First Cohort of U.Va. Female Scientists and Scholars Receives Career-Enhancing Grants

Headshots left to right: Lisa Colosi Peterson, Petra Reinke, Rachel Rinaldo and Kelsey Johnson

L-R: Lisa Colosi Peterson, Petra Reinke, Rachel Rinaldo and Kelsey Johnson

The birth of stars. Gender and globalization. Municipal wastewater treatment. Surface reactions of nanostructures. These are the research areas of the first four female scientists and social scientists to receive grants from the University of Virginia’s National Science Foundation-supported ADVANCE Program.

Two faculty members from the College of Arts & Sciences – Rachel Rinaldo, assistant professor of sociology, and Kelsey Johnson, associate professor of astronomy – and two from the School of Engineering and Applied Science – Lisa Colosi Peterson, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Petra Reinke, associate professor of materials science and engineering – are the first recipients of the fellowships, which will help them strengthen research networks and collaborations and advance their careers at critical junctions.

The program aims to support the representation and advancement of women in academic science, technology, engineering and math – referred to as “STEM” fields – and social, behavioral and economic science, or SBE, careers.

“U.Va. ADVANCE’s transformational work will improve the University’s capacity to recruit, compete for and advance top faculty talent. This work seeks to engage everyone in attaining these goals,” said Gertrude Fraser, the principal investigator for the ADVANCE grant. .

Fraser, vice provost for faculty recruitment and retention and associate professor of anthropology, leads a team of faculty that runs the ADVANCE Program. Other team members include Pamela Norris, associate dean of research and graduate programs and Frederick Tracy Morse Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; Joanne Cohoon, associate professor of science, technology and society in the Engineering School; and Sophie Trawalter, assistant professor of public policy and psychology.

The ADVANCE Enhancement Fellowships are being awarded twice a year, and the next deadline is Sept. 30. For information, click here.

The four professors, at critical junctures in their mid-careers, will be able to pursue specific career-enhancing activities with the one-year fellowships, worth up to $5,000.

For an American sociologist, Rinaldo has an unusual area of study: Indonesia. In researching gender, globalization and culture, she uses ethnographic fieldwork in studying Muslim and secular women activists in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, to look at how Islam and feminism are not as totally incompatible as they might seem.

“Gender and globalization is an emerging topic of interest among sociologists, anthropologists and specialists in gender studies,” said Rinaldo, who came to U.Va. in 2009. “Scholars in this field examine subjects such as how the global economy or international institutions are gendered; cross-border gender issues such as migration, transnational feminism and women’s movements; and transnational processes that are shaping gender and sexuality in various local and regional contexts.” 

Rinaldo, whose first book, “Mobilizing Piety: Islam and Feminism in Indonesia,” was published this year, will use her grant to organize a symposium bringing together gender and globalization scholars to discuss emerging theoretical and empirical issues in this sub-field, as well as spur new research and potential collaborations.

“I am also hoping that faculty and students from other departments will participate, and that it will spur interdisciplinary discussion and collaboration,” Rinaldo said.

Astronomer Johnson has a specific reason for wanting to re-establish networks in her field: the associate professor took time off last year when she had her third child, and is ready to renew her professional activities full time. She will use her grant to attend an international meeting of the National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics in Mexico City focusing on massive young star clusters.

The ADVANCE grant is important, she said, because “it will facilitate my getting plugged back into my research community. ... I’m anxious to get my new data into the research field.”

Johnson is excited to present her research from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, known as ALMA, an observatory in Chile. She has observed the first known example of a short-lived stage of extreme star formation that is believed to have an important role in the early universe.

Reinke, the materials scientist, also will use her grant to support travel: she plans to visit several universities and national laboratories “to strengthen nascent collaborations and to present my work with several research groups who are at the forefront of science in my area of research,” she said.

At U.Va. for 10 years, Reinke defined her field briefly as “nano- and surface science, or materials science at surfaces.” She researches building blocks for nanotechnology and spintronics on very small surfaces. Spintronics is “an emerging technology using the intrinsic spin of the electron and its associated magnetic moment, in addition to its fundamental electronic charge, in solid-state devices.”

Reinke hails from Germany, where she worked before coming to Virginia.

“Coming to the U.S. was a unique opportunity and allowed me to move into a field of research which is truly interdisciplinary,” she said. “However, while I have retained many contacts in Europe and therefore am well-known internationally, my network in the U.S., both in terms of collaborations and national recognition, is not as strong and diverse, and needs to be developed in more depth to move my career to the next level.”

Using her grant close to home, Peterson will enhance not only her career but also those of graduate students. One of her goals over the next phase of her career is helping get more women into the STEM pipeline, as well as on her research team.

A member of the U.Va. civil and environmental engineering faculty for five years, she realized that her research team would benefit from having members at different stages of their education. She will offer a fellowship to an incoming graduate student next summer.

“It is my hope that offering a student a prestigious paid research position for the summer before she officially starts graduate school will make my group more attractive to qualified candidates,” Peterson said. “Also, by having the new student come in the summer, I can make myself more available to work with him or her before classes begin.”

She plans to visit several local colleges this fall to meet qualified applicants, encourage them to apply to the civil and environmental engineering department for their master’s and doctoral degrees – and invite them to consider working with her.

“I hope this approach will be successful and that I can build up networks of contacts to draw from in subsequent years,” she said.

In addition to the Enhancement Fellowships, the U.Va ADVANCE program consists of four other initiatives that aim to improve departmental climate, document the experiences of senior and retired women faculty, support search and selection and encourage innovative approaches to addressing underutilization of women in STEM and SBE academic careers.

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Anne E. Bromley

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