Over the past decade, Villanova University’s College of Engineering has distinguished itself as one of the country’s leading engineering programs for women. In the gender diversity of its faculty and student body, the College consistently exceeds national averages for the percentage of women teaching and studying engineering. In addition, there are a variety of K-12 STEM outreach programs and support services and resources across campus that demonstrate Villanova’s commitment to ensuring greater gender equity in engineering and STEM disciplines. These were among the factors that led the Henry Luce Foundation’s Clare Boothe Luce (CBL) Program, a national leader in promoting women in STEM, to award Villanova $236,635 in support of 18 undergraduate research awards for women in the College.
Nationally, women earn only 23.6% of doctoral degrees in engineering and represent only 17.4% of the discipline’s tenured/tenure-track faculty (ASEE, 2018)—statistics that have seen only moderate increases in the past decade. The Clare Boothe Luce Engineering Scholars Program at Villanova (CBL-ESP) aims for greater gender parity at the PhD level by supporting female engineers throughout their educational journeys and into research-oriented professions, both inside and outside academia. The goal of CBL-ESP is to provide female students with three distinctive research experiences from freshman through junior year, along with intentional mentorship from College faculty, alumnae and graduate students. The program will also ignite the College’s new initiative: WE_CAN—Women Engineers in Community at Nova—which creates an umbrella for all Villanova Engineering-sponsored initiatives designed to help aspiring and current female engineers reach their full potential from primary school to career.
The Clare Boothe Luce Engineering Scholars Program will augment and advance two of Villanova’s core institutional priorities: (1) creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive (DEI) campus and (2) increasing and supporting undergraduate research experiences as a recently classified Doctoral Research institution. The DEI aspects of the program will be bolstered through partnerships with VISIBLE (Villanova Initiative to Support Inclusiveness and Build Leaders); the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; and McNulty Institute for Women’s Leadership, which will offer panels, seminars and resources for female leaders. CBL-ESP’s research opportunities will be administered through the University’s esteemed Center for Research and Fellowships (CRF).
CRF’s existing programs— the Villanova Match Research Program for First Year Students (Match), Villanova Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program (VURF) and STEM/NSF Bootcamp—will be leveraged to create a comprehensive research pipeline for Luce Research Scholars. Through Match, participants will spend 10 weeks as research assistants to faculty mentors during the spring semester of their first year. They will also participate in CRF’s professional development seminars on oral presentations and applying for research opportunities. During the summer after their sophomore year and continuing into their junior year, participants will undertake an independent research project with their faculty mentor through VURF and VURF Extension. After those experiences, the NSF/STEM Bootcamp will help Luce Research Scholars secure an external academic fellowship or research-oriented internship for the summer between the junior and senior years.
Dr. Seri Park, associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will serve as director of the Clare Boothe Luce Research Scholars Program. In 2013, Dr. Park was hired as one of the College’s three Clare Boothe Luce professors. She says, “Because I recognize the positive impact of CBL’s support on my own career, I am eager to foster a vibrant community of female engineering scholars.”
Interim Dean Dr. Randy Weinstein notes that the College’s efforts on behalf of women in engineering will expand beyond CBL-ESP. “Over the next five years, we plan to launch WE_CAN as an umbrella for existing initiatives, create opportunities for female PhD engineering students to serve as mentors for undergraduate students, identify opportunities to support alumnae, and establish new professional development workshops in partnership with the McNulty Institute to support female engineering students at all levels.”
About the Clare Boothe Luce Program
Since its first grants in 1989 the Clare Boothe Luce Program has become one of the single most significant sources of private support for women in science, mathematics and engineering in higher education in the United States. Clare Boothe Luce, the widow of Henry R. Luce, was a playwright, journalist, U.S. Ambassador to Italy, and the first woman elected to Congress from Connecticut. In her bequest establishing this program, she sought “to encourage women to enter, study, graduate, and teach” in science, mathematics and engineering. To date, the program has supported more than 2,500 women. In this year’s pool, CBL awarded a total of 11 new grants: two grants for professorships, six for undergraduate research awards and three for undergraduate scholarships.