Le Moyne College recently received a generous $187,300 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation that will enable 19 female undergraduate students, known as Clare Boothe Luce (CBL) scholars, to pursue yearlong projects in the fields of chemistry, computer science, mathematics and physics under the guidance of faculty mentors. The program, whose aim is to grow the number of talented women in these disciplines, aligns perfectly with the College’s strategic plan Sempre Avanti: Always Forward, which emphasizes academic excellence and student support. Further, it will enable Le Moyne to strengthen its reputation as an institution that not only weaves science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) into its academic culture, but also recognizes and celebrates those disciplines on campus.
CBL scholars will participate in hands-on research under the direction of a faculty member who will help them to grow as scientists and professionals. As they do, the students will develop a more thorough understanding of the research process and the challenges it holds. They will also become better prepared for further scientific work or graduate school. The scholars, who must have a declared or intended major in a CBL-designated discipline, will be selected based upon their academic record and promise of success in their future careers in the sciences.
News of the grant comes at a pivotal point in Le Moyne’s history. Enrollment and retention in the STEM disciplines is strong, graduate programs in health care and dual-degree partnerships in engineering are popular, and the College’s record of providing access to STEM education to first-generation college students is impressive. In addition, in the past decade, the share of tenured or tenure-track women in CBL disciplines at Le Moyne has risen from 31 to 40 percent and more than half of all undergraduates majoring in a STEM field are female. Le Moyne President Linda LeMura, Ph.D., the first woman to lead a Jesuit institution in the U.S., is herself a physiologist by training. She has stressed how passionate she is about supporting women in STEM.
“The research opportunities and the strong mentorship that I received from my professors as an undergraduate student irrevocably changed the course of my career – and my life – for the better,” LeMura said. “I recognize how indebted I am to the people who provided those opportunities to me for the successes in my career. I feel a personal responsibility to cultivate opportunities like these for the many young women who come to Le Moyne seeking to pursue careers in STEM.”
While the CBL scholars will not be selected until the fall of 2019, several Le Moyne faculty members have already been chosen to serve as their mentors. Among them is Assistant Professor of Mathematics Caitlin Cunningham, Ph.D. Early her career as an actuary at a small insurance firm, Cunningham felt an absence of women to look up to as professional role models. Today she regularly meets with other female faculty members to discuss their research and publications, and shares that work with students in her class. Now that she is in a position of authority, she works hard to instill the confidence and desire to pursue a career in STEM in her students.
“Working with students on research of interest to them, showing them the excitement and challenges of new research, is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job, and I regularly mentor and co-mentor student research projects,” she said. “These interactions allow me to build a personal relationship with students and to support their intellectual growth and personal growth, which is a key aspect of our Jesuit mission.”
The Clare Boothe Luce Program is one of the most significant sources of private support for women in science, mathematics and engineering in higher education in the United States. Its namesake was an author, congresswoman and ambassador. In her bequest establishing this program, she sought to encourage women to enter, study and teach in the STEM fields. To date, the program named for her has supported more than 2,300 women.