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Clare Boothe Luce Program grant to support women graduate students in physical sciences

August 14, 2007

The Henry Luce Foundation has awarded a $230,400 grant to the University of Chicago to support four one-year Clare Boothe Luce Graduate Fellowships for women entering Ph.D. programs in Astronomy & Astrophysics, Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics as early as the 2008-09 academic year.

“One of our highest institutional priorities is to develop and implement strategies to enhance the representation and advancement of women at the graduate, postdoctoral and faculty levels,” said Robert Fefferman, Dean of the Physical Sciences Division at the University of Chicago. “We anticipate that the establishment of the Clare Boothe Luce Fellowship at the University of Chicago will have a major national impact, that these fellows will not only become academic leaders, but also will advance physical science research in areas of critical national need.”

The University will provide each Clare Boothe Luce Fellow with a special fund to use for books, other educational supplies, and support for research and conference travel during their fellowship tenure. Additionally, fellows will receive full support from the University for their graduate programs after their fellowship year.

“One of the best parts of being a faculty member is having the chance to work with students who are engaged in their research and excited by new ideas,” said Anne Rogers, Associate Professor in Computer Science, who will serve as a Clare Boothe Luce Fellowship Faculty Mentor. “By providing time to focus on research and the funds to travel and be exposed to ideas at the forefront of a field, the Clare Boothe Luce Fellowships will create an ideal environment for developing fellows whose enthusiasm will be contagious.”

The four Clare Boothe Luce Fellowships were requested for the departments of Astronomy & Astrophysics, Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics because they have consistently enrolled a lower percentage of women in recent years relative to other physical sciences departments. As of 2006, the percentage of women graduate students enrolled in each academic department of the Physical Sciences Division was as follows: Astronomy & Astrophysics, 28 percent; Chemistry, 29 percent; Computer Science, 26 percent; Geophysical Sciences, 50 percent; Mathematics, 22 percent; Physics, 17 percent; and Statistics, 46 percent.

During the last decade, the Astronomy & Astrophysics Department has graduated 13 women Ph.D.s. These include Aparna Venkatesan (Ph.D., ’00), an Assistant Professor of Physics, University of San Francisco. Venkatesan was hired as the first “pure astronomer” of her department.

The Computer Science Department has graduated seven women Ph.D.s during the last decade. These include Amber Settle (Ph.D., ’99), a former Clare Boothe Luce Fellow and Associate Professor of Computer Science, DePaul University.

The Mathematics Department has graduated 27 women Ph.D.s in the last 10 years. They include Gigliola Staffilani (Ph.D., ’95), a Professor of Mathematics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Staffilani formerly was a faculty member at Stanford and Harvard universities.

The Physics Department has graduated 18 women Ph.D.s in the last 10 years. They include Deborah Jin (Ph.D., ’95), Adjoint Associate Professor of Physics, University of Colorado, and a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Jin received a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in 2003.

The percentages of women faculty in the Physical Sciences Division has steadily increased in recent years, from 3 percent in 1999 to 10 percent in 2006. Women account for 9.6 percent of the physics faculty at Chicago, compared to 6.6 percent nationally. Nevertheless, representation of women faculty lags behind national averages for other top 50 universities in some departments.

To make further progress in enhancing the representation and advancement of women at the graduate, postdoctoral and faculty levels, Fefferman created a Committee on Women in the Physical Sciences in 2005. Chaired by Ka Yee Lee, Associate Professor in Chemistry, the committee has created:

  • A system of “at-large mentors,” which includes senior faculty and senior administrative staff to address the concerns of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty in the Physical Sciences Division
  • The Physical Sciences Division Opportunity Fund, which provides up to $20,000 annually to support special needs and initiatives that will enhance the retention, recruitment and advancement of women in the physical sciences
  • The Women in the Physical Sciences Web site:

Furthermore, the University’s Office of the Provost has created a new position, Director of the Women’s Initiative in Science, to engage faculty and other academic staff in the recruitment and retention of women and underrepresented minorities in scientific disciplines.

“Clare Boothe Luce, by all accounts, was a remarkable polymath who had a wide-ranging influence on every field of endeavor she touched,” Fefferman said. “The spirit of the program’s founder is embraced by our division’s approach toward its students—fostering rigorous inquiry, mentoring them to assume leadership roles in academia, and positioning them to have a lasting impact on their respective academic disciplines.”

The Henry Luce Foundation of New York City was founded in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time Inc. His wife, Clare Boothe Luce, was an accomplished editor, playwright, politician, journalist and diplomat.

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Last modified at 04:43 PM CST on Friday, August 17, 2007

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