Return to Distinguished Service to Industry, Commerce, or Education

2020 Distinguished Service to Industry, Commerce, or Education Award – Eileen K. Pollack

Eileen K. Pollack

Author & Professor Emerita of English Language and Literature,
College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, University of Michigan

Eileen Pollack is one of the first two women to earn a B.S. in Physics from Yale. Her book, The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys’ Club, explores that experience. While at Yale in the mid-1970s, she collaborated with co-conspirator Rochelle Sharpe, the first female editor of the Yale Scientific Magazine, radically changing the nature of the magazine. She wrote a column for the magazine about women’s experiences in science at Yale called “Notes from a Black Hole.”

Pollack graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, with honors in the major, having excelled in the department’s three-term sequence in quantum mechanics and a graduate course in gravitational physics, all while teaching herself to program Yale’s mainframe computer. However, a pivotal junior year seminar with the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Head of Pierson College, John Hersey, convinced Pollack to pursue writing. After graduating from Yale, Pollack studied literature and philosophy as a Marshall Scholar at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, and then earned an M.F.A. in from the University of Iowa, where she was awarded a Teaching-Writing Fellowship. Later, Pollack served as a long-time faculty member and former director of the Helen Zell M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing at the University of Michigan.

Pollack is the author of four novels, two collections of short fiction, and a children’s book about AIDS. She has also written two book-length works of creative nonfiction, including The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys’ Club. Her numerous awards include the 2012 Grub Street National Book Prize, the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for the best Jewish fiction of 2008, an NEA Fellowship in fiction, two Pushcart Prizes, an appearance in Best American Short Stories 2007 (edited by Stephen King), a Michener Fellowship, the Lawrence Award, the Cohen Award and a Rona Jaffe Fellowship, and a year-long fellowship from the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities. Her short fiction has appeared in prestigious literary journals, and her nonfiction has appeared in newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

An excerpt from The Only Woman in the Room first appeared in The New York Times Magazine in 2013. The intention of the essay at its start was to explain the scarcity of tenured female physics professors at elite institutions. The article and subsequent book struck a chord with women in STEM fields—and beyond—at every level. Pollack’s research also highlighted challenges faced by black, Latinx, Asian American, Native American, and LGBTQ scientists. 

For capturing the loneliness, humility and humanity in being an exceptional scientist, we are proud to honor Eileen Pollack as the recipient of the 2020 YSEA Award for Distinguished Service to Industry, Commerce, or Education.

To hear Eileen Pollack speak about the need for DEI in STEM, watch the video below!

Advancing DEI in STEM: A Conversation with YSEA Awardee and Author Eileen Pollack

May 28, 2021