Alum of the Month

January 2021

January 2021
Mary Jeanne Hurley Hickey

(BA, Physics, '50; MA, Physics, '55)

Q & A:

  • What was your favorite class, who was your favorite professor, or what is your fondest memory of Hofstra?
    The professor I remember most fondly was Dr. Loyal F. Ollmann, chairman of the Math Department. In Calculus class, he taught us to draw, telling us that if we could visualize and draw the figures, it would be easier to solve the problem. He also took the time to explain, in his view, how important it was to take time off in the middle of the day to eat and rest, if possible, for an hour. I have incorporated this advice, as best as I was able, into my daily life.

    I have fond memories of:
    • Memorial Hall, brand-new at the time, was my Hofstra home with classrooms, labs, the cafeteria, and a social space for dances and other gatherings.
    • Going to Ryan’s after Newman Club meetings.
    • The “Blue Beetle,” the bus that shuttled students between campus and the Hempstead railroad station.
  • What was your first job after graduating from Hofstra, and what was the most valuable thing learned in that position?
    My first job was at Grumman Aircraft, as a mathematical assistant. I learned to take advantage of opportunities that came my way, such as learning about computers early on, learning the new scientific computer language, FORTRAN, and enrolling in the company education program that paid for most of my master’s degree.
  • What is your field of specialty, and how did you come to work in the industry?
    I consider that I have had two fulfilling careers in my 90+ years of life. Probably my greatest accomplishment was the raising of a daughter and four sons to be productive, professional, and caring adults who are raising children of the same caliber.

    My principal abilities lie in administration. Organizing, writing memos and reports, solving problems, and finding the right person for the job are strong points. Whether working for profit or nonprofit entities, I have been able to easily adapt to the new organization. My early introduction to computers and my physics and mathematics background have been assets. Hosting many international visitors made it comfortable for me to work with and for people of many different races and nationalities.
  • What advice would you give Hofstra students?
    First, keep your options open. You never know where life may lead you. Second, don’t forget the liberal arts. They will make life interesting, and enjoyable. Also, they may lead to a career change.
  • In one word, how would you describe Hofstra?
    Amazing! I’ve watched it grow from a small, “day-hop” college with four buildings and the quad, to the great university it is today with a campus on both sides of Hempstead Turnpike, a medical school, a renowned library, dorms, and so much more. If I lived on Long Island, I would be much involved.
  • What has been the most rewarding experience in your career?
    My most rewarding experience occurred very early on. When I applied for my first job at Grumman, I was interviewed by two men who would make the final decision on hiring. One was the head of the Mathematics Department. He was pleasant and outgoing. The other led an engineering group, and he “looked” the part, slouched, dark rimmed glasses, quiet, a man of few words. I was informed that I had been hired and was told to report the following week for my assignment. When I arrived at work, I found myself in the Applied Loads Group in Engineering with Earl P. Osborn as my boss.

    Earl had served as a pilot in World War I and was a respected engineer at Grumman and across the industry. I soon discovered that Earl was an honest and fair man who judged on performance, not gender. I learned later that if I had gone to the Mathematics Department, I might have never advanced beyond mathematics assistant.

    Earl recognized my abilities, and encouraged me to go higher. He fought for raises to bring me up to the engineering level. At one point, I considered moving to another company. Earl got me the raise that kept me at Grumman.

    Through his sponsorship, I became a member of a prestigious scientific association in New York City. I went to conferences during the rest of my life. Whenever I encountered a male chauvinist, and I did, I was not intimidated.
  • Who was the person who most influenced you, and how?
    My parents, no question. They brought me and my siblings up to understand there was no profession we could not enter if that was our desire and aptitude. As a result, I became an aerospace engineer; my sister Gertrude (Hofstra ‘53) became a doctor; my sister Maureen (Hofstra ‘53) played the drums in a band; and my sister Barbara became a flight Instructor. My parents also taught us life skills. My mom taught us cooking, gardening, and sewing. Dad taught us about cars and plumbing. I remember telling him that my car needed a new distributor. He said, “You can change that yourself,” and, following his instruction, I did. But it was my mom who suggested I choose mathematics or physics as my major at Hofstra.
  • How did your degree from Hofstra help you in your career?
    My degree certainly provided me with the tools to get that first job and be successful in it. The whole process of learning and striving toward a goal has been useful in all my endeavors.
Mary Jeanne Hurley Hickey

Mary Jeanne Hurley Hickey is a pioneer. Choosing physics as her major at Hofstra, as well as math, was very unusual for a woman in the 1940s. In fact, she was one of only two women to earn a BA in Physics in 1950. At Hofstra, she was a member of Sigma Pi Sigma and Kappa Mu Epsilon, the physics and math honor societies.

After graduation, disregarding career advice to become an executive secretary, Mary Jeanne went to work for Grumman Aircraft in Bethpage, as a mathematical assistant in the Applied Loads Group of the Engineering Department. Grumman was a major manufacturer of planes for the U.S. Navy: fighters capable of landing on aircraft carriers, amphibians used for search and rescue, and planes for submarine surveillance, among them. Grumman planes were the first Blue Angels. (The company merged with Northrop Aerospace to become Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia.) Taking advantage of an in-house class in FORTRAN, a new programming language for scientific computing, Mary Jeanne became the principal programmer for her group. Courses at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute under Grumman’s educational program helped her advance to applied loads engineer in 1954. Transferring those courses to Hofstra, she went on to earn an MA in Physics in 1955.

After 10 years at Grumman, Mary Jeanne married and moved to Massachusetts, becoming the mother of one daughter and five sons. Community involvement included Camp Fire Girls leader and camping trainer, elected Town Meeting member for many years, delegate to the 1980 White House Conference on Families, and certified instructor in Natural Family Planning. She and her husband hosted international students and other visitors from many different countries, for both short and long stays.

In 1964, Mary Jeanne became an accredited leader/breastfeeding counselor for La Leche League International. After several local positions (group leader, chapter leader, newsletter editor), she progressed to administrator of Massachusetts; administrator of Rhode Island; administrator of Maryland, Delaware, and D.C.; and liaison with Canada, French Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, and New Zealand. In 1980, she passed the first exam given, and became an international board-certified lactation consultant. Later, she administered this exam for several years. In 1990, Mary Jeanne took a position with Professional Credential Services in Nashville, Tennessee, as Massachusetts administrator and chief proctor of many paper and pencil, semi-annual professional exams, including Architecture, Engineering, and Nursing. In 1995, she and her husband became managers of the Sylvan/Prometric Testing Center in Boston. Here, exams were given on computers, both professional exams such as Nursing, Medical, and Dental, as well as the GRE and TOEFL.

In 2012, Mary Jeanne retired and moved to an independent living, 55+ community where she is a member of the finance committee. A lifetime member of the Association of Naval Aviation, she is a member and active participant with the Patriot Squadron Museum at the former Naval Air Base in South Weymouth, MA.