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Friday, July 23, 2021

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Former NSF Director: SDSU is a Model for Higher Education

Rita Colwell, the first female leader of the National Science Foundation, visited campus on Oct. 29-30.
By Kellie Woodhouse
 

“Her visit has been a fantastic opportunity to build excitement, momentum and a sense of community around the issue of diversity and inclusion in STEM.”

Former National Science Foundation (NSF) director Rita Colwell praised San Diego State University during a recent campus visit as a beacon of diversity and a model for U.S. higher education.

Colwell, the first female leader of the NSF and a member of the National Academy of Science, visited campus Oct. 29-30 to emphasize the importance of diversity in science.

She also discussed her research on global infectious diseases, water, and health during SDSU’s inaugural Women in STEM lecture.

“Walking across campus, it’s like being at the United Nations. It’s terrific. The students are all interacting in a very positive way,” she said. “San Diego State University provides all students, regardless of wealth or lack of wealth, regardless of their national background, their racial history, an opportunity to excel. That is what America is all about.”

During the two-day visit, Colwell met with faculty, students and university administrators—including President Adela de la Torre—to discuss the importance of diversity in STEM education. She attended research presentations by graduate students and visited faculty labs.

“It was a delight to see so many really smart women giving talks about their research with enthusiasm and with deep understanding of what they are doing,” she offered. “This is a great contribution to society and to the economy of the country.”

Biology professor Rebecca Lewison said Colwell’s timely visit encouraged frank discussions among faculty and students about the importance of diversity in STEM fields. 

“She has been a pioneer for women in science in so many ways,” Lewison said. “Her visit has been a fantastic opportunity to build excitement, momentum and a sense of community around the issue of diversity and inclusion in STEM.”

SDSU’s Women in Science Society (WSS) student organization hosted Colwell’s visit and lecture. The group works to promote and motivate undergraduate women pursuing science degrees. 

“Having Dr. Colwell, an accomplished female scientist, visit our campus showed our members that women do belong, and can succeed in the sciences,” said SDSU senior and WSS leader Holly Norman, adding that students “were able to gain insight on how to be effective female leaders in a male-dominated field.”