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Gast honored for STEM efforts

A scholarship program for women is permanently renamed as The Alice P. Gast Women in STEM Scholarship.

In 2012, as Lehigh celebrated the 40th anniversary of undergraduate women at Lehigh, then-President Alice P. Gast designated university funds to establish a $1 million scholarship fund to support young women who wanted to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

As Gast explained, the goal of the program was simple: To let aspiring young women know that Lehigh was the kind of place that would support their ambitions in STEM careers.

The scholarship was one of the most significant, but certainly not the only, initiative launched during Gast’s tenure to push Lehigh forward in STEM. And in recognition of all of her successes in this area—including the announcement this spring that Lehigh had made impressive progress in recruiting and retaining top female STEM faculty—Lehigh’s Board of Trustees announced in June that the scholarship fund Gast established two years ago would be permanently renamed in her honor.

Even now that Gast has departed Lehigh for a new role as president of Imperial College London, the Alice P. Gast Women in STEM Scholarship will continue to support young women studying in these important fields for years to come. Two incoming students receive support from the scholarship each year.

“This is something that was very important to Alice,” said trustee Jane P. Jamieson, ’75, who announced the scholarship honor during the trustees’ June meeting. “And not only was it something that was important to her personally, it was also something that was important to Lehigh.”

Added board chairman Brad Eric Scheler ’74, ’05P, ’08P, ’09PG: “Words can never fully capture, do justice to or fully convey our heartfelt thanks to Alice for her eight years of service and duty to and love for Lehigh. Evidence of all that she accomplished is everywhere in and about our four campuses. To relay in part our thanks to Alice, it is right and fitting that we have named in honor of Alice of our STEM scholarships for women, now the Alice P. Gast STEM Scholarships. While Alice is leaving us as President, this is further confirmation that Alice will be a part of and with us in spirit always.”

At Lehigh, STEM fields include the NSF-funded disciplines of biological sciences, chemistry, earth and environmental science, mathematics, physics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and economics, and the disciplines in the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering of Engineering and Applied Science.

When they were created in 2012, the STEM scholarships were one part of a larger effort by Lehigh to increase the ranks of women in academic science and engineering careers. In 2010, Lehigh had been named one of seven recipients of a five-year National Science Foundation ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Grant, which has enabled the university to harness the strengths of interdisciplinary research and teaching to improve the recruitment, retention and advancement of women faculty in STEM fields.

That grant has paid dividends. In April, Lehigh announced that it had in 2013 successfully recruited 12 new faculty in STEM fields. Of those, six (or 50 percent) were women, even though women made up only approximately 25 percent of Ph.D.’s in those disciplines, according to NSF statistics.

This improvement has built up over the past three years as Lehigh hired two STEM women faculty members out of 12 in 2011 and three out of ten in 2012.

Lehigh’s progress has not been limited to STEM fields alone. In fact, of the 27 new faculty members hired across all fields last year, 13 were women. That success was noted by the Women In Academia report late last year.

Jamieson said Lehigh’s success in this area will be one of Gast’s lasting legacies.

“I think everyone on the board was thinking about some great way to recognize Alice’s contributions, but there are just so many of them,” she said. “You couldn’t possibly recognize all of the things that she’s done. But because I was involved in the 40th anniversary celebration, I was aware that these scholarships were Alice’s idea, and so to name them in her honor is, I think, a wonderful way to celebrate her tenure.”

Story by Tim Hyland

Posted on Tuesday, August 05, 2014

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