Dahl, Nancy

Nancy A.
Dahl, PhD
Year Inducted: 
Nancy A. Dahl
  • Donated $12,400 in 1998 to create the Dennis R. and Nancy Ann Dahl Fund for Undergraduate Studies in Anthropology
  • Recipient of the Dean’s Scholar Program Mentor Award for her tireless advocacy for women in the sciences
  • Honored with the Chancellor’s Club Career Teaching Award in 1995

Nancy Ann Dahl, Professor of Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, was an expert on energy flow in the nerve tissue of the eye.  Known as a caring individual, dedicated researcher, and enthusiastic teacher, Dahl graduated with her BA in Microbiology in 1956 and her PhD in Physiology in 1962, both from the University of Kansas.  After completing postdoctoral work in England, she returned to KU to assume a career in research and teaching.

While her main research revolved around energy flow in the nervous system and metabolism in the eye, a topic on which she published over 40 scientific papers on, she extended that into studying the physiology and biochemistry of learning.  One course she offered for the KU Honors tutorial program was entitled “The Neurobiology of Reality,” which examined whether a person’s perception of the world was an accurate map of objective reality or a construct of the brain.  She also taught nutrition and dietetics courses for the Department of Human Development and completed illustrations for a 13-chapter section on the nervous system for a medical physiology textbook.

She was involved in a number of professional organizations, including Sigma Xi, the Kansas Academy of Science, American Physiological Society, Experimental Biologists, World Federation of Neurology, American Society for Cell Biology, American Institute of Biosciences, and the American Association for Advancement of Science.  Dahl was also active in the University of Kansas community.  She worked on plans for the biological life science building and taught lectures and labs to science camp students during the summers.  She filled her limited free time by giving presentations to local elementary and junior high school students.  Dr. Dahl served as Chair of both the Faculty SenEx committee and the University SenEx committee.

Professor Dahl also possessed an enthusiasm for the field of anthropology.  A native of Colby, Kansas, both she and her husband were descendants of early homesteaders.  She and her family donated $12,400 in 1998 to create the Dennis R and Nancy Ann Dahl Fund for Undergraduate Studies in Anthropology.  On her interest in the subject, she once explained, “My professional interest is how the brain works, and I believe part of that is to find out what people are thinking, to understand conscious awareness.  To do that, it’s extremely important to understand other cultures.”

This interest in anthropology and science yielded an inspiring outlook on life.  “As a scientist who is a woman, I have had a steady stream of learning experiences relevant to biology.  Pregnancy was a portable physiology lab with changes in temperature regulation, hair growth, and smell preferences…My latest experience was breast cancer in August 1994."  Dahl was an advocate for women entering the sciences.  Often finding herself as the only female in her college science classes, she often felt alone and odd, but always passionately defended “why girls would need these courses.”  This advocacy was one reason she was awarded the Dean’s Scholar Program Mentor Award.

Jerome Yochim, a fellow professor in her department, commented that Dr. Dahl “uses her lectern to challenge the students with problems, to give them real-world examples and to help them build a solid base of knowledge.  Her presentations are exciting and useful, both to those who would become professionals in the area as well as those simply seeking an understanding of how things (like the human body) work.”  He went on to add, “Nancy does not teach classes: she teaches students.  That is to say, she is interested in each student in her class, regardless of the class size.  Her commitment to helping minorities, women and socially or physically disadvantages students is a natural outgrowth of her dedication to helping people.”  In 1995, she was honored with the Chancellor’s Club Career Teaching Award for this excellence in education.  Upon receiving the honor, she declared, “I am really pleased.  You struggle and you struggle and you struggle and you never know if you made a difference.”

Nancy Dahl passed away on August 8, 2002, at the age of 70.  She certainly made a difference to the University of Kansas.

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