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Groundbreaking President Jewel Plummer Cobb Dies

Jewel Plummer Cobb, one of the first African Americans to lead a major university west of the Mississippi, died on New Year’s Day in Maplewood, N.J., at age 92.

Cobb served as the third president of Cal State Fullerton, a position she held from 1981 through her retirement in 1990. During that period, she secured financing to establish schools of communication, computer science and engineering, and a gerontology center. A biologist, she was noted for her work in promoting science education among minorities and women.

The daughter of a schoolteacher and doctor, Cobb was raised in Chicago. She enrolled at the University of Michigan and later transferred to Talladega College in Alabama, where she earned her degree in biology. At New York University, she earned a master’s degree and doctorate.

An experience in New York led to her taking the helm at Fullerton. In 1979, she was dean of Douglass College at Rutgers University and was under consideration along with several other candidates to become president of Hunter College in Manhattan. A selection process riddled with accusations of racism and overt political influence ultimately ended with Donna Shalala, then the assistant U.S. housing secretary, getting the job.

After leaving Cal State Fullerton, Cobb served as trustee professor at Cal State Los Angeles until 2004. During that time she guided the ACCESS Center that served to increase the number of economically disadvantaged students pursuing STEM careers.

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