By Anne Watzman

Carnegie Mellon has always known that Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science Lenore Blum has had a major impact on the successful recruiting and retention of female computer science students. In fact, since she joined the university in 1999, the number of women studying computer science has increased from merely a few to roughly one-third of the entire department. Now her work has earned her national praise from the White House, where she was honored on May 16 with 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 fully develop the country's resources within these groups of people. Winners receive a Presidential Certificate and a $10,000 grant to support them as they continue their mentoring efforts.

Blum supports women in the sciences by her actions and by her successful career. She holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Simmons College and a doctoral degree in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After completing her degrees, she 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 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 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. Late in that decade, 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 in Berkeley. Blum spent two years as visiting professor of mathematics and computer science at the City University of Hong Kong, where 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 joined the faculty of the School of Computer Science (SCS) at Carnegie Mellon.

But Blum doesn't lead by example alone. She's been dedicated to supporting women in the sciences throughout her career. Blum played a vital role 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 a mentor to students as well as a member of the President's Diversity Advisory Council.

"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."

The true cornerstone of Blum's mentoring efforts at Carnegie Mellon is Women@SCS, a support group that brings together female faculty, undergraduate and graduate students with the goal of supporting women's professional development. The more senior and experienced women serve as mentors for the younger ones, providing the advice and networking opportunities so essential for success in academic and professional life.

"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 hopes to replicate these results in the SCS 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 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."

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