New endowment to help fund undergraduate STEM research, new lecture series

May 10, 2022

marylyn grabosky

The Marylyn C. Grabosky Initiative in STEM combines the UChicago graduate’s passion for education, advocacy for women, and STEM programs.

By Sarah Steimer

Marylyn C. Grabosky, AM’72, an educator and supporter of women’s rights and advocacy groups, has bequeathed a generous donation to UChicago to help fund undergraduates pursuing the STEM field. A graduate from the university, Grabosky passed away on Dec. 4, 2021. But through the gift, her legacy as an advocate for helping women in STEM educational programs will live on.

“She championed ideas, science, math, technology, English and learning,” says Grabosky’s wife, Laura Desmond. “She was a lifelong learner, curious about every topic. She was as able to talk about a field like physics or math as she was about the great works of literature. The physical and the metaphysical were topics she cared about and would share equal parts in her mind for her life. The STEM endowment and the lecture endowment just came together to embody what she cared about most.”

Grabosky received her Master’s Degree in English from UChicago in 1972. A professor at the university encouraged her to consider a career in education, and she began student-teaching at Lincoln-Way Central High School in New Lenox, Illinois.

“Marylyn loved her time at the University of Chicago,” says Desmond. “She moved to Chicago, in large part, because she wanted to attend the U of C. She felt it was the pinnacle of learning and the ‘life of the mind.’ The U of C was instrumental in helping her gain her teaching certificate even though her masters was in English. She loved how it was creative and inventive in helping her pursue her love of English and teaching in an unconventional way.”

Grabosky served as department chair at the Lincoln-Way school from 1975 to 1995, and there she designed a curriculum that led to an increase in the school’s National Merit finalists. She also created an innovative Advanced Placement interdisciplinary course in English and History that was recognized by the state of Illinois.

Grabosky’s career in education, her passion for women’s rights, and enthusiasm for the STEM fields overlap in her gift funding the Marylyn C. Grabosky Initiative in STEM, which includes two endowments.

“This remarkable support will so positively impact present and future College and graduate students in the social sciences as well as our community of scholars more broadly,” said Amanda Woodward, Dean of the Division of the Social Sciences and the William S. Gray Distinguished Service Professor. “I am grateful to Marylyn, and to Laura, for establishing these opportunities, and am pleased that Marylyn’s legacy will have such profound and continuing influence.”

The annual prize under the initiative is the Marylyn C. Grabosky Award for Undergraduate Research Related to Education, intended for undergraduates studying education-related topics, with a preference for students minoring in education and society and conducting research on STEM education. The competitive prize is awarded to selected third-year students who are writing a BA thesis related to education. It provides financial support during the summer before the fourth year to carry out research that will be continued as a senior honors project. Awardees will be selected by faculty affiliates of the Committee on Education.

“She wanted to think about the future of society and innovation, which she fully believes is found in STEM,” Desmond says. “But she wanted to help others gain experience with education and teaching. The STEM endowment with a minor in education seemed like the perfect intersection.”

The second part of the gift, the Marylyn C. Grabosky Lecture in Psychology and Neuroscience Fund, supports a public lecture featuring a distinguished scholar who has either demonstrated knowledge of or whose work reflects the significant contributions women have made to the field of Psychology or Neuroscience. The goal for the lecture is that it will engage the university community, be public-facing, raise awareness, and deepen public understanding of STEM and STEM-related disciplines. It aims to attract undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds and cultivate their interest in STEM and STEM-related disciplines. The inaugural lecture will take place in Fall 2022 and be promoted to a public audience.

“As a woman in neuroscience, I personally appreciate the impact of this gift,” says Leslie M. Kay, a professor in the Department of Psychology. “The lecture will directly highlight the impact of research by women and inspire a new generation of women in STEM.”

Katherine D. Kinzler, a professor in and the chair of the Department of Psychology, echoed Kay, calling the gift ambitious and transformative, an opportunity to bring the intellectual community together to inspire future scholars.

“The lecture series was born out of the idea of finding next-generation, future rockstars in the neuroscience field and giving them a voice and support to pursue the next big breakthroughs in the field, with an emphasis on women,” Desmond says. “She felt like a lecture series would be a great convening of passionate people working on innovative and cutting edge research topics to inspire and catalyze.”

According to Desmond, Grabosky thought of UChicago as a special place for those who love and are passionate about ideas. “It still is,” Desmond says. “She wanted to help further that.”