Who's Who of Professional Women


Carolyn Thorsen

Carolyn Crawford Chesnutt Thorsen knew she wanted to teach math by the time she was in high school, though she also holds a long-standing love of music and has played the piano since age 5. She first earned a Bachelor of Arts from Agnes Scott College in 1955 and shortly thereafter married John Calvin Chesnutt, an ordained Presbyterian minister. The Chesnutts became the proud parents of four children, John Calvin, Thomas Walter, Margaret America and Carolyn Christian Chesnutt. Ms. Thorsen is now a doting grandmother to several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

To help support her growing family, she began a career in 1964 as assistant librarian with Hartsville Memorial Library in South Carolina before going on to join the Darlington County School District, where she taught music from 1965 to 1968 and math and psychology from 1968 to 1973. During this time, she furthered her education and obtained a Master of Education from the University of South Carolina in 1972. From 1973 to 1975, Ms. Thorsen taught upper level high school mathematics in South Carolina and subsequently followed her husband in a move to Atlanta, Georgia, where Ms. Thorsen continued teaching senior math classes in the DeKalb County School District in Decatur, Georgia.

In 1975, Ms. Thorsen enrolled at the Georgia Institute of Technology to pursue a graduate degree from the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering. She was offered a position as assistant to the dean of engineering with responsibility for preparing and enrolling more women and minorities into engineering studies. During this time, she became the director for the institute’s chapter of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1979, she concluded her formal education with a graduate degree from Georgia Tech.

Concurrently, she served as the executive director for the Southeastern Consortium for Minorities in Engineering (SECME) from 1976 to 1989 with generous funding over four years from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The consortium board consisted of deans of engineering from over a dozen southeastern state universities and two private institutions. In 1990, Ms. Thorsen became Georgia Tech’s precollege program director of the Center for Education Integrating, Science, Mathematics and Computing, known as CEISMC, She retired from the center in 2000.

Over the course of her tenure with the Georgia Institute of Technology, Ms. Thorsen was active on various boards and committees. One of her most notable achievements during this time was the creation of an outreach program at Georgia Tech to encourage African American high school students to enroll in advanced math and science courses, making them eligible to pursue science and engineering careers. This was incredibly effective.  Additionally, during her own studies at Georgia Tech, she recalls that she experienced a number of difficulties that stemmed from her being a woman. Finding that she had to work twice as hard as her male counterparts to achieve the same success, Ms. Thorsen became very involved in gender equity in education and spent time as the equity chair for the American Association of University Women.

Furthermore, Ms. Thorsen received a number of grants for her work in education between 1977 and 1991, including from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, NASA, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the BellSouth Foundation. Her pioneering work led her to be presented with the Reginald H. Jones Distinguished Service Award by the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering in 1986. She is particularly proud of the two grants she received from the National Science Foundation between 1985 and 1998, one of which was for the development of a gender equity program. The program was an incredible success, with six Georgia colleges participating. During the time these grants were active, Ms. Thorsen also had the opportunity to serve as a member of the Gender Equity Expert Panel of the U.S. Department of Education in 1996.

Ms. Thorsen’s other contributions to the field of education include being charter chair of the National Association of Pre-College Program Directors from 1984 to 1985 and alumnae president of the class of 1955 at Agnes Scott College from 1985 to 1990. Before moving to Georgia, she had also donated her time to the Darlington County School District PTA in 1973. To keep up to date with developments in her field, Ms. Thorsen was an active member of the National Education Association, the South Carolina Education Association, the American Society of Engineering Education and the Society of Women Engineers.

Alongside her career in education, Ms. Thorsen was closely involved in a variety of musical endeavors as well. Between 1968 and 1972, she spent time as both president and campaign chair of the Hartsville Community Concert Association Inc. A professional organist herself, she later was a member of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus, under the direction of Robert Shaw. She remains a symphony patron and also a member of the American Guild of Organists.

Born in Maryville, Tennessee, to father John Calvin Crawford and mother America Arey Moore, Ms. Thorsen attributes much of her success to the love and support she received from her family. Looking toward the future, Ms. Thorsen intends to continue enjoying her retirement, listening to music and spending time with her family.


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