FULLERTON (CBSLA.com) — Cal State Fullerton’s third president, and the first African-American woman to lead a major university west of the Mississippi, has died at the age of 92.
Jewel Plummer Cobb died on Jan. 1. She lived in Maplewood, New Jersey and suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in recent years.
Cobb served as Cal State Fullerton’s president from October 1981 to August 1990, a trailblazing time for the university that includes the establishment of schools for communications, and engineering and computer science; the establishment of a minor in women’s studies and the campus’ role as a venue for the 1984 Summer Olympics.
“She was such a role model for women, so accomplished and a joy to work for,” Norma Morris, staff assistant emeritus to the president, said in a statement. “She loved students and did so much for them, especially underrepresented students.”
Cobb was instrumental in securing the funds for the construction of several new buildings on the campus, including a science lab, computer science building and the Ruby Gerentology Center, the first campus building paid for by donations, according to Cal State Fullerton. Her negotiations with the Marriott Corp. and the city of Fullerton for the lease of campus land for construction of a hotel also financed a sports complex for the university and was the first partnership of its kind for a public university.
She also obtained state bond funding for the construction of the university’s first on-campus student residence halls that today bear her name.
University officials say the diversity of the students that reside in Cal State Fullerton’s on-campus residence halls was a source of pride for Cobb, who lived in segregated dorms when she was a college student.
The granddaughter of a freed slave, Cobb grew up in Chicago as the daughter of college graduates – a doctor and a teacher, but she was forced to attend underfunded public schools reserved for blacks because of segregation. She started her college education at the University of Michigan, where she found that black students were segregated into one dormitory.
She later transferred to Talladega College in Alabama, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology.
Before becoming a college administrator, she worked as a research scientist focusing on skin cancer and melanin’s ability to protect skin from damage. She has since earned more than 20 honorary doctorates, along with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Sciences.
Cobb is survived by her son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter.