Boulder resident JoAnn Joselyn, will talk about her career in AstroGeophysics and becoming the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in her department at CU-Boulder in 1978. Courtesy photo.
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What: Boulder Conversations with Extraordinary People: JoAnn Joselyn, Ph.D.

When: Wednesday, 5:30 p.m.

Where: Chautauqua Community House

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I t may have been an accident, but University of Colorado alumnae Joann Joselyn paved the way for women in the field of astro-geophysics.

Joselyn, now 69, was the first woman to graduate with a Ph.D. in the field at CU-Boulder. But she wasn’t supposed to be the first.

“I would have been the second, but the woman who was supposed to graduate first had to take some time off to rebuild her house after her kids set it on fire,” said Joselyn, who earned her Ph.D. in 1977. “I’ve always felt bad about that, but it’s how I got to be the first.”

Joselyn will talk about her experiences as one of the only women in CU’s engineering school, her accomplishments in the field of astro-geophysics — a branch of earth science dealing with space — and her lifelong love for space (she calls herself a “space groupie”) on Wednesday as part of the Boulder Conversations with Extraordinary People series at the Chautauqua Community House.

The lecture series is in its fourth year and highlights people living in Boulder who have made strides in their fields, said Nancy Geyer, executive director for the Boulder History Museum.

“There are so many interesting people who have amazing accomplishments living in Boulder, so we wanted to introduce them to the community,” Geyer said.

More than 20 years after receiving her Ph.D., Joselyn embraced another lucky streak when she became the first female secretary general of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics, a world organization that studies the Earth and its environment in space.

The U.S. was looking for a quiet nominee for the secretary general position since a Canadian nominee was favored to win it, Joselyn said. A woman had never held the position before, and she did not expect to be the first.

“I told them they could nominate me for the position because there was no way I would win it, so I’d be a safe nomination,” Joselyn said. “Then I got a call asking if my nomination was real after the Canadian nominee had to withdraw. I thought ‘I can be queen of the world or stay here and work for eight more years.'”

She left her position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to run of one of the world’s most influential science organizations. It was a dream come true for the woman who became fascinated with space on her 14th birthday, when the world’s first satellite was launched.

“I was a Sputnik kid,” Joselyn said. “I was fascinated with Sputnik from day one, and it’s what kept me going all these years.”

Joselyn has received the George Norlin Award from CU, a Daily Camera Pacesetter Award and induction to the Colorado Woman’s Hall of Fame.

The Boulder resident currently serves on the board at the Frasier Meadows Manor in Boulder where she recently rewritten the bylaws for the board — a piece of cake compared to revising the bylaws of IUGG, she said.

“I can’t quit now,” Joselyn said. “Leadership is something that’s learned but now that it’s in me, it’s there for good.”

Follow Whitney Bryen on Twitter: @SoonerReporter.

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