CBL Scholar Program creates opportunities for women in sciences

The spring of 2014 will see the inauguration of a new undergraduate fellowship at Williams: the Clare Booth Luce (CBL) Scholar Program. This new fellowship will grant eight females sophomores majoring in the physical sciences the funding for two summers of paid research. Additional financial support granted to Clare Booth Luce scholars includes funding for necessary empirical research supplies, as well as funds for attending any professional scientific conference during their college years.

The program began with Clare Booth Luce, who, according to the Luce Foundation’s website, bequeathed her estate in her will to establishing, “a legacy that would benefit current and future generations of women after her with talent and ambition in areas in which they continue to be severely underrepresented – science, mathematics and engineering.” Born in 1903, Luce had a varied career spanning several generations in journalism, politics, theatre, diplomacy (she was the first female U.S. Ambassador to Italy and  a member on President Reagan’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board). Her 1989 bequest created a program that is the single largest private source of funding for women in those fields.

The Luce Foundation now awards fellowships and scholarships at the undergraduate, graduate, post-doctorate and associate professorship level and has aided over 1500 women thus far. As grants are made to four-year higher educational institutions, not directly to individuals, Williams has recently been chosen by the foundation to issue eight fellowships to women interested in the physical sciences: physics, astrophysics, chemistry, computer science and mathematics. The medical sciences are not included.

Professor of Physics Tiku Majumder and Professor of Computer Science Andrea Danyluk are the co-directors of the Williams CBL scholars program, accompanied by the department representatives Professor of Astronomy Karen Kwitter, Assistant Professor of Geosciences Phoebe Cohen and Professor of Mathematics Susan Loepp.

All sophomore women who hold U.S. citizenship and are planning to major in one of the aforementioned fields are eligible to submit an application, which consists of a statement of interest and intent to be submitted in January. The two summers of paid research will occur after the sophomore and junior years, with the expectation that the scholar will complete an honors thesis before graduation.

Informational meetings will be held today and Thursday for students to learn more about the fellowships. In January, the Williams CBL program will welcome Orit Shaer, Clare Booth Luce Professor of Computer Science at Wellesley, to speak with and meet eligible students and encourage students to apply for the fellowship.

Female physical science and math majors already recognize the potential benefits of the program. Rebecca Durst ’17, a prospective physics major, believes such a fellowship would grant her beneficial opportunities to do theoretical research, as well as to attend conferences at the largest physics research laboratories in the country, such as the Fermilab, a nuclear physics lab and particle accelerator in Chicago.

“In every Physics class I have been in, women have made up 25 percent or less of the class,” Durst said. “I have been lucky to have teachers and professors who have been extremely supportive of women in the sciences. So even though I am technically part of a minority, I have never been made to feel like less of a student or less able than others.”

“I think … society doesn’t portray women enough in the sciences,” Durst said of why men might outnumber women in scientific departments. “The only science-related Barbie dolls to come out over the years have been dolphin-trainer Barbie and doctor Barbie. There have been no hard scientists in pop culture for women and thus no clear encouragement. Even on the cover of Princeton Review books for physics and calculus there are boys, while the [other] science and English books portray girls on their covers.”

Nehemiah Paramore ’14, a computer science major, addressed the potential for multifaceted discrimination in his line of study and work both in and beyond the College. “The computer science department is quite small, so people tend to get to know each other on a more personal level that I (maybe wishfully) think allows them to dispel any stereotypes and generalizations they may have had about someone based on their race or gender,” Paramore said. “In the general tech field though, I’ve found it much more useful to not identify myself along any gender or race lines to the extent that I’m able. In this way, I’m evaluated by my peers purely on the basis of my technical merit.”