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Feb. 1, 2005

Engineering's Donna Riley Receives CAREER Award from National Science Foundation

NORTHAMPTON, Mass.—The National Science Foundation (NSF) honored Assistant Professor of Engineering Donna Riley with its most prestigious award for new faculty, funding her project to assist faculty seeking to adapt their classrooms and curricula to diverse learners.

With the support of the five-year $404,813 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award, Riley will research and implement educational practices to engage underrepresented demographic groups, particularly women and minorities, in the study of engineering.

“I want to challenge educators to rethink the purposes and goals of engineering education,” said Riley, a founding faculty member in Smith’s Picker Engineering Program—the nation’s first engineering program housed at a women’s college. “We need to improve our ability to successfully attract, retain, educate and advance the broadest possible spectrum of students.”

Riley is the fourth Smith faculty member to receive the CAREER award since NSF established the program in 1995. The others include current faculty members Laura Katz, associate professor of biological sciences, and Katherine Queeney, assistant professor of chemistry.

Riley’s project will examine teaching practices at Smith that value social justice, learner responsibility and empowerment, classroom equity, real-world applications and other “liberative” concepts. With input from students, colleagues and local K-12 partners, she will develop, implement and evaluate curricular innovations. In particular, Riley will study how women and minorities conceptualize their identities as engineering students and future engineers.

After receiving her bachelor's in chemical engineering from Princeton University, where she received the university's senior thesis prize, Riley earned her doctorate in engineering and public policy from Carnegie Mellon University. Her dissertation work employed indoor air quality models to characterize chemical exposures from consumer product use and to evaluate the effectiveness of different risk-reduction strategies.

Each year, some 2,000 faculty members nationwide apply to the NSF CAREER program, and only 350 receive awards. Designed to recognize the early career-development activities of teacher/scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century, awardees are selected on the basis of plans that integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their institutions.

Smith College, consistently ranked among the nation’s foremost liberal arts colleges, currently has nearly two dozen NSF grants. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state and 60 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women’s college in the country.

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