Scientist Barbara Sawrey earns a leadership role in the world of chemistry


Barbara Sawrey, the eldest of nine children, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and grew up in Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York. She received her bachelor’s degree from Baldwin-Wallace College, then worked as an industrial flavor and fragrance chemist before returning to graduate school.

She earned her Ph.D. in chemistry jointly from UC San Diego and SDSU. She has been a faculty member at UCSD in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry since 1984, and currently serves the campus as Associate Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education.

Sawrey is a member of Board of Governors of The San Diego Foundation. Members of the American Chemical Society, the largest scientific organization in the world, recently elected her to the Board of Directors.

What brought you to La Jolla?

The Navy brought me to San Diego County in 1978. I was married to a Naval officer who was stationed at NAS North Island. Later, I moved to La Jolla to be closer to the UCSD campus.

What might you add, subtract or improve in the area?

There is so much! Recurring themes in this column are improved parking in the Village and better traffic flow at the Hidden Valley/Torrey Pines/La Jolla Parkway intersection. These are worthy wishes, but my vote would be to have people exercise more caution when driving up and down the roads on Mt. Soledad – particularly along Via Capri.

Who or what inspires you?

The commitment of the UCSD faculty and staff to serving our students and higher education is very inspiring. And my spirits never fail to be lifted by the beautiful views from around town, even when I am carrying out the most mundane chore.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

All eight of my siblings live in Ohio. Though I visit twice each year, it is rare when we can all be together for dinner. So I would invite my five brothers and three sisters for a special event.

What is your most-marked characteristic?

I would like to think I am known for my ability to brainstorm issues, and solve problems in a collaborative way. But since people are not necessarily good judges of how they are perceived, I could be far off base. I have been told I am smilingly obstinate.

What is your most-prized possession?

Most material items can be replaced, but I would say my home is my most prized possession. The location and structure of my home suit me well, and I have a lovely Eastern mountain view to keep me calm. Of course, maybe I should highlight the ticket stub I have from Trevor Hoffman’s 500th save instead.

What do you do for fun?

I enjoy our local theaters and opera immensely. We are extremely fortunate to have many cultural choices in San Diego. One other special pastime of mine is driving and walking the older neighborhoods of San Diego. There is much interesting variety in the charm and in the architectural styles.

What is your biggest extravagance?

I make an annual pilgrimage to Arizona to see the Padres in Spring Training, and I share Padres season tickets with a group of campus friends and colleagues.

Describe your greatest accomplishment.

My two awards for mentoring women in the chemical sciences. One award is from the American Chemical Society, and the other is from our local Athena, San Diego. I have enjoyed mentoring students, and thereby returning the favor granted to me by the many mentors I have had – the women who blazed the way in chemistry, and the male chemists who supported them and me.

What is your philosophy of life?

My outlook on life reflects my scientific views — be observant and curious, ask questions, and look for patterns and relationships in what you learn. I am never bored.