March 30, 2009 12:00 PM

Dannette Ward, 56 St. Louis

As a young scientist, Dannette Ward would walk into meetings where male colleagues waited for her to take notes. “They assumed I was a secretary,” Ward says. “I’d say, ‘No, ‘I’m a researcher.'”

That calm determination led to her current position as a senior scientist at agricultural company Monsanto—and inspired her to launch St. Louis’s first agricultural-biotechnology program for high school students, at the inner-city Clyde C. Miller Career Academy. Raising $10,000 to start the program and open a state-of-the-art greenhouse, she mentors students and finds funds every year to send them to the Future Farmers of America convention. “This isn’t just digging in overalls—it’s growing things in the lab and learning research,” says Ward, who grew up on a farm.

Since 2004 more than 100 students have passed through the program—many of whom now are studying science in college. “Dannette’s work is tremendous and life-changing,” says principal Steve Warmack. Adds senior Ciara Leak, 18, who plans a career in forensic science: “She has opened my eyes to new possibilities.”

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