Stanka Jovanovic, who retired May 31, 1996, has made significant
contributions to science education and has a fascinating background
as a chemist for Argonne National Laboratory. This interview is
an opportunity to get to know Stanka better, and anyone who meets
Stanka will never forget her!
Featured Scientist - Stanka Jovanovic
From the Summer 1996 sciencelines
Stanka, you were the Fermilab Education Office Manager for six
years and the President of Friends of Fermilab for thirteen years.
We all know you as one of the mothers of the Leon M. Lederman
Science Education Center. But, I'd like to reflect on the early
years of the education programs and on your educational and scientific
What do you recall as your beginning interest in science?
There are many differences between my early education and the
education here in America. I grew up in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.
My family expected me to do well in school and go to college.
In addition to my school work, I studied piano and foreign languages.
We had no extracurricular activities in our schools.
Science and mathematics were an integral part of every student's
education. We studied two to three sciences each year from fifth
to twelfth grade. Mathematics was the most important subject.
The best and most popular students were the ones who did well
in mathematics. Our math teachers were very strict. They never
smiled and expected perfection. Most students were afraid of math
but not me. I took great pride in the fact that word problems
came very easy to me.
Tell us something about your formal science education experiences
in grade school and high school. Were there lectures? Did students
work in teams? What kind of equipment was at your disposal? How
did you feel about studying science and mathematics?
I attended an all-girls high school. There were no coed high schools
then. The sciences were very descriptive. We used textbooks, and
the teachers came to class and lectured. There was no such thing
as hands-on science. We went to the science labs but for demonstrations
only. Occasionally professors from the University of Belgrade
came to do demonstrations or presentations. When I was a senior,
Professor Jovanovic, Chairman of the Physics Department, was supposed
to come; instead his son Drasko, a high school senior, showed
up with wonderful physics demonstrations. That was the first time
I met Drasko. We were married five years later.
Describe your undergraduate years. Where did you attend school.
Were there many women in the programs, and did you encounter any
I attended the University of Belgrade. In those days, the College
of Engineering and the Medical School were it. Medical and engineering
graduates were the highest paid, so these were the most valued
degrees. I wanted to be a Chemical Engineer. To be admitted I
had to pass tough math entrance exams. In my group 2 out of 50
passed. There were no gender distinctions; men and women were
judged the same. I enrolled in the Chemical Engineer Department,
but within six months Tito, then President of Yugoslavia, decreed
that the country needed metallurgical engineers. So one bright
day, fifty of the best Chemical Engineering students were summarily
transferred into the newly established Department of Metallurgy.
Thus, I ended up with a Bachelors of Science in Metallurgical
Engineering. Soon after, I came to the University of Chicago as
a graduate student in the Chemistry Department. Drasko was already
there in his third year of graduate studies in the Physics Department.
Tell us about some of the scientific positions you held.
I put myself through school as a research assistant at the University
of Chicago Metal Institute. I had the privilege of working for
many famous scientists from the Manhattan Project. I worked in
the analytical chemistry lab and metalography lab. I loved it!
I received my Master of Science degree and followed Drasko to
the University of California in San Diego. At UCSD I worked as
a graduate research chemist under Harold Urey, the Nobel Laureate
who discovered deuterium.
Two years later Drasko accepted a position at Argonne National
Laboratory, and we returned to Chicago. We decided to start a
family. A year and a half after my daughter was born I went back
to work parttime. I worked with George Reed, a chemist at Argonne
National Laboratory. We studied the geochemistry of extraterrestrial
materials, meteorites, Apollo and Luna moon samples and ancient
terrestrial rocks. We were interested in the origin of matter,
the origin of the solar system, the geothermal processes that
shaped our world. I worked at Argonne for twenty-eight years.
George and I authored more then 100 publications.
How did you become interested in education?
My interest stems from my involvement in my children's education.
In 1978 the failure of the fourth school referendum eliminated
all the extracurricular activities, including the instrumental
music program in my daughter's elementary school. To preserve
my daughter's band, I discovered in a hurry how the school system
worked. I got a group of community leaders together, and we organized
the "Junior Music Association," a not-for-profit corporation,
to provide an instrumental music program in the district under
a contract with the school board.
Share with readers of sciencelines the early years of FFLA
and the Lederman Science Center.
In 1981 Leon Lederman, Director of Fermilab, asked me to organize
a similar not-for-profit organization to sponsor precollege programs
at Fermilab. I thought it would be great if Fermilab could offer
programs for science teachers. I asked Marge Bardeen, who was
then a school board president and a teacher, to join me, and with
several other community leaders we organized Friends of Fermilab.
From the very beginning and to this day, the sole purpose of FFLA
is to provide support for the precollege programs at Fermilab.
What have been your greatest joys?
My family tops the list. My older daughter Jasna is an assistant
professor in the Department of Human and Community Development
at the University of Illinois. Vesna is a medical student at the
University of California at Davis. They are Drasko's and my best
friends. Drasko is one of the pioneers that built and made Fermilab
work. His love for Fermilab is one of the reasons I responded
to Leon's plea to get Friends of Fermilab going.
The most exciting part of my professional life was doing research
with the moon samples. Last, but not least, my work here at Fermilab
brought enormous satisfaction knowing that I played a role in
creating the Education Office, the Lederman Science Center and
the numerous science education programs that brought tens of thousands
of students and thousands of teachers to Fermilab.
What are your plans for the future?
It was forty years ago this month that I came to the University
of Chicago. I started running then and never stopped. So, the
first thing I will do when I retire is to slow down and regroup.
I have many plans to travel, visit my family and friends, enjoy
our house in Idaho and sit on the beach in Florida. After that,
What advice would you give students?
Study, study, study. No one can do it for you. How much you study
today will decide what you will become and how you will live your