Clarkson is a magnet for female students from across the world who want to pursue science, technology, engineering and math -- the STEM disciplines. While men continue to outnumber women in undergraduate enrollment, women currently make up nearly a third of the total undergraduate population. At the graduate level, women represent 42 percent of the population. That increase reflects our ongoing commitment to attracting and recruiting talented young women to the university.
Female faculty-researchers now comprise 26% of tenured and tenure-track faculty at Clarkson. In addition to teaching and mentoring students and performing cutting-edge research, they are taking on leadership positions at the university and in their respective fields.
Here, meet five of the women making a difference at Clarkson and in the world today.
Associate Professor of Mechanical
& Aeronautical Engineering
BETTER LIVING THROUGH ENGINEERING
Associate Professor Laurel Kuxhaus uses her knowledge of mechanical engineering and human motion to make people’s lives easier.
Kuxhaus is an expert in orthopedic biomechanics. Her areas of research include developing assistive devices to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and better understanding why and how bones break so that fractures can be prevented in the future.
Her influence in the field reaches well beyond her laboratory. Kuxhaus was recently elected a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and is currently serving as the ASME congressional fellow in bioengineering in Washington, D.C., working with policy experts to advise members of Congress on scientific issues.
It is a good fit for someone who points to collaboration as a key to her professional success. “For example, when experimentally studying how vertebrae fracture,” Kuxhaus says, “it’s important to have a clinical expert on board to ensure that what we do in the lab accurately represents what they see in the clinic.”
A recent partnership with an orthopedic surgeon has led to the development of an innovative adjustable-length intramedullary nail, the metal rod used to stabilize fractured bones. It has also led to a new company, Adaptable Ortho Innovations LLC, to commercialize the technology and develop other customizable products.
But it is her students who benefit most. Kuxhaus brings her research and the latest scholarship in the field into the classroom. “I want to raise students’ awareness of current engineering problems and the latest techniques for analysis. This helps them learn to critically evaluate sources and puts their own work in context.”
Professor of Mathematics
Associate Director of STEM Ed
MAKING SENSE OF THE WORLD THROUGH MATH
As a child, Professor Katie Kavanagh wanted to be a chef when she grew up. However, her father suggested math instead. She soon realized that the creativity needed for cooking was just as useful — if not more so — in mathematics.
“Studying mathematics showed me how to solve real-world problems,” says Kavanagh, whose research focuses on optimization for problems in sustainability, polymer processing and physiology. “For example, mathematical algorithms can be used to help make critical decisions about water resources and sustainable farming practices.”
At Clarkson, she helps her students learn to apply math to solve open-ended problems by encouraging them to develop their own research interests or working with them on her own projects. “We have a great pool of students here, so it’s easy to find smart, motivated students to contribute to a lot of these projects,” she says.
Her effectiveness as a teacher has not gone unnoticed. In 2010, Kavanagh was recognized by the Mathematical Association of America with the Henry L. Alder Award for Distinguished Teaching. In 2018, she received Clarkson’s Distinguished Teaching Award.
MELISSA RICHARDS ’04, MS’06
PhD Candidate, Mechanical Engineering
A PASSION FOR EDUCATION
Strength, patience and persistence are three characteristics Melissa Richards tries to embody on a daily basis. Richards, a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering, concentrates her research on the constitutive modeling of rock, which uses complex mathematical modeling to understand the composition of rocks and how they react to stress.
Richards credits her faith, strong family ties and personal perseverance for helping her along this particular path – one that will result in her being the first African-American woman to earn a PhD in this field from Clarkson. It’s been a long journey for Richards, who has interspersed her studies with educational outreach projects aimed at helping girls get involved in STEM fields.
“My true passion,” says Richards, “is actually K-12 outreach. I come from a family of educators, and it finally caught up to me!”
For several years, Richards directed Clarkson’s Horizons program, a residential summer camp aimed at young women interested in STEM fields. This gave her the opportunity to mentor these students while they completed hands-on projects.
“One thing I always tell them is that when faced with discouragement or difficulty, try to re-focus your attention on why you’re there in the first place,” says Richards.
MARISA RUANE-FOSTER ’19
Trudeau Biomedical Scholar
LAB RESEARCH LAUNCHES AN IMMUNOLOGY CAREER
What do genetics research, immunology and pharmacology projects have in common? Marisa Ruane-Foster, a Trudeau Biomedical Scholar and biomolecular science major. Ruane-Foster, who will graduate this spring, has spent the last four years gaining unique experience in cancer and vaccine research, thanks to multiple research opportunities on-campus and through the Trudeau Institute.
A passionate future scientist, Ruane-Foster chose to major in biomolecular science for the broad applicability of the degree. “It’s a major that doesn’t limit you,” she says.
While she considered going directly into industry upon graduation, after working closely with her Clarkson professors for the past few years, she’s decided to pursue a biomedical sciences PhD in immunology instead.
“As a professor, you’re actively working with students and involved in shaping them into the next generation of scientists,” says Ruane-Foster, who acknowledges the power of paying it forward. “I would also like to be able to help propel more minorities into the STEM fields overall.”
Professor of Chemical &
ENGINEERING LEADER AND MENTOR
After earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, Ruth Baltus thought engineering might be a better fit. She entered a graduate program in chemical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, earning her PhD in 1982.
Baltus then came to Clarkson, where she soon realized how rare it was to be a woman in engineering. “During my first semester at Clarkson, I taught a course in thermodynamics taken by civil and mechanical engineers,” she recalls. “I walked into a room with 100 students and saw a sea of male faces. That was my light bulb moment; I realized that women weren’t really in engineering.”
Luckily, that has changed quite a bit since then, and Baltus has been instrumental in that change, especially at Clarkson. For more than 35 years, Baltus has influenced and mentored several generations of engineering students, particularly young women.
Because of her contributions to the chemical engineering field as a researcher, educator and mentor, Baltus will be honored with the American Chemical Society Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences. She will be recognized for this career achievement this April at the American Chemical Society’s National Meeting.