Professor of Chemistry
At Knox Since: 1997
Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes to see the opportunities before us. For
Mary Crawford '89, it was the professors she had as a student at Knox who
showed her not only what was possible, but how to get there. Their support
and guidance helped Crawford aspire to -- and become -- a chemistry professor at her alma mater.
When Crawford stepped onto the Knox campus for the first time 25 years ago, never in her wildest dreams did she think she would one day become the first African American woman to become a full professor at the College. She just hoped to graduate. The youngest of six, she was the first in her family to obtain a college education. Admittedly shy, Crawford says her professors took an interest in her and her well-being from her first moment on campus, giving her the confidence to become an active participant in the College, joining the Knox College Choir and Allied Blacks for Liberty and Equality (ABLE).
At Knox, Crawford found her voice. When members of ABLE felt there wasn't enough minority representation among the faculty, Crawford led a protest to air their dismay at the situation. It was at a meeting with faculty to discuss the situation that Frank McAndrew, professor of psychology, first asked Crawford if she had ever considered becoming a professor. "I joked about coming back to teach, but never seriously thought it would happen," says Crawford.
Nevertheless, the seed was planted.
Crawford found a professional and personal mentor in Professor of Chemistry Bob Kooser. Crawford had met Kooser on her first visit to Knox as a high school senior when she sat in on his class and he gave her a tour of the lab. He told her that she would be working with him in his lab if she came to Knox. "He said it so matter-of-factly that I believed it," said Crawford. Sure enough, her junior year, he asked if she was ready. She was.
Kooser was there for her, answering questions and providing support, through her time at Knox and all the way through graduate school at Purdue University. She was working in private industry when he called to tell her there was a teaching fellowship sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Knox. When he asked her to come back, she didn't hesitate. "I have no regrets. If I hadn't made that decision, I wouldn't have realized my passion. Those four years are so transformative in a person's life -- from high school to college graduate. There's no other time like it. And I get to help guide young people and help them realize their dreams and potential."
Crawford says she tries to offer the same kind of support to her students that she received at Knox from her professors. "I know that I'm here because someone took an interest in me. So I try to take that same interest in my students."