Lina (Tormen) Taskovich
Lina Tormen Taskovich ’52 studied chemistry and chemical engineering at Michigan Tech almost thirty years before Sally Heidtke, and she has some words of wisdom for women students too: “Study a field you like—you have to spend all your life working in it. And go for the top degree in the field of your choice. Also, do not go for the most lucrative job, but for the job you would love to do.”
When Taskovich came to Michigan Tech, the male-to-female student ratio was about 50-to-1. Only a dozen or so women were in science and engineering. She majored in chemistry, and in her freshman class, there were eight women. Her sophomore year, there were four. During her third and fourth years, Taskovich was the only one.
“With other good students, I had no problems, but with the mediocre students, it was very difficult, especially in chemical engineering classes,” she recalls. Sometimes a professor asked a question of a mediocre student, and when he couldn’t answer it, the professor asked Taskovich. “When I answered correctly, the professor would say to the mediocre student, ‘A woman gave the correct answer; shame on you.’ Then, for sure, the mediocre student would pick on me after class.”
Originally from Ecuador, Taskovich wanted to attend the University of California at Berkeley, but she didn’t have the math prerequisites. So she chose Michigan Tech, intending to stay only a year and then transfer to UC Berkeley.
But she discovered that her freshman chemistry and algebra classes had only fifty students in lectures and fifteen for recitation sections, compared to three thousand in Berkeley lecture classes and no recitation opportunities at all. “I decided that Michigan Tech was a very good university, so I decided to stay and complete my education here,” she says.
Michigan Tech soon became something of a family tradition. Taskovich’s two brothers attended Tech, as did two sons of friends of her parents. “My brothers, Pascual and Renzo Tormen, married Calumet girls, and settled down in Michigan,” Taskovich recalls. Renzo’s son, Renzo N. Tormen, also chose Michigan Tech, graduating in computer science in 1983.
After she graduated in 1952 with a BS in Chemistry and a minor in chemical engineering, Taskovich earned a master’s degree at the University of Minnesota and pursued the career of her dreams: chemical research. She worked with M. S. Blois at Stanford University while Blois was exploring the importance of free radicals in biological systems, forty years before anyone else. Then she worked as a research scientist for ALZA Corporation, a start-up pharmaceutical firm in Palo Alto, California. Somehow, she also found time to raise three sons.
“The only difficulty I had wasn’t being a woman, but not having a PhD,” she says. “That’s why I always advise my assistants or students to go for it and earn their PhDs. With a PhD, they can move to the top. Some of my superiors at ALZA were excellent, others good, some very bad—but all had PhDs.”
Michigan Tech Magazine, Spring 2012, Vol.49 #1