Since 2012, Dr. Carlotta M. Arthur has led the Henry Luce Foundation’s Clare Boothe Luce Program for Women in STEM. As Director, she has expanded the reach and influence of the Foundation to a global audience, collaborating with U.S. institutions of higher education as well as international organizations to increase participation of women in STEM fields and to nurture future leaders. Her work has expanded opportunities for scholars at minority-serving institutions and inspired enduring institutional change at colleges and universities across the country.
In February, she will be leaving the Foundation to join the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine as its next executive director for the Division of Behavioral, Social Sciences, and Education.
Reflecting on her decade at the Foundation, Dr. Arthur shared some of the lessons she has learned as a leader in philanthropy and her observations of the evolving STEM ecosystem.
You have a background in engineering as well as advanced degrees in psychology and clinical psychology. How and why did you shift to philanthropy?
As an undergraduate student and then later as a postdoc, I was actually funded by philanthropic organizations. I saw what they were able to accomplish by awarding fellowships and how they could help transform participants into leaders. I also saw the ways in which they could have a significantly broader impact versus the type of impact one faculty member could typically have, not only on individual academic institutions but also on the field more widely. I saw philanthropy as a way to leverage what I'd learned in academia to have an impact in the future, particularly on communities of color and individuals from underserved groups, and for the betterment of society.
What have you learned during your time at the Luce Foundation?
In this role, I’ve deepened my knowledge skills and abilities as a thought leader, a respected voice, and an institutional partner, and also learned how to navigate amongst constituencies that have diverse perspectives to come together around a single goal.
I’ve learned that grantmaking is just one of the tools that we have in philanthropy. Other tools in our toolbox are linking and leveraging—collaborating with other organizations that are interested in doing similar work and leveraging our role as grantmakers, our platform and voice, to share what we’ve learned about various sectors and how to have strategic impact.
The Clare Boothe Luce Program had existed for more than twenty years when I first arrived. Since then, I’ve learned how to build on that legacy, to shift it from being a strong program that focused on individuals and institutions to one that has the potential to effect change more broadly. The CBL Program has been a real driving force in pushing institutions to be more equitable and inclusive, encouraging them to look at everything they do and how they do it, to shift their cultures, and to understand the role they have to play if they want to be truly inclusive.
How has the STEM ecosystem changed for women since you started at the Foundation?
In my first Clare Boothe Luce competition, institutions that applied to the program were on a continuum, from those that really got it—with respect to what’s necessary to support women in STEM and what they'd already done in terms of recruitment and retention—and at the other end were institutions that didn’t get it, that didn’t seem to understand or have a strong, demonstrated commitment to supporting women in STEM. It wasn’t part of their institutional strategy or vision.
In the time that I’ve been here, that’s really changed. We get very few applications in that last category. Now it’s really a competition among institutions that are much more enlightened about the importance of having women in STEM, and the importance of a strategic approach at the institutional level as opposed to one dynamic faculty member or dean who’s leading the charge. The lightbulb has gone on collectively across the country. I believe many institutions realize that their competitive advantage will be lost if they don’t address these issues on their campuses.
What are you most proud of?
I’m really proud of the way in which I’ve been able to work together with the Clare Boothe Luce Program’s selection committee to increase the number of minority-serving institutions that have received grants from the program by about 50%. For example, I worked with them to get a special dispensation so that select consortia, such as the American Indian College Fund, could apply. Over our long-term relationship with them, we’ve seen a real impact on Indian Country in the number of women from tribal colleges and universities earning engineering degrees. We’ve also increased the diversity of the women who are given individual awards by our grantees by addressing issues around the types of institutions that we support.
I’m also proud of how we’ve begun to share our 30+ years of wisdom and knowledge, not only across the U.S., but also globally. For example, through the Ewha-Luce International Seminar, a partnership with Ewha Womans University in Seoul, South Korea, and our work with the Science and Technology in Society Forum based in Kyoto, Japan, we’ve been able to pass on what we’ve learned about supporting women in STEM.
As one of the global leaders in this space, the Clare Boothe Luce Program has served as a model and allowed us to address emerging gaps in the STEM ecosystem. We recently awarded a grant to the National Academies to support a workshop on women in innovation and entrepreneurship and on how to prevent these rapidly growing sectors from replicating exclusionary systems and structures that keep women and people of color out.
We’ve also partnered with the American Association of Colleges and Universities to develop the Convergence Fellowship Program for women of color who seek to leverage technology to address community needs. To the best of my knowledge, this will be the first fellowship that is specifically for women of color, recognizing that they sit at the intersection of being women in STEM and people of color in STEM. Many women of color have gone through standard incubators, but those programs were not designed to address their specific needs or to leverage the unique perspectives and lived experiences that they bring to the table for positive community impact. I’m really proud of that work.