Phyllis Wise is one of the very special women in academia who has made history and smashed stereotypes as a result of her exceptional works of science. Speaking of exception, she remains the first woman and the first Asian American to serve as president of the University of Washington (UW).
Wise is the daughter of two excellent educationalists, who left China to the United States to pursue their education in 1938 before World War 2 began. She was born and raised in New York City, her parents were education enthusiasts and they instilled educational enthusiasm in her.
Wise’s father had an MD from Beijing Union Medical College and a doctorate degree from Northwestern University. Her mother who was an educationist also graduated with a nursing degree from Yenching University, Beijing, and on getting to the US she pursued a teaching nursing education degree at Columbia Teacher’s College.
Growing up as a young child she was surrounded by lots of scientific activities performed by her father who was a neuroscientist. Often times Wise was taken to her father’s lab to watch him as he experiments, this explains how she got so attached to Science at a very tender age.
Wise grew up to love education and her parents were her backbone. Although her father had wanted her to become a medical doctor, Wise took another path to the top and she has fulfilled her parent’s expectations for her.
She received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Swarthmore College in 1967, and in 1969 she obtained her master’s degree and then pushed forward for a doctorate in zoology from the University of Michigan in 1972.
Wise became a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan for two years (1972–1974). She was awarded honorary degrees from Swarthmore College in 2008 and the University of Birmingham in 2015.
In 2008, the Puget Sound Business Journal named her one of its 2008 Women of Influence.
However, it hadn’t been all rosy for Wise; she had her struggles and difficulties climbing up the ladder. Especially being a woman and an Asian American, all eyes were on her to see how far she could go.
But Alas! She moved upward and even forward at every point in time.
Wise took her very steps in education from1976, when she was appointed Assistant Professor of physiology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
Moving forward, in 1993, she was appointed a professor of physiology and chair of the department at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky.
In 2002, she became Dean of the College of Biological Sciences at University of California-Davis, holding also the rank of Distinguished Professor of Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior in its College of Biological Sciences, and Professor of Physiology and Membrane Biology in its School of Medicine.
As she continued her journey in the academic sector she was made Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Washington in 2005.
Her outstanding record catapulted her towards academic leadership when need be that an interim president was required, so she took the position of the President of UW and she served from 2010-2011. One of her most profound accomplishment at the University of Washington was the establishment of the College of the Environment which she led during her service. The College brought together several previously abandoned programs and gave them a place in the university priorities and budget allocations.
When the university board found a permanent president, Wise was placed back as the Provost and Executive Vice President.
But during the same period, she was offered the position of Chancellor at one of the largest public universities in the United States─ the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and Vice President of the University of Illinois with an annual budget of $1.5 billion, $400 million in research expenditures, 42,000 students, and more than 1,800 tenure-track faculty members.
Wise resigned as the School Chancellor in August 2015, having served for almost five years.
Her works in science focus principally on the effect of hormones on the feminine brain during the process of development, adulthood, and ageing. Her research uncovered the diverse actions of estrogens on the brain, including its protective effects after stroke injury. She was funded by the NIH for 32 consecutive years during which she received two 10-year MERIT awards, and led centre and program project grants.
Dr Wise is the author or co-author of over 200 articles and research papers in endocrinology.
She is known and celebrated for her outstanding research work in the field of science up till date, she also has a record of great philanthropic works including; donating all her compensation from serving as a board of director in Nike to student’s scholarships.