An aversion to taking organic chemistry led Margaret Ann “Ranny” Towsley Riecker ’54, who was majoring in zoology, away from her plans to become a doctor. Her next plan was to earn a master’s degree on her way to a teaching career. Marriage and children intervened to change the course of her life again, but Riecker’s interest in the sciences never waned.
This fall, she was instrumental in helping Carleton receive a $2 million grant in support of science education from her family’s foundation, the Harry A. and Margaret D. Towsley Foundation.
Riecker is chair of the Towsley Foundation, which is located in Midland, Michigan, and generally focuses its grants on schools in that state. However, Riecker’s enthusiasm for Carleton and for the importance of supporting the sciences was contagious to her fellow trustees. “It is so important to fund the sciences right now when Americans are not becoming scientists,” she says. “We need to regain a global competitive advantage.”
A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education praising Carleton for producing large numbers of female scientists was also pivotal in winning approval for the gift. “The publicity about Carleton’s women scientists was validation for us before we made a final decision to award the grant,” Riecker says.
The grant will establish an endowment fund to support faculty and student collaborative research and curricular innovation in the sciences, particularly courses with an interdisciplinary focus.
Chemistry professor Joe Chihade sees the value in engaging students in hands-on science: “When students participate as research assistants, they get to see firsthand that professors don’t know all the answers,” he says. “There’s a kind of mentoring and growth in the student-professor relationship because you have a shared goal.
In summer research programs in particular, having more students involved builds on itself. They have lunch together and talk about the research and find out what’s going on in other labs. It creates a sense of community.”
Riecker sees this sense of community among undergraduate scientists as a catalyst for continuing growth and innovation in the sciences. “Undergraduate research is tremendously important,” she says. “It is what entices people to stay in the field beyond graduation from Carleton.”
What $2M Means
The Towsley grant will help advance Carleton in precisely the area that national leaders identify as crucial for scientists of the future: interdisciplinary study that teaches students to examine scientific questions that are not confined to a single discipline. Funds from the grant will be used for:
Student research opportunities
The grant will fund up to 20 student research summer positions yearly in the sciences and interdisciplinary endeavors. These research experiences, particularly if they are conducted early in a student’s academic career, are an exceptionally effective way to engage students in unscripted inquiry with faculty members.
The grant will support Carleton’s science and math faculty members as they reach beyond solely disciplinary issues to engage in interdisciplinary collaboration. This cooperation results in faculty workshops, lectures, new courses, and linked courses with interdisciplinary themes.
The grant will provide support for long-term faculty development, particularly in areas that encourage innovation in interdisciplinary teaching and learning.
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