Becoming a Dean: The Story of Dr. Doris C. Warren

The News Magazine of HCU
“So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
Ephesians 2:19-22, The New American Bible Revised Edition

This scripture passage reminds us that at universities with a Christian mission, such as Houston Baptist University, the people are led by Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. Each person is equipped by God to make the kingdom of God present to all. The sacred temple image evokes a building that has permanence and purpose. Dr. Doris C. Warren, professor of chemistry and dean of the HBU College of Science and Mathematics (COSM), is a woman whose loyalty, steadfastness, and dedication as a person planted by God in just the right place, here at HBU, has exemplified this fruitful permanence and purpose for 48 years. I have known Doris for 32 of those years. It is a pleasure to write and share her story.

Doris Corpier Warren, daughter of Marvin and Lois Corpier, grew up in a good Baptist home along with younger sister Betty in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Doris thought it a high privilege and honor to be able to travel to Waco, Texas and attend Baylor University where she earned both Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in chemistry. After that, Doris relocated to Houston and began working on her doctorate in chemistry at the University of Houston (UH). Since she had mostly night classes, Doris found time during the day to teach part-time at the then merely four-year-old Houston Baptist College (HBC). She spent much time over the next several years commuting between HBC and UH. She was exhilarated to be able to bring the latest information about topics in analytical chemistry that she had just learned in her graduate classes to her students at HBC.

Doris is an analytical chemist skilled at taking a sample of material and figuring out what chemical substances are in it. At UH, Doris worked with electron spin resonance, ion exchange resins, and various kinds of chromatography. All of her lab skills prepared her to develop and teach two key courses in the chemistry major at HBU: Quantitative Analysis and Modern Analytical Techniques. She loved those courses and worked diligently to groom them and keep them excellent over the years. She revels in opportunities to talk informally with students and faculty about chemistry and when she does her excitement about it is palpable and contagious.

Even as dean, Doris continues to teach at HBU. She went from being a part-time instructor in chemistry to instructor, to assistant professor, to associate professor. Finally, in 1980 she became a full professor in chemistry. In 1997, after a national search, Doris Warren was named dean of COSM. When interviewed for The Collegian, Doris Warren, who was then completing 30 years of service at HBU commented, “I feel as if I have grown up with the University.”

Doris has always been committed to excellent scholarship and ongoing learning in her field. She did research as part of two National Science Foundation (NSF) faculty summer programs that led to published scientific papers. At the University of Colorado she worked with liquid chromatography using cation exchange resins. Chemists often have to make some of the equipment they need for their experiments. While at Colorado, Doris and one of the graduate students made a chromatography column from scratch with machine-pulled heated tubing. She was also a NASA Summer Faculty Fellow at the Johnson Space Center here in Houston for three summers. In1985, she traveled with a delegation to China and gave a presentation on membranes and chromatography.

In 1991, Doris was recognized as a Minnie Stevens Piper Professor. Each university in Texas nominates only one professor for that award each year. Then, a state committee chooses a small number of honorees. As an honoree, Doris received a hand-signed letter from then Texas governor, Ann Richards. After Doris, it was almost 20 years before another faculty member from HBU was chosen for this honor.

Doris has been an innovator in education. One example was the “Principles of Research” (POR) course. Doris and her colleague, Dr. Cynthia Young, noticed that the traditional science curriculum did not specifically prepare students to tackle real-world research projects even though that is what they had to do when they accepted industrial positions or went to graduate school after graduation. They obtained an NSF Local Course Improvement Grant to develop the first text for POR, a course all science majors at HBU were required to take for many years as a graduation requirement in the former double-major curriculum. The course was innovative and, at that time, few universities had a course that addressed research the way it did. Doris put much time and effort into the course to keep it current. Former students say that POR was one of the courses they appreciated most after beginning their advanced professional training after HBU.

Doris wants to give HBU students the best chemical education possible. By diligently pursuing grant funding, Doris enabled undergraduate student research projects and the acquisition of laboratory equipment that greatly enriched the educational experience of our chemistry students. Doris cares deeply about her students. She cares so much about them that she expects their best performance and achievement. She strives to be a role model of professional excellence for students.

Beginning in 1993, Doris was the principal investigator on the grants that funded five science education outreach programs focusing on hands-on science activities for elementary teachers in the Houston community. The philosophy of the hands-on approach to science is illustrated in the Chinese proverb: “What I hear, I forget; What I see, I remember; What I do, I know.” The experiments Doris introduced to the teachers can be used in the elementary school classroom with ordinary, readily available materials. Some of the greatest hits include “3, 2, 1 Blast-Off,” “Chemical Reactions in a ZiplocTM Bag,” “Density Tower,” “Mystery Powders,” “Dancing Raisins,” and of course the synthesis of polymers like Slime, Gluep, and Glurch. Doris shopped for all the needed materials, packed her car, and hit the road out to schools in the community where teachers had signed up for the programs. Presentations to the teachers were delivered while she wore a beautiful tie-dyed blue lab coat. When these programs were running, Doris did all of the work for them on top of her normal teaching load at HBU. The grant money frequently supported supplies for the teachers to take back with them to their classrooms so that they could implement what they learned immediately. One HBU alumnus, Dr. Jarafshan Mobed Mistry ’93 who served as a student assistant, remarks, “We always walked away [from a day at one of these schools] with the satisfaction of knowing that we had helped ease the teachers’ own anxieties, fears, and mental blocks about science and hoped [their participation] would help them become better science teachers.”
I’m always glad to work with colleagues who are willing to work hard with me on a project. When I find out the colleague wants to do the lion’s share of the work, I am very glad. Doris often does a Tyrannosaurus Rex’s share of the work! To do all of this work over the years, Doris has sought God’s sustenance through weekly worship. She knows how to have fun, too. She relaxes by reading with cat Polly nearby, Sudoku, quilting, and tending her flower gardens. She has the largest hen-and-chick plants that I have ever seen.

In COSM, Doris is known to have an open door to faculty and students. Most days, the door stays open as Doris works later into the evening after most of us have gone home. COSM faculty comment that Doris is one of the best listeners they’ve ever had as a supervisor. She is a treasure-trove of history about HBU, knowledge about how to get things done at HBU, and sensible wise advice. As a result, Doris has mentored and cultivated a science and mathematics faculty that has remained stable for many years. With 18 years, Doris now has the most years of service as dean at HBU. Dr. Don Looser, former vice president of Academic Affairs, now retired, sums it up nicely, “Doris Warren has the longest tenure of any of the current deans by virtue of her committed and tenacious sense of calling. It has never been about self, but about mission.”