October 4, 2007
Vol. 27 No. 2

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    Women graduate students in physical sciences receiving support through Clare Boothe Luce fellowship program

    Steve Koppes
    News Office

    The Henry Luce Foundation has awarded a $230,400 grant to the University 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. “We anticipate that the establishment of the Clare Boothe Luce fellowship at the University 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 fellow with a special fund to use for books, other educational supplies, and support for research and conference travel during her fellowship tenure. Additionally, once the fellowship year ends, fellows will be supported by the University through teaching and research assistantships or fellowships for the remainder of their graduate programs.

    “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 and the Physical Sciences Collegiate Division, 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 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 at the 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 at 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 at the 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 at the 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 and the College, 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: http://womenpsd.uchicago.edu/.

    Furthermore, Mary Harvey, Associate Provost for Program Development, will be working with the faculty and Deans on developing responses to the needs of women faculty and students, with a particular emphasis on the sciences.

    “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.