Inspiring women from UNSW’s past and present sit at the heart of the Celebrating UNSW Women project. The program aims to improve gender equity and increase the visibility of the University’s diverse community across its built and virtual environments.  

Led by the UNSW Council and the Division of Equity Diversity & Inclusion, the project hopes to ensure better representation of our remarkable community and is inclusive of any alumnae and former staff who identify as women.  

The Celebrating UNSW Women project highlights over 65 women from across the university, including renaming 17 buildings and spaces after UNSW women role models, and includes 11 trailblazing women from across the Faculty of Science.

Dr June Griffith

Dr June Griffith, born 6 November 1924, was the very first woman to ever graduate from UNSW. Dr Giffith was awarded a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Applied Chemistry in 1952, later earning a master’s degree and PhD from Sydney University.

She returned to UNSW as a lecturer in the School of Chemistry in 1968 and was appointed Director of First Year Classes within two years of the role.  

Sadly, Dr Griffith passed away at age 54. Her ongoing legacy is celebrated each year through the annual June Griffith Memorial Prize, awarded to UNSW’s top performing Chemistry students, as well as the June Griffith Fellowship for Academic Women in Leadership.   

In her memory and as part of the Celebrating UNSW Women project, The Chemical Sciences Building will now be known as the ‘June Griffith Building’. 

Dr Griffiths family say that June would be “humbled by this honour”. 


Galina Sugowdz

Galina Sugowdz completed her undergraduate degree at the Polytechnic Institute in Kharkiv, Ukraine, in 1938.

When the second world war hit, Galina was captured as a prisoner of war in 1942 and taken to Germany. There, it was discovered she was a scientist, and she was forced to work for Hermann Goring’s project. 

At the end of the war Galina and her family, who had become displaced persons, resettled in Australia in 1949. Six years later she became the first woman to graduate from UNSW with a master’s degree and following Dr Griffith, the second woman to graduate from the Faculty of Science. 

She was subsequently offered a role as an Experimental Officer in the division of Physical Chemistry at the CSIRO and later worked within the division of Coal Research at the CSIRO.

In her honour, Galina Sugowdz will have a lecture theatre named after her in the Central Lecture Block, along with 9 other women from across the faculties.

Photo provided to UNSW

Emeritus Professor Merilyn Joy Sleigh

Emeritus Professor Merilyn Sleigh, born 23 March 1948, became UNSW’s first woman dean when she was appointed head of the Faculty of Life Sciences in 1997, after six years as a visiting professor. Prof. Sleigh continued as Interim Dean of the Faculty of Science when the two science faculties merged in 2001, before returning to work in industry. 

During her time at UNSW, Prof. Sleigh was notable for promoting links between Science and Commerce, including the introduction of an undergraduate Diploma in Innovation Management.

With a degree in pharmacology and a PhD in molecular biology she has been involved in the development of the biotechnology industry in Australia and was awarded a Centenary Medal in 2002 for her service to Australian society in research and development. In 1985 she was elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering.

Prof. Sleigh has extensive experience as a CEO. She was also a founding director of the Australian Biotechnology Association (1985-1987) and was awarded its President’s Medal for an outstanding contribution to the industry in 2008.

To celebrate her legacy, Prof. Sleigh will have the Science Lawn renamed the ‘Merilyn Sleigh Lawn’. 

“I am greatly honoured to be a part of UNSW's Celebrating Women project and delighted that my name will be linked to the Science Lawn, an area of the campus that has particular significance for me from my time at the University,” says Prof. Sleigh.

Photo provided to UNSW

Dr M Helen Maguire

Born 28 January 1927, Dr Helen Maguire was the first woman to graduate from UNSW with a Doctor of Philosophy. She was awarded her PhD in Applied Chemistry In 1956 and her thesis was entitled 'The synthesis of some organophosphorus compounds.' 

Dr Maguire went on to work in the Chemistry Department at UNSW before moving to the Pharmacology Department of Sydney University where she worked as a researcher. 

Throughout the 1960s she became involved in the conservation movement in Sydney and was instrumental in forming the Mosman Parklands and Ashton Park Association, which worked to protect local bushland and parks. Dr Maguire relocated to the USA where she continued to work in research at various universities.

To commemorate her achievements and contribution to science, the Quadrangle Lawn will be named after her as the ‘Helen Maguire Lawn’.

Photo provided to UNSW

Other leading science figures to be recognised

Phase two of the project is the creation of a physical and virtual ‘Women’s Trail’ across the Kensington and Paddington campuses. The aim is to add women to the trail each year.

As part of the campus trail, seven other inspiring women from the Faculty of Science will be commemorated with name plaques: 

  • Sonia Lane, BSc (UNSW) 1994  
    In 1991, Sonia Lane was the First Lesbian Services Officer in the UNSW Student Union. The Lesbian Services Department organised social events, campaigns and activities for lesbian and non-heterosexual women on campus and held weekly meetings. A plaque for Sonia will be located at Basser College (D17). 

  • Emeritus Professor Pamela Rickard, BSc (Usyd) 1957, MSc (UNSW) 1961, PhD (UoL) 1963, PhD (UNSW) 1964 
    Professor Pamela Rickard (Nee Cornford) was the first woman professor in a science faculty at the university. From 1957-1960 Pamela was a Teaching Fellow in the School of Biological Sciences before moving to London to Complete a PhD on porphyrin synthesis in human red blood cells. In 1965 she returned to UNSW as a lecturer and in 1981 was appointed as the foundation professor of biotechnology, of which she was a founding member. When she retired in 1988 she was given the title of Emeritus Professor. A plaque for Pamela will be located in the Science and Engineering building (E8). 

  • Professor Margaret Sheil AO FAA FTSE, BSc(Hons) (UNSW) 1984, PhD (UNSW) 1988  
    Professor Margaret Sheil was the first woman chemistry professor in Australia after being promoted to Professor of Chemistry at the University Wollongong in 2000. Margaret obtained a Bachelor of Science and a PhD in Physical Chemistry from UNSW and was a UNSW Science and Technology Alumni Award winner in 2016. Margaret is a trailblazer for women in science, recognised for her efforts to increase the participation, pay and recognition of women in STEM. A plaque for Margaret will be located in the Science and Engineering building (E8). 

  • Edith Cox, BSc (UNSW) 1957, ASTC   
    On 13 April 1957, Edith Cox became the first woman to graduate from UNSW with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences. In 1962 The Institute of Home Economics Australia was formed and elected Edith as its President. Edith will have a plaque in her honour located in the Science and Engineering building (E8) 

  • Ilse Uhlenhut BSc (UNSW) 1967, MSc (UNSW) 1976, MCom (UNSW) 1980 
    Ilse Uhlenhut became the first woman to graduate in Metallurgy from UNSW, in May 1967, followed by a Master of Science from UNSW in 1976 and Master of Commerce in 1980. During her time at UNSW, she held office in the University’s Metallurgy Society in 1955/56 and following graduation was employed as a metallurgist at Austral Bronze. A plaque for Ilse will be located in the Science and Engineering building (E8).

  • Professor Tamara Davis AM, BSc/BA (UNSW) 1999, PhD (UNSW) 2004 
    Professor Tamara Davis graduated from UNSW with a Bachelor of Science / Bachelor of Arts (Physics and Astronomy / Philosophy) in 1999, followed by a PhD in Physics in 2004. Her thesis was titled 'Fundamental aspects of the expansion of the universe and cosmic horizons.' In 2020 she was recognised with an UNSW Alumni Award for Research Achievement. Tamara has numerous awards for her scientific research and leadership. In 2020 she was made a member of the Order of Australia for her ‘significant service to astrophysical science, to education, and to young astronomers.' Tamara will have a plaque in her honour located in the Science and Engineering building (E8).

  • Prue Watt OAM, BSc (UNSW) 2017 
    Prue Watt is a four-time Paralympian, which includes winning a Gold Medal at the 2012 London Paralympic Games. Prue was a recipient of the Ben Lexcen Sports Scholarship in 2016 and was part of UNSW's elite athlete program. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience in 2017. She is a strong advocate for para-sport, as well as access and inclusion of people with disability to mainstream sport and equal employment opportunities. She was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in the 2014 for ‘service to sport’. A plaque for Prue will be located in the Village Green.

The Faculty of Science leads a number of initiatives that support gender equality, including our Women in Maths & Science Champions program, our Science Career development awards and the Level-Up promotion program. Our Momentum program supports academic and professional staff returning from parental leave.  

The Celebrating UNSW Women on Campus project is a chance to showcase the incredible community of UNSW women in a permanent way, ensuring that they are honoured and recognised for years to come.