Eva Keohane ’21 is proof that, in life, plans are important, but so is flexibility and being open to new experiences. When Eva arrived on the Le Moyne campus in the fall of 2017, she envisioned studying biology and eventually becoming a physician assistant. Then she took her first college-level chemistry class. There was something about the discipline, and its ubiquitous presence in our daily lives, that spoke to her. She would turn to her chemistry assignments before any of her other work, eager to discover more about how substances combine with other substances and how they interact with energy. In short, she’d found her calling.
This fall Keohane will head to Colorado State University, where she will pursue a doctorate in chemistry with the long-term goal of becoming an educator and researcher. She had already gained experience in the latter, working in the lab of Associate Professor of Chemistry Anna O’Brien, Ph.D. Keohane is continuing the study of a nitrogen-based ligand system that utilizes alkaline earth metals as metal organic chemical vapor deposition precursors for the formation of electronic thin films. These films are typically found on microchips that are used for memory storage and are becoming increasingly common. Her research is part of a larger project that is being spearheaded by O’Brien and Karin Ruhlandt of Syracuse University.
“I love that the work we are doing is a continuation of an ongoing project,” Keohane said. “It’s a reminder that in research progress is measured not in weeks or even months but years. I look forward to checking back in five years to see what further progress has been made.”
Keohane’s work would not have been possible without the support of the Clare Boothe Luce Research Program at Le Moyne. Named for playwright, journalist, U.S. ambassador to Italy and first woman elected to Congress from Connecticut, the program encourages women like Keohane to pursue vocations in science, mathematics and engineering by providing them with research, networking and professional development opportunities. The Clare Boothe Luce Program has become one of the single largest sources of private funding for women’s STEM higher education in the United States. As of 2020, the program has supported more than 2,800 women in STEM through a total of 807 grants to 200 different institutions, including 64 minority-serving institutions.
The benefits of the program are manifold.
Its most immediate impact is to alleviate the financial pressure students often feel to work while they are in school, freeing them to spend more time to conduct research. As O’Brien pointed out, “That is especially important in chemistry, which requires you to be flexible with your schedule. After all, if you’re running a reaction that is going to take three hours, you can’t leave during hour two to go to work.” The more time a student spends in the lab, the more curious and analytical she becomes, and the more meaningful the results of her work become.
The Clare Boothe Luce Research Program also allows participants to take part in regular conversations with other CBL scholars and their mentors, and to forge a sense of community in ways that otherwise would not be possible. Together these burgeoning researchers learn crucial lessons about professionalism, resiliency and having a global mindset. The program has become a critical component of the College’s overall goal of encouraging more women to enter the STEM fields. The federal government estimates that women make up 48 percent of all workers, but just 27 percent of those working in STEM. That disparity is concerning because studies have long shown that diverse teams arrive at better decisions than homogeneous ones. They tend to focus more on facts, to process those facts more carefully, and to be more creative in their thinking.
Among its most important achievements, the program has created an environment in which more women scientists are able to share their stories, their perspectives and their approaches to their work. And that is a boon to people like Keohane.
“Being a CBL Scholar was extremely rewarding,” she said. “There’s not many opportunities at small colleges to gain research experience similar to the quality that you could find at a large university. But that is what I found at Le Moyne. More than anything else, this experience taught me that I love research and I can see myself continuing down his field.”
Eva Keohane ’21 is one of two students currently enrolled in the Clare Boothe Luce Research Program at Le Moyne. The other is Isabela Fernandez ‘22, a chemistry major working in the lab of Associate Professor Chemistry Joseph Mullins, Ph.D. Since it was launched at Le Moyne in 2019, three Le Moyne students have received CBL Research Scholar Awards; all three are either pursuing a doctorate currently or planning to after graduating. College officials expect to name four additional CBL Research Scholars next year and 19 Scholars in all.