Cheryl Shavers

Many people associate “Ph.D” with academia, but a scientific degree can be useful in a wide variety of professions, as evidenced by this week’s WiSE Wednesday honoree, Cheryl Shavers, whose doctorate in chemistry propelled her to positions of power in industry and government. 

Cheryl was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1953, where she was raised by a single mother. Money was tight, but, fascinated with forensic chemistry, Cheryl was determined to pursue a college education. A scholarship allowed her to attend a community college (Mesa), after which she transferred to Arizona State University (ASU) where, working night shifts at a data processing center to afford her tuition, she obtained a BS in chemistry. Her initial interest in forensic chemistry led her to an internship for the Phoenix PD’s crime lab, where she helped develop a technique for analyzing trace evidence called enzyme typing. Despite the technique’s successful use in a murder trial, Cheryl was subsequently relegated to menial tasks and, frustrated, she switched career paths, shifting her sights to industry. While working on semiconductors at Motorola, she began to pursue a doctoral degree in solid-state chemistry degree from ASU. After obtaining her PhD, she went to work as an engineer at HP, followed by engineering and managerial positions at other high-tech companies. Her scientific expertise and business acumen drew attention, and she was recruited by Intel Capital, where she led analyses of emerging technologies and advise investors. She has also served on boards for numerous companies and organizations. 

In addition to her work in industry, she served in the US government as Under Secretary of Commerce for Technology from 1999 to 2001 (the first female African-American to hold the position) and she works as a Patent Agent for the Department of Commerce.

Dr. Shavers has an international reach, giving talks about technology, business, and policy around the world, but she has also been actively involved in her local community. In addition to serving on the board of directors for the San Jose Tech Museum of Innovation, she wrote weekly “Women in Technology” columns for the San Jose Mercury News. As a board member of the Anita Borg Institute, she helps provide STEM opportunities for women and girls. In recognition of her work, Shavers was inducted into the International Women in Technology Hall of Fame in 1996.