Renaissance Women: Clare Boothe Luce Scholars

Renaissance Women

Clare Boothe Luce scholars

By Phil Reese

Chemistry is her passion, but for Clare Boothe Luce Scholar Asya Tucker ’15, it was soccer that initially attracted her to Trinity. Prior to transferring to Trinity, Tucker, of Heidelberg, Germany, attended a college in Pennsylvania where she played soccer. Tucker, who graduated from Trinity in May, was left with a lasting impression of the sportsmanship displayed by the Trinity women when the two teams met.

“We beat them that day, but the Trinity players never stopped, they never quit,” said Tucker. “They had such a sense of competitiveness, they worked so hard together and they never gave up. That’s something I really admire in a group of people.”

Trinity’s Luce Scholars are active in campus life. They play soccer, basketball and volleyball and they are leaders in student clubs and honors societies. They are well-rounded students, yet their excellence in science and math brings these six women together.

Luce Scholars are supported by the generosity of the late Clare Boothe Luce, a Renaissance woman in her own right and a trailblazer. She was a reporter and playwright in the 1930s; served two terms in Congress in the 1940s; and appointed U.S. ambassador to Italy and then Brazil. In 1975, she was honored by Trinity for her outstanding leadership and intellectual depth.

She also had a clear vision of the importance of encouraging the advancement of women in the fields of science and math. She established the Clare Boothe Luce program through a bequest, and since its first grants in 1989 the national program has become the single most significant source of private support for women in science, mathematics and engineering.

Trinity is one of 13 institutions specifically designated in Luce’s will to receive grants in perpetuity to support professorships and student scholarships. Over the past 25 years, Trinity has received millions of dollars in support from the Clare Boothe Luce program, which has revitalized science and math at Trinity. Through the program, Trinity recruits and supports talented young faculty and provides generous scholarships to students who are academically strong – and excited about science and math.

“I’ve always known I wanted to be a teacher and I’ve always loved math,” said Cindy Morales ’15, who graduated in May with a major in math and a minor in education. She plans to pursue a master’s degree and become a math teacher.

Morales, from Washington, D.C., was her high school salutatorian. She is the first in her family to attend college and played on the Trinity soccer team.

“I’ve always had great math teachers,” Morales continued. “But I had friends who hated math. All of my friends hated math, and I told them, ‘No you need to love math!’ So I want to be a teacher so I can help kids love math. And when I came to Trinity, I had all these great math professors.”

Karen Hernandez ’15, a Washington, D.C., native who majored in biochemistry and graduated in May, also knew she would go into science long before she decided where to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

“Science was one of my favorite subjects throughout high school,” said Hernandez. After taking an introductory course in biology with Dr. Patrice Moss, Clare Boothe Luce Professor of biochemistry, she became interested in biochemistry.

“I found biochemistry challenged me academically and I really enjoyed that challenge,” said Hernandez, who plans to next earn a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences before teaching biology at the college level.

The Clare Boothe Luce professors at Trinity have inspired the Luce Scholars to pursue science and math for life.

“In high school I hated science,” said Sonia Garcia ’15, who graduated in May with a major in biology and minors in biochemistry and language and cultural studies. “But when I got to Trinity, I took Biology of Women with Dr. DeBoy, and I really liked it.” Dr. Cynthia DeBoy is a Clare Boothe Luce Professor of biology.

“I like science when you apply it to something real like women’s health,” said Garcia.

Garcia served as president of her senior class and president of Ladies F.I.R.S.T., a student club for Trinity women studying science, math and nursing. The students engage in community service projects and raise awareness around campus about health issues facing young women. Garcia credits the club with helping her “break out of my shell,” and become more social.

Garcia, a Silver Spring, Maryland, native, plans to pursue a Ph.D. in a field working in health disparities and diseases that affect minority populations, such as breast cancer and HIV. This summer, she participated in a highly selective internship program at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and in the coming year will be engaged in post-baccalaureate research supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Luce Scholars and faculty participate in science and math research and present at conferences around the country.

“Going to San Antonio, Texas, with a group of Trinity students to the Annual Biomedical Conference for Minorities and presenting research was an amazing opportunity,” Tucker said.

Because many of the Luce Scholars are the first in their families to attend college, the scholarship support plays a vital role in their academic pursuits.
“I came from a tough background,” said Miriam Flynn ’16 of Wichita, Kansas, who will be a senior biochemistry major this fall. “I know how difficult it can be to focus when you have a lot of income trouble, or you’re worrying about where you are going to live.”

Flynn, who plans to seek a Ph.D. in biomedical science, says the Luce scholarship was a game changer for her and her family.

“When I received the letter from President McGuire telling me I had been recommended by my professors for this scholarship, it made me really happy,” said Flynn, “because now I can live on campus, which has made it a lot easier for me to focus on my classes.”

All of the women recall their elation upon being chosen to receive the Luce scholarship, because attending college would place financial pressures on their families.

“I cried. I cried so much. I just went to my mom and hugged her,” Garcia said. “My parents were really struggling financially, so it was something off their shoulders.”

“Receiving the Luce scholarship and being able to focus on studying and not worry about money has been so important to me,” said Tucker.

With the Luce scholarship, “You get to invest more time in your studying,” added Tucker. A self-described military brat, Tucker received a graduate fellowship from American University, where she will begin a master’s degree program in chemistry this fall. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. and eventually travel the world and lead a pharmacy on a military base.

When biology major Alexandra Alvarez ’15 received her diploma in May, she was the first in her family to graduate from college. “My parents know what opportunities they missed out on by not having a college education,” said Alvarez, from Silver Spring, Maryland. The Luce scholarship has inspired her to do well academically. “It has pushed me to do my best,” she said.

Alvarez has always loved the sciences and business, and said that the Luce award is an important stepping stone to pursue a graduate degree and a career path that combines her two interests.
Luce Scholars are among the top students at Trinity – two were elected to Phi Beta Kappa and five were inducted into Beta Kappa Chi, the science and math honors society. They credit Trinity’s diversity, small class sizes and the strong support of their professors – a majority of whom are women – as keys to their success.

“I felt that I could have a personal connection to my professors,” Alvarez said. “And when I needed recommendation letters, professors know me by my name and not by a number.”

“I like that Trinity is a women’s college,” Tucker said, eliciting agreement from Morales. A women’s college offers “a different perspective on things. And seeing women in science – I hadn’t seen much of that before – so it was really cool.”

Hernandez fell in love with Trinity after her sister attended. “She told me about the school and the class sizes, and how much you get to interact with your professors.”

Hernandez, who played on the volleyball team, was also attracted to Trinity’s athletics program. “I really love the resources, like the Trinity Center and what they offer there. And I value the intimate connection you get with your professors. They actually get too know you as an individual.”

“I find Trinity’s emphasis on social justice and community service very appealing,” Flynn said. “I want to gain skills here, but I also want to learn how to apply them outside in the world, with people, not just to get a job, but to make a difference in my community.”