Foundation Relations

The Henry Luce Foundation, through the Clare Boothe Luce Program, has been a longtime supporter of WPI students. The program aims to transform STEM ecosystems across the United States by addressing the structural and cultural barriers that inhibit women’s pursuit of and persistence in STEM fields, expanding educational opportunities for women in STEM, and advancing their leadership in the sciences. Jean King, WPI’s Peterson Family Dean of Arts & Sciences, is committed to carrying out this mission for WPI’s current Clare Boothe Luce Graduate Fellows.  “In areas of science where women are significantly under-represented, such as the fields of data science and physics, creating an environment where women thrive takes deliberate attention to removing barriers to facilitate their success.  The Fellowships are designed to do just that. In addition to providing Fellows with an exceptional academic experience, WPI offers a unique and customized microcommunity of mentors to support each Fellow, facilitating connectedness, increasing awareness of resources, and forming an engaged community.”

Our fellows work in tandem with a faculty advisor and participate in mentoring activities to leverage academic and professional success. Becks’s research in data science utilizes artificial intelligence to bring medical and professional help to all, while Laura’s research is focused on solid state physics, where she uses Terahertz spectroscopy for the characterization of materials such as Mxenes.

Becks and Laura have provided insider insights to their experiences thus far in Data Science and Physics, offering a unique outlook on women in STEM. When asked what being a Clare Boothe Luce Graduate Fellow means to them, both Becks and Laura answered with humility and appreciation. Becks acknowledges that her family has made sacrifices to get her to this point in her educational journey, and she is consistently grateful for their support and belief in her. Being a Fellow allows her recognition in a field where this type of praise can be hard to come by, as well as validation that she is on the right path. Similarly, for Laura, being a Fellow means being a part of a bigger movement that supports and adds a voice to all underrepresented groups.

The Clare Boothe Luce Program recognizes the disparity with women in STEM and have dedicated themselves to increase the participation across every level of higher education. Administrators are working to expand STEM opportunities and maximize support and impact for women looking to pursue these disciplines. Becks uses this as fuel and feels that being a woman in Data Science is like having a superpower – “I can see things differently than others in the room, I am the culmination of all my experiences, and this gives me a unique perspective to offer in an ever-changing and expanding field.” For Laura, being a woman in Physics can spark a lot of emotions – “I feel proud to represent, I feel thankful for being in a time where it’s possible, but I also feel a lot of pressure to do it right.”

While being a woman in a STEM discipline can have its challenges, Becks and Laura have learned to remain resilient and persevere through the guidance of people in their life that have served as mentors. Dr. Lyubov Titova, a professor of physics here at WPI, has made an immense impact on Laura, not only during her time on campus, but even before she was a WPI student. Laura explained that Dr. Titova pushed her to believe in herself and has always played an important role in checking in on her and offering her help in a variety of ways. As her current advisor, Dr. Titova makes sure she is always there for Laura and helps her reach her full potential.

For Becks, she emphasized that she has been very blessed to have had a strong woman leading her in life – her grandmother. Living a traditional role as a wife and mother in Mexico, her grandmother never had the opportunity to pursue her brilliance in math and science. It is through her grandmother’s experience and influence that Becks has found motivation to take full advantage of all opportunities that come her way. At WPI, Becks has found Dr. Elke Rundensteiner – the founding Head of the Interdisciplinary Data Science Program, the William Smith Dean’s Professor in Computer Science, and head of the DAISY Lab – to be her mentor. When describing her relationship with Dr. Rundensteiner, Becks emphasized that “she is a legend in my eyes and continues to challenge me to grow and learn. From the first moment I applied, she has made time and space for me to exist in the WPI environment and grow and is a large reason for how I learned and applied to the Fellowship.” Becks also explained that throughout her undergraduate years, she had the opportunity to work under many amazing mentors that showed her what intelligent women in STEM are; Emek Köse (Assistant Professor at St Mary’s College of Maryland) and Susan Serna (UCLA-RIPS Program Director).

And just as their female mentors have played an important role in their lives, Becks and Laura are happy to share advice for women who are considering entering a STEM discipline. Becks outlined her experience by saying, “I tend to be a realist, and prefer to offer honest truth, and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t going to be hard.” Becks went on to explain that “you must learn to become comfortable with the uncomfortable and learn to keep going when things get hard.” Following the same lines, Laura stated with emphasis, “I would tell them that it is not going to be easy, but it will be worth it, every bit of it will be worth it.” These remarks depict an authentic story of persistence and how you must buy into the process that paves the way to success. It will not always be easy, but rather, Becks and Laura show that it is possible.  

Both women are excited as they look forward toward their futures. Laura feels her WPI experience “is going to influence a lot in the way I mentor and help others.” She further emphasized the importance she feels to pay it forward to support others who may need it. Of her decision in choosing WPI, Becks wanted to find a place that would give her the attention she needed, and the support she wanted, in order to accomplish great things in her future. “I can probably say that WPI has met my expectations and beyond.” Becks is grateful for the opportunity to be part of a diverse department with a supportive advisor and lab mates.

WPI is grateful for supportive partners like the Henry Luce Foundation that help provide opportunities for students, including our impressive Clare Boothe Luce Fellows, to pursue their passions.  

Laura Londono Fandino

Laura Londono Fandino

Becks Lopez

Becks Lopez