GJ mayor tries to avoid stereotypes
As a woman earning a doctorate in immunology, Teresa Coons was a minority in graduate school, and her professors didn’t let her forget it.
“Dirty jokes were just accepted,” Coons said.
She and other women in the program were so focused on achieving a career path their mothers couldn’t have dreamed of having that they let it slide most of the time, but some women in the program got disgusted and dropped out of school.
Sometimes the jokes weren’t meant to be funny.
“I had a professor that said he preferred not to have women in the lab because it affected the equipment when they were on their periods,” Coons said.
Coons finished the graduate program at the University of New Mexico and worked at a variety of jobs, including some at medical research labs.
She has also worked as a consultant for the biotechnology industry, managed a project at the University of New Mexico examining the long-term health effects of uranium mining, and spent nine years at the Saccomanno Research Institute before accepting the executive director position at the John McConnell Math and Science Center of Western Colorado nearly two years ago.
Sexism hasn’t been as overt in her working life as it was when she was in school, but Coons tried hard to avoid stereotypes by keeping pictures of her family off her desk and never letting co-workers see her cry.
“I worked more hours or took on more projects than maybe I had to because I wanted to prove I was dedicated,” she said.
Coons grew up in Wheat Ridge and had a mother who was supportive of the women’s liberation movement, but when it came to her own daughter’s original post-high school plans to become a physician, her mother balked at the idea.
“She said I was smart enough to be a physician, but no man would want to marry me, and if I did find a husband, I couldn’t have kids,” Coons said.
Coons did find a husband, Frank, and the pair have two daughters: One is a nurse and the other is a substance-abuse counselor.
Last year, Coons became Grand Junction’s fifth female mayor.