Lynda Jordan, Chemistry

I hope that these visiting professorships will facilitate a mechanism for individuals to be judged by the “content of their character,” not their race or gender. Character is inclusive of scholarly activities.

LYNDA JORDAN - Professor of Chemistry (qtd. from MIT News)


Lynda Jordan at MIT Commencement, 1985 (Photo credit: L. Jordan)

MLK Visiting Professor 1997-2000
Hosted by the Department of Chemistry

Lynda M. Jordan (MIT, PhD '85) is CEO and Founder of A Place to Heal Ministries, Inc. (APTHM) and Associate Minister at the Holy Temple Church in Roxbury, MA. At the time of her MIT appointment, she was an Associate Professor of Chemistry at North Carolina A&T State University. Research interests: human enzymes (Human Placental Phospholipase A2 [PLA2], Lipocortin); science education, research and training, infrastructure development, and human resource development; theology and ethnography

1997-2000 Scholars

Lynda M. Jordan is CEO and Founder of A Place to Heal Ministries, Inc. (APTHM) and Associate Minister at the Holy Temple Church in Roxbury, MA. At the time of her MIT appointment, she was an Associate Professor of Chemistry at North Carolina A&T State University. Research interests: human enzymes (Human Placental Phospholipase A2 [PLA2], Lipocortin); science education, research and training, infrastructure development, and human resource development; theology and ethnography.

Dr. Jordan holds a BS in Chemistry from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University (NCATSU) and an MS in Chemistry (1980) from Atlanta University.  In 1985, she earned a PhD in Biological Chemistry from MIT.  She is the third of less than ten women of African descent to date who hold a PhD in Biological Chemistry from MIT—also “one of the few Boston urban minority high school students to obtain a doctorate degree” from the Institute.  At the time Dr. Jordan attended MIT, 80% of the students were men, only 3% were African-American, and only two 
African-American women had received PhDs from her department. 

After MIT, Dr.Jordan became a Postdoctoral Fellow at The Institut Pasteur in Paris, where she began her work on the Human Placental Phospholipase A2 (PLA2) and one of its protein inhibitors, Lipocortin. During the two-year post-doc, Dr. Jordan made substantial contributions to understanding these key proteins, which are associated with the human inflammatory processes. Her pioneering work of isolating both the calcium-dependent and calcium-independent high molecular weight PLA2 isoforms was one of the first identifications of these novel human enzymes, which laid the groundwork for many advancements in biomedical research today.

She returned as an assistant professor to NCATSU, where "almost single-handedly Jordan raised a million dollars for a new biochemistry lab" (see documentary below), and was later promoted to Associate Professor of Chemistry. At NCATSU, Dr. Jordan mentored many students and junior faculty members who later became professors, scientists, educators, and physicians.  She was instrumental in developing innovative, interdisciplinary programs in chemistry and implementing curricula at various levels of science education.

The story of her extraordinary journey is featured in the award-winning 1995 NOVA/WGBH documentary series Discovering Women. Narrated by actress Michelle Pfeiffer and directed by Yvonne Smith, “Jewels in a Test Tube” captures Dr. Jordan’s journey from a childhood in Roxbury (where she was “on the cusp of becoming a delinquent child”) to a career in science. At the documentary’s premiere, First Lady Hillary Clinton honored Dr. Jordan for her contributions to science and science education. Dr. Jordan was also selected to participate in a special Commemorative Meeting for World Peace in honor of The Archbishop Desmond Tutu, held in Hong Kong in 2000.

Dr. Jordan returned to MIT in 1997 as an MLK Visiting Professor in the Department of Chemistry.  It was during her sabbatical visit to the Institute that Dr. Jordan says she was “called to ministry,” and she would later earn both a Master of Divinity (MDiv) and a Master of Public Health (MPH) from Harvard University. 

The Institute honored her with a 1998 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award during the 24th MIT MLK Celebrations. In nominating Professor Jordan for a leadership award, Senior Assistant Dean Isaac Colbert wrote: "Lynda uses her experiences at every opportunity to teach younger minority and female students about the incomparable values of perseverance and hard work, about self-confidence and professionalism, and about cultivating challengers, supporters and listeners along one's journey through life. She has encouraged young scholars to think about their psychological, social and academic survival and has given practical advice in each arena." 

Dr. Jordan’s 1998 interview with Clarence Williams for the Blacks at MIT History Project is documented in Technology and the Dream: Reflections on the Black Experience at MIT, 1941-1999 (MIT Press, 2001).

Excerpts: Dr. Jordan's Oral History Interview for the
Blacks at MIT History Project

From Technology and the Dream: Reflections on the Black Experience at MIT, 1941-1999 
by Clarence G. Williams (MIT Press, 2001)

Interviewer:  Clarence G. Williams

Date:  January 21 and February 19, 1998

Place:  Cambridge, Massachusetts

Transcribed by:  Hope M. Barrett

LMJ:  About the history of me writing my dissertation.  Everybody knew about all that crap that I went through.  I was here one day in January.  It was between New Year's and Martin Luther King's birthday.  I came over here and I was sitting in my lab in this building on the first floor.  It was snowing outside and it was on a Friday night and it was three o'clock in the morning.  I was the only one in that lab.  I sat down and a poem came to me.  I just started writing how I was feeling.  I was talking about being an experimental cat-rat and the change swirling around and around in that vertabout trying to get out the top of that bottle.  And I made a decision right then that I was going to get my PhD in June and I was going to have a graduation.

But in that process of going through all that junk, between January and the June date, I don't even know what kept me going.  I was kind of religious then, but I was young.  But I said to God, I remember talking to Him every day--I mean, a serious conversation--I said, "The only thing I want to do is take this information and give it to another black person so they do not have to go through what I went through.  If I could teach them what they need to know before they get here, when they get here they won't have as hard of a time as I had."  That was the only motivation to staying up those nights and doing those hundred figures over.  To get through was to make sure that one day I was going to see one small black child do the same, that I could say this is how you do it before they get into the arena.  Somebody had to do it for me.

CGW:  That's really understanding and courageous.

LMJ:  People say the thing.  I couldn't sit up there.  I have to have me some black around here, because that's me.  It's true because you have to love you.

CGW:  If you don't, who else is there?

LMJ:  Nobody will, nobody will.  I have some post-docs.  A post-doc woman who I'm kind of mentoring here now, a couple of sisters and young girls, sometimes you tire too.  But even if you're tired and you're going through your stuff, when you see their face, your stuff seems insignificant because you are above them in years.  That means you have made it longer, and no matter how difficult the thing is that you're going through now, they can learn from you.


CGW:  The 19th of February and I'm here with Dr. Lynda Jordan.  Lynda, I want you to talk a little bit about your experience as a student here and just, when you reflect back on it, what comes to mind and what you think about that kind of experience here and how it relates to even your experience coming back here as a visiting Martin Luther King Scholar?

LMJ:  When I go back and think about my experience as a student, I think that there are a couple of things that we need to talk about.  Number one is the fact that there was a strong support group of other black students in our department at that time.  When I came here, James Mack, Cheryl DeBose, Reynold Verret, Sharon Haynie, and Joseph Francisco were already here.  Mark Walters as a post doc came at the same time I came. [...]I know that I would not have survived, especially during those first couple of years, had that system not been in place.

Now the MIT thing, it was difficult because of the fact that this was the first time.  I mean, the environment was not one which was an accepting environment.  So I had to go back to my support system which was there, who was mandated.  [...] The way that the chemistry department had it lined up was that the last person who graduated greeted the next person who came in.  So James Mack was my greeter.  He had come, he and Cheryl. [...] That is very important to know and to develop a relationship with someone there who can help you out, and I think that's what our students need here.

It was difficult.  It was a non-accepting environment here, but the one thing I think why it's important to come here is because of the resources and the infrastructure available so that the student can fully develop their intellectual needs and their intellectual capabilities and have access to the information.  Professors didn't know how to deal with you.  TA's didn't know how to deal with you.  And how has it changed to now since then?  Not very much.  The professors still don't know how to deal with you because look, this is 1998 and they have never had a black person and particularly a black female.  I really do not want to sound as though I'm separating the male and female because I really do not want to.  We need the male as the male needs us.  But there's nobody here still.  I came back to MIT twelve years after I graduated.  I was the third woman of African descent in the world to receive a PhD in chemistry from this institution in '85.  And for me to come back in 1998 and now I am helping the fourth woman, that is sad. The fourth woman who comes and gets a PhD after me is graduating now, is in the process now.

But this is it.  You see what I'm saying?  It took that much time, post-doc and ten years of professorship for another one to come through.  And so what I'm saying when I look at what is happening, I looked over what's happened over the last six years and I see that there have been several people of African descent who have been accepted into the PhD program here, but they have not successfully matriculated through--especially what has been done to the African American male.  There's something that needs to be done just in terms of mentoring.  I think that mentoring is very important.  Those stereotypical views which are perpetuated on the student have an effect, as it would any student, on their productivity.

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