“Having that funding early on allowed me to be more careful about the directions I went with my research. I chose better directions, rather than jumping at every funding opportunity that was out there.”
Dr. Antoinette Maniatty, Associate Professor of Mechanical Aerospace, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
"I was thrilled to be able to talk to other CBL people and hear about their challenges and what they’ve gone through, and how we’re all working not only on our own careers, but on banding together.”
- Dr. Susan Lehman, Associate Professor of Physics, The College of Wooster
Grant Spotlight: The Clare Boothe Luce 25th Anniversary Professors Conference
On November 8th and 9th, a visitor to Fordham University Law School might have noticed a somewhat unusual gathering: nearly a hundred women, in a happy mood, tossing around phrases like “personal genomics” and “nanoporous microspheres.” They were there to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Henry Luce Foundation’s Clare Boothe Luce (CBL) Program. Established by a bequest from Ms. Luce in 1987, and making its first grants in 1989, the CBL program has since become the most significant source of private support for women in science, mathematics and engineering in the U.S., distributing over $165 million in grants to educational institutions to fund undergraduate awards, graduate fellowships, and professorships.
In her Sunday night address, Dr. Cynthia Friend reflected on the position of women in STEM fields over the last 25 years: “Yes things have changed… but we still have a long way to go.” Her remark served as an informal theme for the conference, which brought together current CBL Professors and alumnae of the program to celebrate the changes that have occurred, and to reflect as a group on areas where progress is still needed.
More than 80 alumnae and guests of the CBL program gathered
to celebrate the 25th anniversary
Looking back, many of the women remarked that the CBL program had offered a critical boost early in their careers. Dr. Karin Rabe, a member of the first class of CBL professors, reflected that “when you’re really young, you tend to be insecure… this made me feel confident.” Dr. Leilani Miller, of Santa Clara University, elaborated that “it gave me a little bit more prestige in my department, a little recognition.”
Dr. Juliane Strauss-Soukup of Creighton University, meanwhile, singled out some of the practical benefits like a reduced teaching load, observing that “the biggest gift anyone can give you is a little more time to spend writing grants, and working with students in the lab, and designing experiments.” For Dr. Antoinette Maniatty of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, “having that funding early on allowed me to pick and choose and be more careful about the directions I went with my research. I chose better directions, rather than jumping at every funding opportunity that was there.”
Beyond the impact on individual careers, the Program has also contributed to a change in the academic climate at many institutions. Friend remembered applying for jobs at a time when there were no other women working in her department. Now, many CBL Professors are starting their careers with a broader network of support. Miller noted that “there were three other Clare Boothe Luce professors who were cycling out as I was cycling in, who were six or seven years ahead of me in their careers. There was mentoring from day one, when I arrived on campus.”
Dr. Shirley Malcom delivered the Monday keynote address:
all of the weekend's speeches can be watched here
But, as Friend said, “there’s still a long way to go.” In her keynote address, Dr. Shirley Malcom, the head of Education and Human Resources Programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, called attention to the lack of women in leadership roles. “Even though the numbers are so much better than they used to be,” she said, “the power is still in the hands where it always was.” She particularly highlighted the “double bind” that affects women of color, who face multiple forms of discrimination and discouragement in their pursuit of scientific leadership. In order to change the culture, she suggested, women in STEM need to deliberately seek out powerful administrative roles. “A lot of women care enormously about teaching, but we also need to be thinking about policy, strategic planning, and budget. Take the time to gain those skills - and to gain them in a way you can document, because people will doubt that you have them by default.”
Despite these continuing challenges, Margaret Boles Fitzgerald, the Chair of the Luce Foundation’s board of directors, celebrated the fact that the Program has supported almost 2,000 women, who have, in turn, encouraged other women in STEM as teachers, mentors, and peers. Midge Decter, a member of the Program’s Selection Committee since its founding, recollected how surprised people were to learn that Clare Boothe Luce, known for her interest in journalism, politics, and literature, had endowed a fund for women in STEM. “She had been planning a surprise for the world,” Decter told the assembled scholars, “And the surprise was you - you and your armies of students and your impact on the world.”
The conference also included two breakout sessions, allowing for more intimate and interactive conversations. Drs. Strauss-Soukup and Holly Ann Harris, from Creighton University, led a discussion on “mentoring female students to become the new STEM leadership,” while in another room, Drs. Orit Shaer, Christina Schweikert, and Alice Deckert shared their experiences with using active learning techniques, including flipped classrooms and teaching software.
The breakout sessions offered an opportunity for lively,
In the second breakout session, Drs. Karobi Moitra and Patrice Moss, from Trinity Washington University, talked about the importance of actively engaging first generation college students in STEM careers, through hands-on learning and professional, as well as intellectual, mentorship. Meanwhile an “Ethics in STEM” workshop generated lively conversation, ranging from a conversation about how the pressure to publish in prestigious journals can affect research methodology, to a frank discussion of what it will take to prevent subtle harassment and discrimination in academic environments.
The breaks between official events were as crucial a part of the conference experience as the formal speeches. Women from around the country gathered eagerly over coffee and meals to discuss their latest research, techniques for mentoring students, and opinions on university policies. Dr. Susan Lehman, from The College of Wooster, said she was thrilled to be “able to talk to other people and hear about their challenges and what they’ve gone through, and how we’re all working not only on our own careers, but on banding together.” Dr. Miller described the experience as “inspiring, absolutely inspiring. It’s just phenomenal to be in a room full of incredibly intelligent and achieving women, it’s just fantastic.”
The Director of the Clare Boothe Luce Program, Carlotta M. Arthur, reflected on the event. “We are so pleased to have been able to bring Clare Boothe Luce Professors together, not only to celebrate their participation in the CBL program, but also to reflect on what the program has meant to them and how they might serve as mentors, role models, and leaders of the next generation of women in STEM.”
Even as Arthur and her colleagues celebrated past achievements, the Luce Foundation was looking forward. On November 5th, the Foundation’s Board approved a significant grant to Higher Education Resource Services (HERS), to support summer leadership training for women in STEM fields. The grant will allow a total of 36 women to participate in HERS' Summer Leadership Institutes with increased STEM-focused programming, and the women attending the conference were encouraged to apply.
From left: Michael Gilligan, Carlotta Arthur, Cynthia Friend,
and Margaret Boles Fitzgerald
Michael Gilligan, the President of the Luce Foundation, concluded the conference by thanking the attendees for the work that they do. “You offer the opportunity for students to say, I can see myself in that work. And they don’t just want to see you in the work, they want to see you happy. They don’t just want to see you struggling against the odds, they want to see you finding a community, reaching out for new opportunities, and receiving the respect your work deserves.”
Thanks to the Clare Boothe Luce program, young women entering STEM fields get to see more of that these days than ever before. But – we still have a long way to go. Here’s to the next 25 years.
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