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Women Funding Women’s Education
The Sunflower Initiative logo
Women Funding Women’s Education

2016/06 The Sunflower Initiative Quarterly


June 2016
Meet Ilse Meiler 

2016 Harriet Fitzgerald Scholarship Recipient 
Ilse Meiler, from  Colorado, is the 2016 recipient of the Sunflower Initiative’s scholarship, awarded annually to a qualified student who chooses to attend a woman’s college. The competition is stiff, the applicants extremely well qualified, their breadth international in scope.  Ilse first gained the attention of the judges with her highly original personal essay comparing herself with Queen Elizabeth I.  Here was a young woman with a deep kowledge of Tudor and Elizabethan history who could comfortably project herself into that era.
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First Fitzgerald Scholar Graduates!

Aastha Sharma, our first Harriet Fitzgerald Scholarship recipient, graduated summa cum laude on May 14 from Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia.   Aastha had a double major, Applied Mathematical Science and Chemistry, and she completed an Honors Program entitled “Molecular Dynamics Study of Plasticity during Nanoindentation of Copper Crystals.”  For each of her four years at Wesleyan, Aastha received the $10,000 Fitzgerald Scholarship, and we take great pride in her accomplishments at an all women’s college.

Aastha will continue her studies at the University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign where she will work toward a PhD in Materials Chemistry/Engineering.

As we read more about Ilse, we were suitably impressed by the fact that she is fluent in four languages (her father is German and her mother is Mexican).  She was a dynamo from the outset:  her chemistry teacher wrote about Ilse’s approaching him as a freshman, two years before entering his class, to seek his help on a project to determine whether “blood-thinning diseases such as hemophilia compromise the blood spatter patterns used by forensic investigators.”   

She won the Colorado state science fair in physics not only for the creativity and care with which she did this project but also because of the professional level of her analysis, after having taught herself the field of multivariate statistics just to make sense out of her 500 data trials.  

Her history teacher described how she develops ambitious projects for state-wide History Day competitions that combine primary research in historical documents with her love of science.  She has studied Rachel Carson and DDT, the role of Werner von Braun in space research after work for the Nazi regime, and most recently Dr. Virginia Apgar, who developed the Apgar scoring system for newborn babies and founded the March of Dimes to do research on birth defects.

 When Ilse shot beyond the level of AP courses and post-AP courses available in French and differential equations, her high school invited her to help out with teachers going on leave, so she began teaching first and second period history at the 8th and 9th grade levels.  The experiment turned out to be a great success for all involved.  And her science teacher and debate coach commented that “Ilse’s brilliance spans disciplines,” that she thinks globally and understands global complexities.  

When Ilse sprang from the top fifty to one of the five Finalists and the judges were interviewing her by telephone, she told us that at present she is helping her Mexican grandmother with her English so she can become a citizen in time to vote in the presidential election in November.

 Ilse continues to write, having won regional and state prizes just this spring in drama (a play about a woman as serious presidential candidate…), critical essays (a comparison of genocide through the ages), and poetry (One H Two O, a poem about water).  For her extensive volunteer activity at her school and with the Humane Society she has won a Volunteer Service Award from President Obama.  She has just joined the Young Ambassador program at the Smithsonian Institution’s Latino Center, for which she will work at the History Colorado Center in Denver in the summer of 2016.  She is an extraordinary dynamo indeed. 

Ilse was accepted Early Decision at Smith College, which she will enter in the fall.  She expects to study Political Science and Chemistry, with the long-term goal of becoming a physician in international public health.  

From the President:  Facing Reality
Although quite a few women’s colleges continue to be financially healthy and attractive to smart young women, the cost of women’s colleges, like that of many of the finest co-ed colleges, is soaring. College administrators, parents, and prospective students are wringing their hands over the astronomical price of higher education, especially private colleges and universities. We on the Board of Directors of The Sunflower Initiative are also deeply concerned. 

The Women’s College Coalition reports that admission numbers are rising this year at almost every woman’s college. Furthermore, those of you who read the article “Degrees of Separation” in the May issue of Vanity Fair surely realize the formative role that women’s colleges play in the lives of young women. This article, highlighting ten women’s colleges, presented a number of statements from students affirming the extraordinary experience of a woman’s college. A student at Mills College said it well: “Mills has a history of making me try on shoes that are too big for me, and letting me fill them. It’s been a huge transformation.” 

A few weeks ago our Board selected its fifth recipient of The Harriet Fitzgerald Scholarship, Ilse Meilor from Colorado (see the article about Ilse in this issue), a young woman who will be matriculating at Smith College this fall. And what is the cost of her tuition, room and board?  Almost $64,000!  The costs of other women’s colleges, especially those among The Seven Sisters, are comparable.

Unfortunately, The Sunflower Initiative at this time can fund only four $10,000 scholarships each year–that is, one scholarship for each of our recipients for every year that she continues to demonstrate academic progress. Each year we choose among many highly qualified and deserving applicants, for whom we inevitably wish we could do more. Your gift to The Sunflower Initiative helps ensure that the best and the brightest young women have access to the woman’s college experience. Thank you for believing in our work and for your continued support.

Why I Support The Sunflower Initiative
              by E.B. Watson

When I first arrived for a tour of the campus at Peace College, I sensed that here I could grow intellectually and develop leadership skills, and indeed I did. After graduation I enthusiastically encouraged young women weighing their college options to consider a woman’s college.

    In 2011, Peace College decided to become a co-educational institution, and I was heartbroken, as were many of my classmates.  Nonetheless, I continued to believe very strongly in the caring and supportive environment of a woman’s college. Then I discovered The Sunflower Initiative, and I came to understand that this unique non-profit, offering significant financial assistance to young women attending women’s colleges, could channel my enthusiasm for single-sex education for women.  

    It is unfortunate that we live in a society in which women have not yet achieved full equality, though surely large strides have been made. Therefore, I believe that there continues to be need for women’s colleges, encouraging young women to think for themselves, to create their own paths to achievement and success, and to work for the betterment of the world. 

    A woman’s college education offers many advantages, but perhaps the greatest is the opportunity to learn to work together as women. The Sunflower Initiative testifies to women’s assistance in empowering each other. I am proud to support this organization, the very existence of which demonstrates the strong impression the woman’s college experience made on its founders and contributors.  






Meredith Dixon <[email protected]>