A Transformational Gift to Support Graduate STEM Education
Dear Members of the CMU Community:
Today, I am thrilled to announce the launch of a new $150 million fellowship program at CMU that will help to broaden access to STEM education. Made possible by an extraordinary commitment from the Norman and Ruth Rales Foundation, the CMU Rales Fellows Program will significantly expand our nation’s ability to cultivate a new generation of domestic, national STEM leaders by eliminating cost as a barrier to CMU master’s degree and Ph.D. programs for talented students from under-resourced and underrepresented backgrounds, including first-generation students. In addition to providing full tuition and a generous stipend, the CMU Rales Fellows Program will help ensure their success by offering a distinctive, holistic ecosystem of developmental and networking opportunities that will benefit fellows both during their time at CMU and in their future careers.
The Rales Foundation has generously committed $110 million to create an endowment for the CMU Rales Fellows Program, and CMU has committed a further $30 million in endowed funds. The two organizations also are establishing a $10 million expendable fund to support the program’s developmental years. This represents a total investment of $150 million.
Our nation’s economic prosperity, security and global competitiveness require investments in research and development in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Talent in these areas serves as a wellspring from which the long-term vitality of our national science and engineering enterprise will depend. In order to develop a future-ready workforce for our knowledge- and technology-immersive economy, we need to embrace a two-pronged strategy of expanding domestic talent while continuing to attract and retain global talent. In particular, ensuring that young people are given access to STEM education and careers — and do not face obstacles because of their backgrounds and circumstances — is a critical priority for the research and education communities and the private sector.
Data from the National Science Foundation, National Science Board and CMU’s own analysis show that under-resourced and underrepresented groups, including first-generation college students, pursue STEM careers and graduate education at significantly lower rates. Students in these communities cite undergraduate debt and cost as the primary reasons they do not pursue a graduate degree. For example, according to data compiled by the Council on Graduate Schools, only about three percent of first-generation undergraduate students pursue doctoral studies and if they do pursue these studies, their undergraduate loan debt is 65% higher than their peers.
The CMU Rales Fellows Program, made possible by the philanthropy of the Rales Foundation, takes aim at this national challenge. The Rales Foundation was established in 1986 by Norman and Ruth Rales, two children of immigrants who grew up in modest circumstances. At the age of 17, Norman left the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in Harlem with just $5 and a toothbrush. Ruth grew up in Pittsburgh, raised by parents who fled the pogroms of Eastern Europe. While marrying, raising their family and building an expansive business, they embraced a lifelong goal of paying forward their success and creating opportunities for others.
The CMU Rales Fellows Program will initially be open to students pursuing select graduate degrees in the College of Engineering; Mellon College of Science; School of Computer Science; Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences; and Neuroscience Institute. Eventually, the program will be open to all of CMU’s graduate STEM programs.
At steady state, the CMU Rales Fellows Program annually will support 86 graduate students in perpetuity, ultimately educating thousands of future STEM leaders in the coming decades. The first cohort of students will enroll in fall 2024.
I’m also pleased to share that CMU will partner with the Ron Brown Scholar Program to help identify and engage top candidates to become CMU Rales Fellows. We also will continue both to collaborate with the National GEM Consortium and to develop and expand partnerships with universities that serve both rural and urban communities to further facilitate access to a graduate STEM education.
The CMU Rales Fellows Program joins our holistic, interconnected vision of access and support for students from underrepresented and under-resourced backgrounds, including pre-college programs such as the Summer Academy for Math and Science and the undergraduate Tartan Scholars program. I am especially proud that our new program will extend the coordinated pathway that CMU has built for STEM education from K-12 through undergraduate and now graduate education.
On behalf of the entire CMU community, I want to thank the trustees and staff of the Rales Foundation, and especially Josh, Mitchell and Steven Rales. Their passion for empowering the next generation, as well as for continuing the legacy of their beloved parents, Norman and Ruth, is inspiring. I would also like to thank the Ron Brown Scholar Program and its president and CEO, Michael Mallory, for their commitment and collaboration.
Thank you to our Board of Trustees for its enthusiastic support of this important initiative. I also want to acknowledge the members of the university’s leadership team who have been champions of this initiative and whose partnership has been key to its development, including Provost Jim Garrett, Vice Provost for Education Amy Burkert, Dean Rebecca Doerge, Dean Martial Hebert, Dean Bill Sanders, and Dean Richard Scheines. I am grateful to colleagues within University Advancement, including Vice President Scott Mory, for their contributions to the program’s development. Finally, I extend my gratitude to the faculty members whose expertise helped to shape the CMU Rales Fellows Program, including the Associate Deans for DEI within the participating schools and colleges.
I invite you to learn more about this incredible new program, and look forward to sharing more about its impact in the coming years.
Henry L. Hillman’s President’s Chair