A U.S. educational foundation established in response to the Soviet Union’s launch of the
first artificial satellite will mark its 50th anniversary in September having awarded more than $62 million in scholarship money to students pursuing degrees in science, medicine and engineering
throughout the United States.


The Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation, which awarded more than $4.4 million in scholarships in the 2006-2007 academic year alone,
was founded in Los Angeles by a group of 53 women with the goal of re-establishing U.S. pre-eminence in science and engineering in the wake of the Sputnik launch. The all-female organization now has more than 1,400 members in 14 chapters nationwide.

Among the more prominent past recipients of ARCS scholarships are Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York; and Lisa Porter, former NASA associate administrator for aeronautics and now head of the U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, which develops intelligence-gathering technology.


“One should never underestimate the value of the right amount of money at the right time and at the right place because it can tip the scales,” Tyson said in an interview March 24.

Each of the
self-managing ARCS chapters is aligned with
local colleges and universities –
44 in all, said Deborah Liss, the foundation’s
vice president of communications
. Two new chapters
are being considered in Minneapolis and Tampa Bay, Fla., she said.


said ARCS members typically are well-connected types who
use their influence to solicit donations
. The
donors include
aerospace giants like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman,
drug companies like Eli Lilly, and various other corporations and
charitable foundations.

ARCS scholars are chosen by the chapter
s’ affiliated schools. To qualify, students studying in
an appropriate field must be
U.S. citizens and maintain
at least a 3.5 grade point average.


“We’ve never refused anyone,” Liss said, admitting that it can be difficult finding enough qualified candidates in any given year.

Porter received her ARCS scholarship at the beginning of the fourth year of her applied physics
doctorate program at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.
For her, the program is all about maintaining U.S. competitiveness.
“I’m very concerned about the nation’s ability to sustain its science capabilities,” Porter said.


The ARCS Web site offers a number of statistics that the foundation says underscore the importance of its mission. Among them: 90 percent of the world’s scientists and engineers will be living in Asia by 2010; 50 percent of U.S. college engineering degrees are earned by foreign nationals; and
50 percent of U.S. patents were registered by foreign nationals in 2001.


Recipients of the merit-based scholarships come from all walks of life and are free to use the money in a variety of ways, including tuition payments, making ends meet while they concentrate on their research or for the research itself, Liss said.

Money wasn’t an issue for Porter, whose school made sure its students had enough money so they could focus on research, but it is for others.


An example is Louise Kirkbride, who had run away from home and was on her own at age 17. Kirkbride

managed to win
a full scholarship for tuition, room and board
at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena,
but as she put it, “
you’ve got to live too.”

was working as a waitress at the faculty club to pay for books and various
living expenses when the ARCS funding came through. She became
an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, which is run by the university, and just missed being selected for the NASA astronaut corps.
Kirkbride went on to establish and sell two computer-related businesses and now
is a trustee at her alma mater.

Suneel Sheikh
was working toward his doctorate in aerospace engineering at the University of Maryland in College Park when he won a three-year ARCS scholarship in 2002. The money enabled him to quit his job as a teaching assistant to concentrate on his research, he said.


“It’s never just a 10- or 20-hour week the school thinks it is,” Sheikh said in a March 8 phone interview.


The ARCS funding also enabled him to choose his thesis
based on what
interested him most as opposed to projects that had funding available from other sources, he said. He chose to do his thesis on X-ray pulsar-based navigation for spacecraft, he said.

Timothy Linn’s story is similar. ARCS funding enabled him to quit his job as a teaching assistant and devote more time to work on a master’s degree in
aerospace engineering
at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

13-year employee of
Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver, Linn
has worked
on interplanetary spacecraft

including NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched in August 2005
, and NASA’s
Genesis solar probe, launched in July 2001.


Currently Linn is the lead guidance and navigation and control engineer for the Phoenix Mars Lander, a NASA mission to collect and analyze
soil samples at the red planet’s north pole after it lands in May.


Tyson, who received an ARCS scholarship toward the end of his
doctorate program in astrophysics at Columbia University in New York,
used the money
to pay for travel to Chile to make
observations with
a telescope there and said
thesis research.


“The last thing you want to do when you’re a scientist is worry about whether there’s enough money to finish your project,” Tyson said. “When you have support to do the research then that creates a level of focus that’s not otherwise possible, which is certainly what you need when you’re trying to finish a Ph.D.”

Comments: cparks@space.com