Architecture Dean Designs a Space for Women's Work

March 21, 2007 -- Despite advancements made in recent decades to improve women's status in the workplace, female faculty members are still in the minority at academic institutions across the country.  Karen Van Lengen, dean of the School of Architecture, has established “Women’s Work”—a forum for women’s research to help counteract some of the effects of this disparity at the University of Virginia.

According to Van Lengen, since women are in the minority, there is a larger need for female faculty to connect to one another.  “I wanted to create a kind of network for women so that they can know what other women are doing across Grounds,” she says.  Van Lengen initiated Women’s Work as a monthly lunch group in October of 2006.  The choice to convene at lunchtime was strategic.  “Everyone is busy and people have their own research agendas.  But everyone has to eat lunch,” she says.  “It is an easy way to connect to people without making a big commitment.”

Women’s Work is modeled after a successful School of Architecture initiative that features the research of architecture faculty.  The architecture forum began a few years ago and Van Lengen contends that it has invigorated faculty research in the School.  Women’s Work differs in that it specifically highlights the work of female faculty members.  In addition, Van Lengen’s goal is to draw an academically diverse group of presenters by inviting faculty participants from each of U.Va.’s Schools.  Since the group’s inauguration, faculty from the Darden School of Business, the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, the School of Architecture, and the Law School have all presented on a wide variety of topics. 

Women’s Work meets from 12:30 p.m. until 1:45 p.m. on the 1st Thursday of every month during the regular academic year at Pavilion IX—also Van Lengen’s home.  Presenters are asked to give a half hour presentation and the rest of the time is reserved for questions and discussion.

The group has been well-attended and Van Lengen has received positive feedback, including instances of connections made between women in distinctly different fields.  “There is a serendipity in putting people next to each other that don’t seem to have anything in common, and then they find out they do,” she says.  “Exactly what I hoped would happen is happening.”

Two more presentations will occur this year. 

  • April 5, Associate Professor of Law, Kerry Abrams
  • May 3, Assistant Professor of Economics, Amalia Miller

The group is open to all faculty.  Contact Alice Keys at to sign up to attend.  Attendance will be limited to 25 and participants are asked to bring their own lunch.  For more information on this year’s presenters, go to:

Written by Melissa Maki, a research communications coordinator for the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies.