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Photograph of President Clinton with Shirley Malcom, December 1, 2000, Digital Book 7, D669-09 (FOIA # 2008-0666-F), William J. Clinton Presidential Library

Oral history interview with Shirley Mahaley Malcom

  • 2020-Aug-05
  • 2020-Aug-25

Oral history interview with Shirley Mahaley Malcom

  • 2020-Aug-05
  • 2020-Aug-25

Shirley Mahaley Malcom was born in 1946 in Birmingham, Alabama, which was a segregated city. She grew up in her grandmother’s house with her parents and sister and was surrounded by other family and a strong Black community. Malcom attended Hudson Elementary School until sixth grade when she started attending Lewis School where her mother taught. She talks about experiencing the Civil Rights movement, the importance of voting, and the bombing of different churches in her community, included Bethel Baptist Church in 1956. Malcom attended George Washington Carver High School and graduated in 1963 at the age of sixteen. She talks about her family, including her mother going back to school and her father being treated at the Black VA hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her parents expected her to go to college, and she selected the University of Washington. Malcom discusses the challenges she faced as a Black woman moving into a white community. She spent a lot of time studying in college and talks about the classes she took and switching her major to zoology. Encouraged by her advisor to attend graduate school, Malcom accepted an offer at the University of California, Los Angeles. She earned a master’s degree in 1968 and took a leave of absence from the PhD program to teach at Marymount High School.

After some traumatic events in her life, Malcom decided to go back to graduate school and accepted an offer at Pennsylvania State University. She discusses enrolling in the PhD program in ecology and meeting her husband in the registration line. After receiving her PhD, Malcom taught at the University of North Carolina Wilmington before moving to Washington, DC, with her husband. She started working at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), where she has spent the rest of her career. She discusses her work at AAAS, including the “Double Bind” reports. Malcom briefly moved to the National Science Foundation for two-and-a-half years before returning to AAAS. She assisted with two major reports, “Equity and Excellence: Compatible Goals” and “Investing in Human Potential.” In 1993, Malcom joined the National Science Board (NSB). A year later, she joined Bill Clinton’s (1946-) Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

Malcom discusses her service on PCAST and NSB, topics they considered, and interfacing with Congress and the White House. In particular, she testified in Congress about the Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (PACI). She talks about the racial and ethnic compositions of PCAST, her interactions with other members of the committees, and the letter-type reports PCAST submitted to the President and why letters worked better than full-length reports. She details what it was like serving as a Black woman on these committees and her later work at AAAS, including working with STEMM Equity Achievement Change [SEA Change]. Malcom also mentions other diversity work, talking with George W. Bush (1946-) about improving education in schools, and interacting with Congress and PCAST as a part of AAAS.

This interview was conducted remotely via Zoom.

Property Value
  • 91 pages
  • 5h 38m 56s
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and the Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewers

David J. Caruso earned a BA in the history of science, medicine, and technology from Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and a PhD in science and technology studies from Cornell University in 2008. Caruso is the director of the Center for Oral History at the Science History Institute, a former president of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region (2012-2019), and served as co-editor for the Oral History Review from 2018-2023. In addition to overseeing all oral history research at the Science History Institute, he also holds several, in-depth oral history training workshops each year, consults on various oral history projects, and is adjunct faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching courses on the history of military medicine and technology and on oral history.

Kenneth M. Evans is a scholar in science and technology policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. He received his BS in physics from the University of Virginia and his MS and PhD in applied physics from Rice University. His research focuses on the history and organization of the US federal science advisory and policymaking system, with an emphasis on the role of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Kirstin R. W. Matthews is a fellow in science and technology policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and a lecturer in the Department of BioSciences at Rice University. Matthews manages the activities of the Baker Institute Science and Technology Policy Program, and the Center for Health and Biosciences’ Biomedical Research Program. Her research focuses on ethical and policy issues at the intersection between traditional biomedical research and public policy. Specifically, she focuses on regulation and ethical issues associated with emerging biotechnology, including vaccines, stem cells and genomic medicine. Matthews also leads a project to review scientific advice in and to the federal government, including the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Matthews has a BA in biochemistry from The University of Texas at Austin and a PhD in molecular biology from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Institutional location

Oral history number 1117

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Interviewee biographical information

  • September 06, 1946
  • Birmingham, Alabama, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1967 University of Washington B.S. Biology
1968 University of California, Los Angeles M.A. Zoology
1974 Pennsylvania State University Ph.D. Ecology

Professional Experience

University of North Carolina Wilmington

  • 1974 to 1975 Assistant Professor

American Association for the Advancement of Science

  • 1975 to 1977 Research Assistant, Research Associate, Project Director, Office of Opportunities in Science
  • 1979 to 1989 Head, Office of Opportunities in Science
  • 1989 to 2018 Head, Directorate for Education and Human Resources Programs
  • 2018 to present Senior Advisor and Director, SEA Change

National Science Foundation (U.S.)

  • 1977 to 1979 Program Officer, Science Education Directorate
  • 1977 to 1979 Program Manager and Program Director, Minority Institutions Science Improvement Program

National Science Board (U.S.)

  • 1994 to 1998 Member
  • 2006 to 2007 Co-chair, Commission on 21st Century Education in STEM

President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology

  • 1994 to 2001 Member

United States. National Park System Advisory Board

  • 1999 to 2003 Member


Year(s) Award
1994 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
1995 Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1996 Fellow, Association for Women in Science
1998 Alumna Summa Laude Dignata Award, University of Washington
2001 Distinguished Alumna Award, Pennsylvania State University
2003 Public Welfare Medal, National Academy of Sciences
2015 UCLA Medal
2021 Recipient of the Golden Key Award, Sigma Xi

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The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

2 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads