Women For Science For Women

Connecting women to science is a strong catalyst to increasing support for women and science, intellectually and financially, and to encouraging more women and girls to have an interest in science. As an advocate for women in science and science for women, I am constantly thinking of ways to motivate other women to be involved in this endeavor, but I have learned one person cannot do it alone. In order to have women take ownership of science, we must all join forces, and understand and use the

Nov 24, 1997
Sara Lee Schupf

Connecting women to science is a strong catalyst to increasing support for women and science, intellectually and financially, and to encouraging more women and girls to have an interest in science. As an advocate for women in science and science for women, I am constantly thinking of ways to motivate other women to be involved in this endeavor, but I have learned one person cannot do it alone. In order to have women take ownership of science, we must all join forces, and understand and use the important links. We will see progress only when those who have the means or ability collaborate and work effectively together, be it mothers, scientists, philanthropists, businesswomen, or teachers.

My personal interest in supporting science actually was initiated by my father, Charles Lubin. My dad loved the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel; he loved the scientists, and loved the fact that through Weizmann he was helping to make our world a better place in which to live. Before my father passed away in 1988, he asked if I would please continue supporting Weizmann when he was no longer able to do so. As a result of agreeing to keep the family connections to the Weizmann Institute, I was given a legacy, one that I truly treasure and means more to me every day. This connection has transformed my life. What started as an interest has now become a passion.

While Weizmann precipitated my involvement with science, I also had another gift from my father that I never appreciated until he passed away, and that was my name. I am the namesake of the Sara Lee Corp., headquartered in Chicago, my hometown. Until recently, I spent most of my life separating my name from me, as my name recognition was the result of my father's accomplishments and not my own. Shortly after he passed away, I agreed to become the spokeswoman for the Sara Lee Bakery, which quickly connected me to my name. I soon realized that as a woman with a name that could open doors, I had a responsibility to get those doors opened. During this time, I also was president of the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science, and I was pursuing my college degree at Skidmore College (I started in the class of 1962 and graduated with the class of 1994).

Majoring in women's studies increased the relevance of what I was doing in my academic life to what I was doing with my life outside the academic world in education, science, and philanthropy. Several questions kept haunting me: Why were there not more women and girls interested in science? Why were the women in science not receiving the recognition they so deserve? And what could be done to motivate more support by women for women, especially in science?

Since I am more of a "doer" than a "thinker," I want to turn conversation and thoughts into action. Philanthropy, or what I call focused giving, is my vehicle to advocate science, especially for women and girls. My fundamental motivation is to encourage more women and girls to feel the need for a basic understanding of science, and then to establish a process that gains recognition for the achievements of women scientists. My family is hoping that by following our example, others will understand the great need for support for women in science. Through my family's own philanthropy, we have created a Science Enrichment Fund and an endowment for a woman science intern at Emma Willard School in Troy, N.Y. The Lubin Family Chair for a Woman Scientist at Skidmore College, endowed by my family, I think is the first chair in science created especially for a woman. The American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science now has initiated women and science lectures across the United States and with my strong encouragement has established a biannual national award to recognize an outstanding women scientist. Most likely these endeavors would not have happened if not for a woman's interest.

Why science for women? By encouraging science, I feel we are stimulating the creative process and curiosity. Women can no longer afford to be left out, and why should they? Without the involvement of women, we are working only at 50 percent capacity, which we can no longer afford to do. As we approach the 21st century, science and technology are increasingly becoming integral aspects of our lives. If women do not participate, they will reinforce their role as outsiders. Of course, my other motivation to have women gain an appreciation for science is that I am convinced we will see more support for science by women as they become increasingly connected to science. This is a newfound resource.

Usually we give to charity, but I was fortunate enough to have a charity given to me. Having been given this gift, I began to explore the ways I could make my father's connections relevant for me. I knew the options I had pertaining to what I could do for charity, but I did not realize what the involvement would do for me. It is through philanthropy that I feel empowered to increase the recognition for women for science for women. My life is so much richer for giving.

Sara Lee Schupf is the namesake of the Sara Lee Corp. She is chairwoman of the Weizmann Women and Science Award and a trustee of the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science, the New York Academy of Sciences, and Skidmore College. She is also a member of the President's Committee of the National Academy of Sciences.