WPI Receives Clare Boothe Luce Research Scholar Award to Support Women in STEM

January 14, 2016

Recognizing Worcester Polytechnic Institute's (WPI) ongoing commitment to encouraging and supporting women in fields in which they are traditionally underrepresented, the Henry Luce Foundation has awarded the university a $204,000 Clare Boothe Luce (CBL) Research Scholar Award. The grant will support research by undergraduate women in math, computer science, physics, and robotics engineering and will fund eight research scholars per year over a three-year period.

"There is a critical need for more – and more diverse – scientists and engineers to meet the world's increasingly complex challenges, so this grant will have benefits far beyond WPI," said President Laurie Leshin. "Clare Boothe Luce cared deeply about advancing women in science, mathematics, and engineering, and this support will help encourage women to pursue these fields and apply their unique talents and diverse perspectives where they are most needed."

A recent UMass Donahue Institute study revealed that WPI’s nationally recognized project-based curriculum is particularly powerful for women because it infuses technical learning with meaning to individuals, communities, and society. The new grant will specifically enable WPI to create a premiere research experience for outstanding undergraduate women while further advancing the university’s goals of achieving greater diversity.

Going forward, Luce Research Scholars at WPI will be selected in their sophomore year, and will conduct research supported by the program for up to three years. Each participant will be paired with a mentor from among WPI’s women faculty.

"We know through several studies, that a summer mentored research experience especially when it begins early in their academic studies helps to connects students more deeply to their academic interests and passions," said Karen Kashmanian Oates, Dean of Arts and Science. "Unfortunately sometimes students must choose between a great research experience and seeking other financial support, such as a part-time job. Thanks to the Clare Boothe Luce Program, more of our outstanding young women will be able to choose research."

Faculty mentors for the Clare Boothe Luce Research Scholars programs will include mathematical sciences professors Suzanne Weekes and Sarah Olson; computer sciences professors Kathi Fisler and Carolina Ruiz; and physics professor Lyubov Titova.

"I am very excited to have the opportunity to work with talented young women in the mathematical sciences," said Professor Olson. "This is a great opportunity to explore new areas of research while enhancing professional development skills beyond the classroom."

Professor Weekes said, "It’s important for young women to have a network of mentors and peers to provide guidance and advice as they navigate their education and career paths, especially in fields where women are still underrepresented. This support, combined with active research experience in the discipline, will help them become more successful science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals."

The Clare Boothe Luce Program award is the latest in a number of measures WPI has taken to support and advance women in STEM. Upon their arrival on campus, women find support, advocacy, and development services; WPI has dedicated staff to help facilitate academic, social, professional, and personal development through programs that are specifically tailored to help women be successful and competitive in the STEM disciplines. Other initiatives include scholarships for WPI undergraduate women that are provided by The Hearst Foundation; an initiative to advance women in Information Science that is funded by the Elsevier Foundation; a Women's Program Committee that develops comprehensive programming and support services; a Women’s Leadership Institute that supports the success of undergraduate and graduate women in their fields; and a Central Massachusetts affiliate of the Association of Women in Science, the largest organization in the U.S. advocating for women in STEM.

About the Clare Boothe Luce Program

The Clare Boothe Luce Program was established by Clare Boothe Luce, who was an associate editor for Vanity Fair, author of the Broadway play The Women as well as a number of books, and a Congresswoman representing New York. She was instrumental in establishing the Atomic Energy Commission and was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Italy, becoming the first American woman to represent her country to a major world power. In 1981, President Reagan appointed her to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, and in 1983 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She died October 9, 1987 leaving the majority of her estate to The Henry Luce Foundation, established by her husband Henry R. “Harry” Luce, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time, Inc. Characteristically, she declined to restrict her vision to the fields in which she had established her reputation. She chose instead to establish a legacy that would benefit current and future generations of women with talent and ambition in areas where they continue to be severely underrepresented—science, mathematics and engineering. Her bequest created a program that is the single largest private source of funding for women in those fields.