UC Davis list celebrating accomplished women includes leaders in CA&ES

The “Remarkable UC Davis Women” list includes, top row from left: Dean Helene Dillard, Katherine Esau, Susan Harrison, Margrit Mondavi, Pamela Ronald, Barbara Schneeman and Ann Veneman.
The “Remarkable UC Davis Women” list includes, top row from left: Dean Helene Dillard, Katherine Esau, Susan Harrison, Margrit Mondavi, Pamela Ronald, Barbara Schneeman and Ann Veneman.

UC Davis is highlighting 55 of its most significant women in history as part of a celebration marking the 150th anniversary of the admission of women to the University of California. Some of these highly accomplished women have strong ties to the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

“The list we compiled is by no means a complete list of all the incredible women at UC Davis; however, it offers a sample of remarkable women across UC Davis,” said Sophie Barbu, assistant director of UC Davis ADVANCE, which focuses on recruitment, advancement and retention of female faculty in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Highlighted women with CA&ES connections include:

  • Helene Dillard, an accomplished plant pathologist and administrator, has been dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences since 2014. She earned both her master’s and doctorate at UC Davis and is an enthusiastic leader of the top-rated agricultural college in the nation.
  • Katherine Esau, a world-renowned botanist and recipient of the President’s National Medal of Science, is known for setting standards of excellence for the investigation of anatomical problems in plant sciences. She spent 35 years at UC Davis after joining the faculty in 1931.
  • Susan Harrison, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, is known for her research on plant species diversity and climate change impacts to California’s grassland communities. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2018.
  • Margrit Mondavi and her husband, Robert Mondavi, donated $37 million to build the Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science at UC Davis. The Institute is home to the departments of Viticulture and Enology and Food Science and Technology, world leaders in their respective fields.
  • Pamela Ronald, distinguished professor of plant pathology, researches genes that control disease resistance and tolerance to environmental stress in rice and is known for engineering flood tolerant rice. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2019.
  • Barbara Schneeman, professor emerita and former chair of the Department of Nutrition, became dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in 1993. She was the first female dean of agriculture in the United States and also held a high-level post at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  • Ann Veneman, the first and only woman to become secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture. She previously led the California Department of Food and Agriculture and has been a good friend to the college, honored as such with a 2009 CA&ES Award of Distinction.

Throughout the years, women have held the highest leadership posts at UC Davis and have become some of the university’s most prominent alumni. UC Berkeley is leading the celebration with a website featuring history and a series of events dating back to last fall, and invited other UC campuses to submit lists of significant alumni, faculty and staff in their histories.

The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which includes ADVANCE, led the effort to compile the list, and members of the selection committee compiled both recent and early UC Davis figures.

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