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Whigham, Myrna Ann

Published onJul 30, 2021
Whigham, Myrna Ann

(Dec. 6, 1943 - )

Quick Facts

Myrna Whigham was a driving force behind the creation of Women in Science and Engineering program.

Myrna Ann Schnegelberger was born on a farm near Rock Port, Missouri and graduated from Rock Port, Missouri, High School in 1961. Myrna attended Northwest Missouri State and was a member of the Tri Sigma Sorority. She graduated with a BS in biology and chemistry and an endorsement in secondary education in 1965. Meanwhile she had married David Keith Whigham in 1964 and relocated to Ames, Iowa, to join her husband who was an undergraduate at Iowa State University. They both attended the institution for their graduate education, and David Whigham has been a long time faculty member retiring as Professor Emeritus of Agronomy. Myrna received an MS degree in plant physiology from ISU in 1971 and a PhD in higher education also from ISU in 1985. Her thesis research was on the variables related to the academic success of women engineering students.

Myrna’s biggest pleasure in life is her family and friends. She and her husband have three children; Scott David, Leah Dawn, and Anya Nicol, who were also all Iowa State graduates. They also have six grandchildren. 

Myrna always preferred to be known as a "science educator.” Her research interests were in activity-based science and math learning, and gender issues in math and science education. Her funded projects and articles have dealt with gender and ethnic issues in math and science education, family math and science, and role models and career education. She had an active interest in international work, field experiences, and teaching and advising.

During her career at Iowa State she taught biology, botany and plant physiology. Later in her career she taught science teaching methods courses. Her professional career included being a high school science teacher and university teaching in the sciences and science methods, working with the Women in Science and Engineering program, and also Student Services in the Colleges of Engineering and Education. She became an academic advisor in the Freshman Engineering Department at Iowa State in 1981. In 1986 she became the coordinator of Women’s Programs for the College of Engineering with the goal of substantially increasing the number of women engineering students.

Her work and activities influenced many young women to pursue degrees and careers in engineering and the sciences. To encourage this she taught a section of Freshman Engineering 101 of special interest to women students. She assisted companies to identify women students for permanent and summer jobs and was the advisor for the student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). Myrna also started a summer internship program for female high school students to introduce them to careers in science and engineering. In 1987 she organized the first one-day science career day for girls in grades 6 through 12, and their parents, teachers and counsellors. 625 people attended the 30 workshops offered.

Myrna was on the planning committee for the establishment of a campus-wide Women in Science Program, and became the first program director of the Women in Science and Engineering Program at Iowa State University which was established in 1987. She resigned from that role at the end of 1991. A presentation she made in April 1991 to the Executive Committee of the Council for Women in Science and Engineering about the activities and responsibilities of her office suggests she may have just felt she needed to step back from this hectic position. It consisted of a lot of travel around the state to schools and other meetings, organizing summer workshops for teachers and on-campus career days, creating publicity materials, administering a scholarship program, advising students, and preparing and submitting grants. She was active in WEPAN, the Women in Engineering Pro-Active Network and was a member of their Board of Directors in 1990. Also in 1990 she was selected to serve on the National Governors’ Association Advisory Committee on Women and Minorities in Engineering. The role of the committee was to help develop a state action plan. Whigham was a faculty member in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction after stepping away from her WISE responsibilities. In 1997 she received the State Friend of Mathematics award from the Iowa Council of Teachers of Mathematics. She was on the Council’s board of directors and coordinated summer workshops for math and science educators for several years. She retired from Iowa State in 2001. Her service to Iowa State is permanently honored by a paver on the Plaza of Heroines outside Catt Hall.

She has continued to be active in retirement in the university community. As President of the Ames Morning Rotary Club she presided over the chartering ceremony of the ISU Rotaract Club for students in 2001.

Selected Sources

Iowa State University Special Collections and University Archives contains some materials about Myrna Whigham within their Program for Women in Science and Engineering files in the Archives of Women in Science and Engineering.

There is also a tribute to Myrna written by her husband Keith on the website of the Plaza of Heroines at Iowa State University.

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