Maryly Van Leer Peck

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Maryly Van Leer Peck
Maryly Van Leer Peck 1959.jpg
Maryly Peck at a 1959 Society of Women Engineers board meeting in Chicago, Illinois
President of
Polk Community College
In office
Preceded byFred Lenfestey
Succeeded byJ. Larry Durrence
Dean Guam Community College
In office
Dean of Engineering University of Guam
In office
Aerospace Engineer at United States Naval Research Laboratory
In office
Personal details
Maryly Van Leer

(1930-06-29)June 29, 1930
Washington, D.C.
DiedNovember 3, 2011(2011-11-03) (aged 81)[1]
West Palm Beach, Florida
SpouseEdwin L. Carey
RelativesBlake R. Van Leer (father)
Ella Lillian Wall Van Leer (mother)
Blake Wayne Van Leer (brother)
Alma materVanderbilt University
University of Florida
ProfessionCommunity college president

Maryly Van Leer Peck (June 29, 1930 – November 3, 2011) was an American academic and college administrator. She founded the Community Career College at the University of Guam[1] (which merged into Guam Community College in November 1977). She was the first female president of a public institution of higher learning in Florida, the first female president of a Florida community college while president of Polk Community College aka Polk State College. She was one of the first female graduates of the School of Engineering at Vanderbilt University and the first woman to graduate with a degree in chemical engineering. She was also the first woman to receive an M.S. and a Ph.D. in engineering from the University of Florida.[3][4][1][5][6]

Early life and education[edit]

Maryly Van Leer Peck was born on June 29, 1930, in Washington, D.C. She was the second child, and only daughter, of Blake Ragsdale Van Leer and Ella Lillian Wall Van Leer.[2][7] She was a member of the influential Van Leer family.[8]

Peck's parents both had strong academic backgrounds and were close friends with renowned intellectuals of their time, including Frank Bunker Gilbreth Sr. and Lillian Moller Gilbreth, which not only exposed Peck very early to engineering, but it also showed her the possibility that she could be one herself.[5] Peck became the valedictorian of her high school class in Georgia, granting her a state-sponsored scholarship. However, at that time, the male-only Georgia Tech university was the only school offering engineering, and even though her father filed a case on her behalf, she didn't have an option but to spend a year at Duke, before transferring to Vanderbilt University in her sophomore year, so that she could major in chemical engineering.[5] She received her bachelor's degree with highest honors from Vanderbilt in 1951, while also becoming the first woman initiated into Tau Beta Pi, the honorary engineering fraternity.[2] Four years later, she became one of the first female graduates in engineering from Vanderbilt and the first woman with an engineering master's degree from the University of Florida, where she also received her doctorate in 1963.[2][9]


While working on her master's degree, Peck started tutoring older students in math-related subjects. This caught the eye of a professor at Florida University, who asked her to substitute for him, while he was away presenting a paper. This was the first of many teaching jobs Peck would have during the following decades.[5]

Peck maintained close ties with the Society of Women Engineers throughout her career and was the National Chair of Student Affairs. After her parents successfully lobbied to admit the first women into Georgia Tech, Peck complimented this victory with setting up a SWE chapter and support network on campus.[10] By 1962 she was named national vice president of the organization.[11] Later In 1962, as she was finishing her doctoral dissertation, Peck found a job as a propellant and aerospace engineer for Rocketdyne Corporation and United States Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. She developed solid fuel and engines which are still used in the space program today.[5] Since she was already a mother of four children by that time, this attracted the interest of journalists and resulted in a 1962 interview for Life magazine.[7]

Soon after their marriage, her husband, Jordan Brown Peck, Jr., became an Episcopal priest. She followed him when he decided to do some missionary work in Guam. They would remain there for eleven years. During this period, she would manage to become the first woman dean of the College of Business and Applied Technology at the University of Guam, and would help them create numerous 4-year programs.[12] She was also a chairman on its board.[13] She then became the founder of the Community Career College at the University of Guam.[14][5][9] This was the 2 year associate degrees program of the university, which otherwise offered four year degrees at the undergraduate level in its other undergraduate departments.[15] This school was moved to Guam Community College in November 1977, just after that school was established; making up the higher education component of that newly created institution.[15]

In 1982 she was selected to be the President of Polk Community College, now Polk State College, and she served in this position until 1997, which made her the first female president of a public institution of higher learning in Florida.[1][16] Peck was the first woman to be named president of any of Florida's 26 community colleges. In 2005, Peck received the National Community Service Award from the Daughters of the American Revolution organization.[9]

During her tenure, Polk Community College added the Lakeland campus and established a foundation which, by the time she retired, had $5.5 million for scholarships and college equipment.[1][6] In 1995 Peck was awarded the "She Knows Where She's Going" award by Girls, Inc. and later joined their national board.[17]

After her retirement in 1997, Peck served as the headmaster of the Episcopal All Saints' Academy and later joined the board for the Vanguard School.

She was honored as a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Florida in 1991, and in 2007, she was inducted into the Florida Women's Hall of Fame.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Peck married Jordan Brown Peck, Jr. in 1951, the year she received her B.A. The couple had four children.[2][5]

In 1982, Peck became the first woman to be admitted into membership of the Winter Haven Rotary Club; afterwards, she also became the first woman to be elected President of the same club.[1][9] In 2003, she was interviewed by Society of Women Engineers (SWE) for a profile on about her life as a pioneer.[1][5] She died in West Palm Beach, in 2011, at the age of 81, and was interred at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Palm Gardens.[1][2][5][16][18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Chambliss, John (November 4, 2011). "Maryly Van Leer Peck, Former PCC President, Dies at 81". The Ledger.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Van Leer Family Papers (MS458)". Finding Aid. Archives, Library and Learning Excellence, Georgia Tech Library. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  3. ^ Toothman, Mary (October 19, 1982). "Graham says state projects could improve unemployment". Tampa Tribune. Tampa, Florida. p. 60. Retrieved 27 March 2020 – via
  4. ^ "Name".
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Van Leer Peck, Maryly (13 June 2003). "Oral-History: Maryly Van Leer Peck". Profiles of SWE Pioneers Oral History Project (Interview). Interviewed by Lauren Kata. Winter Haven, Florida: Engineering and Technology History Wiki. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  6. ^ a b Hatch, Sybil E. (January 2006). Changing Our World: True Stories of Women Engineers. ASCE Publications. p. 195. ISBN 9780784408353.
  7. ^ a b "Mother's an Engineer". Life. 14 September 1962. pp. 102–106. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  8. ^ "Generation 11.8 - Eight Child of Wayne Van Leer". Van Leer Archives. Retrieved 29 August 2022.
  9. ^ a b c d e "Maryly VanLeer Peck". Florida Women's Hall of Fame. Florida Commission on the Status of Women. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  10. ^ Girls Coming to Tech. MIT Press. January 14, 2014. ISBN 9780262320276. Retrieved January 14, 2014.
  11. ^ "The Bonham Daily Favorite (Bonham, Tex.), ed. 1 Sunday, September 16, 1962". 16 September 1962.
  12. ^ Kata, Laura. "Maryly Peck Oral History". Michigan Oral History Database. Wayne State University.
  13. ^ A Retrospective of the University of Guam: Its Leaders and Mentors (PDF). University of Guam. 2004.
  14. ^ Stegall, Sarah (March 14, 2007). "Polk Pioneers Receive Honors". Lakeland Ledger. Retrieved 2 July 2022.
  15. ^ a b William J. Fitzgerald (1989). The Overall Economic Development Plan for Guam: 1989-1993. Guam Department of Commerce. p. 157.
  16. ^ a b "Polk State Mourns Loss of Former President". Polk State College. 14 November 2011. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  17. ^ "In Memoriam: Dr. Maryly VanLeer Peck" (pdf). Taking Flight. Vol. Spring 2012. Polk Community College. 2012. pp. 34–35. Retrieved 9 January 2020.
  18. ^ Chambliss, John. "Funeral Service for Maryly Peck Set for Nov. 18". The Ledger. Retrieved 31 August 2022.