Alice Burton had a passion for the sciences, and the St. Olaf College biology professor went to great lengths to assure that like-minded young women got the opportunity to explore them.

She came to the liberal arts school in Northfield, Minn., in 1970 and became the college's first female full biology professor in 1988. Her tireless efforts enabled the school to win many grants to strengthen its science curriculum, and she pushed for more women on the faculty. By 1991, half of St. Olaf's biology faculty were women.

"She was a very strong advocate for other women to gain positions they deserved," said her niece, Wanda Dunham. "She was a real advocate for young women and the sciences."

Burton, 75, was at her home in Northfield on Friday when she died suddenly; she had not felt well for the past few months, her niece said.

Born to missionary parents in China, Burton attended high school in Massachusetts and earned a bachelor of science degree from the University of Michigan. She received a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Illinois and was a research fellow at the California Institute of Technology.

She began her career as an associate biochemist at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island in New York, where she worked from 1964 until 1970, when she accepted a teaching position at St. Olaf, Dunham said.

At St. Olaf, Burton did research through the Research Corporation and the National Science Foundation grants. In 1988, she was named director of the college's Howard Hughes Medical Institute program, which included a five-year grant to better prepare students for graduate and medical schools.

When she retired in 1996, Burton called her students her chief source of "rock solid support." Many former students remember her as the support they needed, the person who encouraged them to chase their dreams.

"She was always helping foster people to grow and find out what they are interested in," said Shelley Grimes, a former student who now works at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry in Minneapolis.

In the spring 2008 edition of St. Olaf Magazine, children's author Christopher Raschka said Burton was a source of inspiration and encouraged him to "let my whims and interests lead me wherever they might."

Burton chose science over writing when entering college, but writing became her second love after she left St. Olaf. She wrote and self-published two books, "Vermont Highlanders" and "An Almost White Picket Fence."

Survivors include a sister, Priscilla, of Quincy, Ill. Services have been held.