Engineering alumna leads the prestigious program
Section Elevating Student Experience
In 2017, Purdue recruited two high-achieving graduate student scholars, including one in Engineering, thanks to the Clare Boothe Luce Program (CBL).
Purdue applied to the program’s nationwide competition and was chosen by the Clare Boothe Luce Program Selection Committee to receive a $300,000 grant for graduate fellowships.
Purdue's funds were awarded to two incoming female scholars, one in engineering and one in science, and are designed to support them for two years of graduate study. Purdue matches the award, giving CBL fellows a full ride through graduate school.
As serendipity would have it, Carlotta Arthur, CBL program director, earned her bachelor’s degree in metallurgical engineering at Purdue. Arthur, the first African-American woman to earn a bachelor’s degree in metallurgical engineering from Purdue, has firsthand knowledge of Purdue’s rigorous STEM education — and of the importance of diversity in STEM institutions.
As a program director at the Henry Luce Foundation, Arthur leads the CBL program and consults with prospective and current grantees.
Purdue’s 2017 engineering candidate for the fellowship was Breana Cappuccilli. As an undergraduate in mechanical engineering and bioengineering at the University of Michigan, Cappuccilli discovered that her favorite problems to solve were those relating directly to people, which spurred her to seek out a graduate program in biomechanical engineering, specifically human biomechanics as it relates to sports injuries. Purdue’s program offered an exciting range of research possibilities in the field.
Cappuccilli’s passion for biomechanics — along with her talent and potential — landed her one of the two CBL fellowships at Purdue, where she is now pursuing her PhD in mechanical engineering. The other Purdue fellowship was awarded to Natalie Halavick in Mathematics.
A pioneering benefactress
The CBL program was established with a large bequest meant to support women in STEM fields made by Clare Boothe Luce (1903-87). Luce was a pioneering journalist, diplomat, and politician — as well as the widow of Henry R. Luce, publisher of Time, Life, Sports Illustrated and Fortune magazines. Clare Boothe Luce is especially remembered for writing the 1936 Broadway play “The Women,” which was later turned into an award-winning movie, and for being the first woman elected to Congress from Connecticut (in 1942), as well as for being named U.S. ambassador to Italy in 1953. Luce also was instrumental in creating the Atomic Energy Commission in 1947.
“Clare Boothe Luce was a trailblazer in many sectors,” Arthur says. “She could have chosen to support women in performing arts or foreign service, for example. Instead, she chose more than 30 years ago to support women in what’s now known as STEM.” Luce said of her bequest: “I select such fields of endeavor in recognition that women today have already entered the fields of medicine, law, business and the arts, and in order to encourage more women to enter the fields of science.”
The first fellowships were granted in 1989.
Attracting women engineers
The CBL program is one of the nation’s largest funders of women in STEM. To date, the program has supported more than 2,300 women, including 10 at Purdue, for a total of $180 million in financial support.
Its importance to Purdue Engineering cannot be overstated, says Patricia Davies, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Ray W. Herrick Labs.
“While the number of women studying at the graduate level in engineering at Purdue has increased over the last few decades, that number is still low compared to the number of male graduate students,” she says. “We firmly believe we are missing out, in terms of attracting the brightest and the best, by not having a stronger proportion of women graduate students.”
Mung Chiang, the John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering, echoes those thoughts. “Graduate students are essential to both the education and research mission of Purdue Engineering,” he says. “We must continue to encourage and support female graduate students in engineering, and we are so grateful for this outstanding fellowship from the Clare Boothe Luce Program, named after a true pioneer of female leadership in the world.”
A boon for Purdue biomechanics
As for Cappuccilli, this fall she joined the Human Injury Research and Regenerative Technologies Lab at Purdue, where she will work on sports-related injuries and learn more about the biomechanics research.
“The CBL fellowship has given me not just the flexibility to choose what I want to research, but the time to home in on my passions,” she says. “Instead of worrying about securing funding and covering tuition costs, I can spend my time learning about the different research possibilities at Purdue.”
Cappuccilli looks forward to another aspect of being a CBL fellow. “I am so excited to be involved with recruiting and mentoring other women in engineering,” she says. “Mentoring became an interest of mine as an undergraduate, and this fellowship will help me develop this passion in graduate school.”
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Breana Cappuccilli | Recipient of the 2017 Clare Booth Luce Program Fellowship
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