The Clare Boothe Luce Program has awarded $300,000 to Virginia Tech to support physical science and engineering research by female undergraduates.

The funding will be used over the next three years to provide 24 Clare Boothe Luce Undergraduate Research Awards that will help make it possible for students to participate in research over the summer.

“We’re very thankful,” said Jody Marshall, who directs the Virginia Tech Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program, which will administer the grant. “This gift will make it easier for students to stay on campus, engage in research, and not have to scramble to find research opportunities elsewhere. Most graduate programs won’t even look at a student who does not have research or experiential learning experience, so a major benefit of this program is that we’re preparing women for graduate school.”

Although the number of women earning graduate degrees in science and engineering has grown, women remain underrepresented in those fields, according to the National Science Foundation.

The Clare Boothe Luce Program of the Henry Luce Foundation is designed to encourage women to enter, study, graduate, and teach in science, mathematics, and engineering. Since making its first grants in 1989, the program has supported more than 2,300 women.

Support from the Luce Program will allow the Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program to help make summer research possible for additional students, building on its tradition of helping diverse students. The program has hosted more than 700 summer interns since its inception.

Francesca Crivellari, who earned her bachelor’s in chemical engineering in 2012, said support from Virginia Tech’s program helped make it possible for her to work in a chemistry lab assisting with research for the U.S. Army during the summer between her sophomore and junior years. Through that experience, she learned that research allows for creativity, which helped cement her desire to pursue it as a career.

“People get the sense that research is a very rigid, restrictive thing,” said Crivellari, who recently earned a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Johns Hopkins University. “I found quite the opposite. I’m an engineer, but had this very creative spirit. I found this through the power of exploration and creation that I had during my research experience. I was really thriving in that environment, and that kind of naturally funneled me into graduate school.”

Photograph of Virginia Tech alumna and graduate student Amnah Eltahir.
The Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program helped Amnah Eltahir '13 conduct research and develop a network of mentors.

Amnah Eltahir also benefitted from the Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program’s support for undergraduate research. She earned her bachelor's in physics in 2013, and is working toward a Ph.D. at the Virginia Tech Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

Participating in the program allowed Eltahir to conduct research using functional MRI machines at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute in Roanoke, to present her work at a conference, and to develop her network of fellow scientists and mentors.

“I was so interested in the research,” Eltahir said, “and even to this day I reach out to people I met through the Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program for personal and professional advice. It was a very worthwhile experience.”

Crivellari agrees with that sentiment.

“To anyone even considering doing research through the MAOP program, I’d tell them to do it hands down,” she said. “There’s so much that doing research teaches you about science, the world and yourself. The skills I’ve gained from doing research at Virginia Tech are things I don’t think you can learn anywhere else but in the lab or an exploratory environment.”

Students interested in learning more about become a Clare Boothe Luce Research Scholar at Virginia Tech can find information on the Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program website. The office is accepting applications for the program until March 15, 2018.

Written by Emma Schimley