In Memoriam: Former Dean of the College and Emerita Professor of Biology Laura Mays Hoopes

laura hoopes portrair, former dean of the College

Laura Mays Hoopes, Halstead-Bent Emerita Professor of Biology, passed away on Oct. 24 surrounded by her loved ones. An avid advocate for women in science, she served as Pomona College’s vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College from 1993 to 1998.

The first scientist and woman appointed to Pomona’s Dean of the College role, Hoopes was known for her high standards, candor and generosity. Her deanship received high praise.

“If I were going to design a dean from the ground up, the qualities I’d aim for are intelligence, integrity, wit, warmth, courage and a real love of teaching and scholarship,” wrote Pomona College President Peter Stanley in 1998 for Pomona College Magazine. “These are exactly the qualities that Laura Hoopes brought to Pomona’s deanship. A scientist, a musician, a dancer, an outdoorsperson and one of the best-read people I know, she has really understood the College and honored its commitment to the liberal arts.”

Prior to Pomona College, Hoopes served in several roles at Occidental College from faculty in the biology and biochemistry departments to associate dean of faculty. She also served as the president of the Council on Undergraduate Research, a professional organization that promotes quality mentored undergraduate research.

She wrote and co-authored several books and articles in the fields of genetics and molecular biology, and on DNA-related issues. Many of her research papers were co-authored with her undergraduate students.

But perhaps, Hoopes was better-known for her impact in the classroom.

Alumna Ann Zhao ’09 says she wanted to join Laura’s lab after learning about her passion and commitment to women in science.

“As a young woman who felt insecure about science research, I needed a mentor like Dr. Hoopes. She helped me be brave and resilient – qualities that have and will continue to help me reach my goals. Dr. Hoopes is a tremendous role model for women (and men!) who dream and hope of being pioneers and leaders,” she adds. 

Gloria Yiu ’08, rheumatologist fellow at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, worked in Hoopes’s lab during her four years at Pomona. More than a decade out of undergrad, she firmly believes that the experiences she had in the lab along with Laura’s encouragement, provided her with the confidence and fortitude to pursue science and medicine.

Hoopes earned her bachelor’s degree in biological science from Goucher College and went on to receive her Ph.D. in biology from Yale University.

As her molecular gerontology career slowed down, Hoopes prepared for writing in her retirement. She completed a creative writing certificate at UCLA in 2009 and an MFA in English at San Diego State University in 2013. She retired from Pomona in 2015.

She published her memoir on becoming a woman scientist, Breaking through the Spiral Ceiling, in 2010 and Opening Doors: Joan Steitz and Jennifer Doudna, Two Women of the RNA World in 2019. She published more than 20 stories and articles in magazines and newspapers.

For her contributions to her field, Hoopes received an honorary doctorate from Goucher College in 1995 and was elected a fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science Council. In addition, she won several writing awards including the Jack London Award from the California Writers’ Club in 2013.

She is survived by her husband, Deacon Michael Hoopes, son Lyle Mays, daughter Heather Hoopes Seid, son-in-law Sammy Seid and two grandchildren Winnie and Max.

The family will hold a memorial service on December 11 in Newport Beach, CA. Please contact Associate Dean Zayn Kassam at if you wish to attend.