Dr. Delores Cooper Shockley - A Historical Moment for Purdue and the Nation

Dr. Delores Cooper Shockley was the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. from Purdue and in the US.

Dr. Shockley was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, on April 21, 1930. She enrolled at Louisiana State University in 1947, intending to pursue a major in pharmacy with the goal of eventually opening her own drug store. During her college years, however, Shockley’s interests shifted from retail business to research. When she earned her B.S. in 1951, Dr. Shockley decided to continue her education in the field of pharmacology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. She was awarded her M.S. at Purdue, in 1953, and then her PhD in pharmacology two years later. After graduation, Dr. Shockley used a Fulbright Fellowship to do postdoctoral research at the University of Copenhagen.

When Dr. Shockley returned to the US, she accepted an appointment as an Assistant Professor of Pharmacology at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. She was greeted in her new job with a certain amount of suspicion, she later told an interviewer for Ebony, because, “Some men thought that I was just working temporarily.” She soon put those doubts to rest and became a valued and respected member of the faculty. In 1967, Dr. Shockley was promoted to Associate Professor, and ten years later, she became Head of the College’s Department of Microbiology. In addition, she has since served as Meharry’s foreign student advisor, and its liaison for international activities to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Dr. Shockley’s research interests have focused on the consequences of drug action on stress, the effects of hormones on connective tissue, the relationships between drugs and nutrition, and the measurement of non-narcotic analgesics (pain killers).

She was a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, from 1959 to 1962; and was a recipient of the Lederle Faculty Award, from 1963 to 1966. Dr. Shockley decided to do a postdoctoral study in Europe; she had many conversations with Professor Rasmussen, a faculty member from Norway. She applied for a Fulbright fellowship to study with Professor Knud Moller at the Pharmacology Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark. During her tenure, the Danish Fulbright office arranged for her to visit pharmacology departments in Sweden, Norway, and Finland.

Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, offered Dr. Shockley a faculty position in the pharmacology department. At Meharry, she met and married Thomas E. Shockley, PhD, a microbiology graduate of the Ohio State University. Most of Dr. Shockley’s professional career has been at Meharry where she advanced through the ranks to Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Pharmacology, thus becoming the first and only African-American woman to chair a pharmacology department at an accredited medical school in the US.

Dr. Shockley and her husband continued their research in New York City – her at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and him at the Rockefeller Institute (now University). They returned to Meharry where her husband was appointed Chairman of the Department of Microbiology.

Dr. Shockley served on numerous national committees including NIH, NSF, NRC, and FDA committees. She held offices in the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET). The Society established a travel award in her honor for student(s) to attend the national meeting – Experimental Biology. The Dolores C. Shockley Lectureship and Mentoring Award was inaugurated at the School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University, in 2009.

She has mentored and served as preceptor for doctoral students, undergraduate college students, and high school students. She enjoys teaching and has received numerous teaching awards.

Dr. Shockley’s husband passed away after 43 years of marriage. They raised four children together. She enjoys spending time with grandchildren. Her hobbies include gardening, photography, and reading.

In her lineage are notable engineering graduates, including Fred Cooper, co-founder of the Purdue Society of Black Engineers, and Michelle Cooper, first female National Chair of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).

Read more: Dolores Cooper Shockley Biography (1930-)




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