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Carnegie Mellon Professor Receives Presidential Award For Excellence in Science, Math and Engineering Mentoring

Byron SpiceMonday, May 16, 2005

PITTSBURGH-Lenore Blum, Carnegie Mellon University Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science, is being honored today in Washington, D.C., as a recipient of the 2004 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM).

The PAESMEM Program, administered on behalf of the White House by the National Science Foundation (NSF), seeks to identify outstanding mentoring efforts that enhance the participation of groups, including women, minorities and persons with disabilities that are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The awardees are recognized as leaders in the national effort to develop fully the country's resources within these groups of people. They each receive a Presidential Certificate and a $10,000 grant to help them continue with their mentoring efforts.

Blum has been a member of Carnegie Mellon's computer science faculty since 1999, returning to the university where she began her career in higher education as an architecture student in 1959, when the institution was called Carnegie Institute of Technology. She subsequently decided to focus on mathematics and holds a bachelor's degree from Simmons College (1963) and a doctoral degree in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1968). She then went to the University of California at Berkeley as a postdoctoral fellow and lecturer in mathematics. In 1973 she joined the faculty of Mills College, and in 1974 she founded its Mathematics and Computer Science Department, the nation's first computer science department at an all women's college. Blum served as head of the department for 13 years.

In the 1980s, she decided to focus on mathematics research. Over the next decade, she worked as a visiting professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center and at IBM's TJ Watson Research Center as a visiting scientist. In the late 1980s, she joined the International Computer Science Institute's Theory Group in Berkeley, Calif. And from 1992 to 1996, served as deputy director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, also in Berkeley. Blum spent the two years, 1996-1998 that straddle the historic handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China, at the City University of Hong Kong as visiting professor of mathematics and computer science. Here she completed her book, "Complexity and Real Computation," with colleagues and co-authors Felipe Cucker, Mike Shub and Steve Smale.

In the fall of 1999, Blum and her husband, Manuel, joined their son, Avrim, on the faculty of the School of Computer Science (SCS) at Carnegie Mellon. Along with Guy Blelloch, Blum is co-director on the National Science Foundation-funded ALADDIN Center for ALgorithm ADaptation Dissemination and INtegration. The center's primary goal is to improve the process of incorporating powerful algorithms into application domains.

Blum is well known for her work in increasing the participation of girls and women in mathematics and scientific fields. She was instrumental in founding the Association for Women in Mathematics (serving as its president from 1975 to 1978), the Math/Science Network and its Expanding Your Horizons conferences for high school girls (serving as co-director from 1975 to 1981), and she served as co-principal investigator for the Mills Summer Mathematics Institute for undergraduate women. At Carnegie Mellon she has been faculty advisor to the support group, Women@SCS, and a member of the President's Diversity Advisory Council.

Blum's professional and service honors include serving as vice president of the American Mathematical Society (1990-92), chairing the American Mathematical Society Program Committee and Section A (Mathematics) of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1998-99). In 1979 she was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In June 1999, on the 25th anniversary of the founding the Math/Computer Science Department at Mills College, she was awarded Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

"Lenore joined our faculty just when SCS was experiencing success from a concerted effort to attract and retain women and produce leaders of both sexes who would increase the value of computer science to society," said SCS Dean Randal E. Bryant. "Her mentoring efforts have strengthened our success and had a profound effect on our organization, on our profession and on our society." Since 1999, he noted, on average, a third of the students entering our undergraduate computer science program are women. The cornerstone of Blum's mentoring efforts at Carnegie Mellon is Women@SCS, an organization that brings together female undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty, with the goal of supporting women's professional development. The more senior and experienced women serve as mentors for the younger ones, providing advice and networking opportunities so essential for success in academic and professional life. Women@SCS explicitly provides colleagueship, role models, mentors and leadership opportunities that are more naturally part of the majority group's experience.

"Her model has exceeded all expectations," said Bryant. "Women@SCS has become an important agent for strengthening the social and academic environment in our school. Women@SCS has revived our local chapter of Computer Scientists for Social Responsibility. They have organized SCS Day, a combination of workshops and a talent show designed to counter the image that computer scientists are one-dimensional "geeks." They have created a road show that visits middle and high schools in the region, explaining what computer science is about and the kinds of career possibilities it holds, and they provide the personnel to maintain the front door to SCS on the Web."Blum is hoping to replicate these results in the School of Computer Science graduate programs. In 2003, SCS received a three-year, $400,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to fund a program aimed at increasing the number of women studying at the graduate level.

"I have had the opportunity to witness the impact that Lenore's work has had on our School of Computer Science," said university President Jared L. Cohon. "She deserves credit not just for the many individuals she has mentored, but for the degree to which she has provided leadership and support for others who have gone on to become mentors. Her efforts have had an impact on women working in science and technology on this campus and beyond."

This is the ninth year for presentation of the PAESMEM awards. During that time, 87 individuals and 67 institutions have been recognized. For the names of other 2004 honorees, see:

For more about Lenore Blum and her educational, research and mentoring career, see:

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Byron Spice | 412-268-9068 |