the doctoral students at UW-Madison were women, women composed about one-third to one-half of West's lab, one of the reasons she selected this group. While working in West's lab, she had the opportunity to teach a real-world chemistry class designed by her advisor. During her college years, she was a social activist, joining with others to speak out against nuclear weapons and the arms race of the Cold War; more than once she was arrested with the Catholic Worker Community of Iowa. Just as she left graduate school, she married. After finishing her PhD , Middlecamp served for a year as a Danforth Teaching Intern at Knox College. In 1977, she took her first faculty position at Hobart & William Smith Colleges. Realizing that she would not get tenure there because of the economic times (and that the woman before her had not gotten tenure), she and her husband moved back to Madison, Wisconsin. There she taught as a lecturer in the Chemistry Tutorial Program for Minority/Disadvantaged students, later named the Chemistry Learning Center; in 1989 she became its Director. Building on the Robert West course she taught in graduate school, Middlecamp developed (and still teaches) a general chemistry course for non-science majors, Chemistry in Context. Students in the course use the textbook of the same name, which was developed as a national curriculum reform project of the American Chemical Society; in 2007, Middlecamp was appointed the Editor-in-Chief of this national curriculum reform project. With a Navajo colleague, she designed and taught the first chemistry course at the UW-Madison to meet the ethnic studies requirement, Uranium and American Indians. In 2003, she sought a faculty line with tenure in the Chemistry department but was turned down. At about the same time, though, she was invited to teach in the Integrated Liberal Studies (ILS) program, a long-standing interdisciplinary certificate program on campus, teaching a course on radioactivity, The Radium Girls and The Firecracker Boys. In the ILS Program, Middlecamp found an intellectual and social home (shortly after this oral history interview she was elected as its chair). The interview concludes with Middlecamp's views on teaching versus research, which she believes is a false dichotomy; what she believes are the many nefarious ways in which women are seen as unserious scholars; the undervaluation and dismissal of women and teaching; and the inherent difficulties of the tenure system. She talks about her grant from the National Science Foundation—one that seeks, from her perspective, a 21st century science curriculum for a 21st century planet. She also speaks of her Master's degree in counseling psychology and her practice of the martial art of aikido. She believes that as the world becomes ever more interconnected, so must academic disciplines. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1972 Cornell University BA Chemistry
1976 University of Wisconsin, Madison PhD Inorganic Chemistry
1989 University of Wisconsin, Madison MS Counseling Psychology and Counselor Education

Professional Experience

Knox College

1976 to 1977
Danforth Teaching Intern, Chemistry

Hobart and William Smith Colleges

1977 to 1979
Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry

University of Wisconsin, Madison

1979 to 1983
Lecturer, Department of Chemistry
1979 to 1983
Chemistry and Biology Instructor, Summer Opportunity Program for Minority Students
1979 to 1988
Associate Director, Chemistry Learning Center
1983 to 1985
Instructor, Chemistry, Minority Middle School Summer Enrichment Program
1984 to 1987
Associate Faculty Associate, Department of Chemistry
1985 to 1989
Senior Instructor, Chemistry, Minority Middle School Summer Enrichment Program
1987 to 1999
Faculty Associate, Department of Chemistry
1988 to 2009
Director, Chemistry Learning Center
1989 to 1993
Program Coordinator, Chemistry, Minority Middle School Summer Enrichment Program
2000 to 2009
Distinguished Faculty Associate, Department of Chemistry
2004 to 2009
Joint governance appointment, Integrated Liberal Studies Program
2009 to 2010
Chair, Integrated Liberal Studies Program

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

2004
Visiting Professor, Department of Chemistry

Honors

Year(s) Award
1971

Phi Beta Kappa

1972 to 1976

Fellowship for graduate study, Danforth Foundation

1972

Sigma Xi

1993

Norman Basset Award for Outstanding Achievement in Student Services

1996

Wisconsin Alumni Association Award for Excellence in Leadership

1998

University of Wisconsin, Madison Teaching Academy

2000

Pharmacia Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Chemistry

2001

Distinguished member, National Society of Collegiate Scholars

2002

Women Chemists Committee of the American Chemical Society Regional Award for Diversity

2003

Fellow, Association for Women in Science

2003

University of Wisconsin System Alliant Energy/Underkofler Excellence in Teaching Award

2003

Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

2003 to 2004

University of Wisconsin System Teaching Scholar

2006

American Chemical Society Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences

2006

Judith S. Craig Distinguished Service Award, College of Letters & Science

2009

Fellow, American Chemical Society

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Childhood in Queens, New York. Family background. Childhood activities. Science-of-the-Month club. School. Wanting to be teacher.

College Years
11

Matriculated into Cornell University. James Burlitch as mentor. Admissions standards at Cornell. Liked both physics and chemistry. Chose chemistry for major. BA degree because she did not want to be "science nerd". Protesting at Cornell. Conditions for university women in the 1960s. Played piccolo in Princeton University marching band.

Graduate School Years
16

Wins Danforth Foundation scholarship. Enters University of Wisconsin-Madison for PhD. Works in Robert West's lab. Discusses percentages of women in chemistry and in West's lab. Reasons why women do not succeed in chemistry. West's class in real-world chemistry. Cannot play in marching band. History of science classes with Aaron Ihde. Discusses "hippie" culture of times and effect on West's lab. Meets her husband in graduate school.

After Graduate School
25

Placed by Danforth at Knox College; teaches basic chemistry. Moves to Hobart and William Smith Colleges. No tenured women there, so returns to University of Wisconsin. Worked in and then became director of Chemistry Learning Center. Eventually given course for non-chemistry majors. Drafted to author team for Chemistry in Context. Teaches class to go with book. Importance of writing well. Ethnic studies class. Denied tenure in chemistry; moves to Integrated Liberal Studies (ILS). More discussion of women in chemistry; importance of good teaching vs. research. Obtains National Science Foundation grant for Mobilizing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education for a Sustainable Future.

General Thoughts
64

Balancing career and family. Aikido instructor. Obtains MS in counseling psychology in order to counsel students. More about women in science. Image of science is reality. Tenure. Levels of teaching. Importance of ability to communicate, understand, observe in order to teach well. Recruiting for ILS. Complicated world demands integrated disciplines. ILS her intellectual and social home. Modeling her perseverance.

Index
83

About the Interviewer

Hilary Domush

Hilary Domush was a Program Associate in the Center for Oral History at CHF from 2007–2015. Previously, she earned a BS in chemistry from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine in 2003.  She then completed an MS in chemistry and an MA in history of science both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Her graduate work in the history of science focused on early nineteenth-century chemistry in the city of Edinburgh, while her work in the chemistry was in a total synthesis laboratory.  At CHF, she worked on projects such as the Pew Biomedical Scholars, Women in Chemistry, Atmospheric Science, and Catalysis.