New early career professorship to honor pioneering Penn Stater

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Mary Graham, of Wilmington, Delaware, has created a new professorship to honor her late mother, who began her pioneering career in the sciences as a Penn State undergraduate. The Dr. Frances Keesler Graham Early Career Professorship will support promising junior faculty in the Penn State Social Science Research Institute (SSRI) who are pursuing related career paths.

“Dr. Graham stood first and foremost for excellence, and the work of those who knew her profited because of the high standards she upheld,” said SSRI Director Susan McHale. “My goal will be that this professorship continues to inspire her dedication to excellence in the next generation of scholars and scientists.”

Frances Keesler Graham attended Penn State as an undergraduate from 1935 to 1938. As a young woman whose career aspirations in the sciences challenged the conventions of the period, she was grateful for the education, encouragement and opportunities she received at Penn State, which included a fellowship for her first year in graduate school at Yale University.

After completing her doctorate in psychology at Yale in 1942, Graham went on to become a renowned scholar in developmental psychology and psychophysiology. She received many honors during her career, including membership in the National Academy of Sciences, president of the Society for Research in Child Development, and Penn State’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1983.

“My mother always talked about Penn State with great appreciation and fondness,” said Mary Graham. “Her strong desire to attend Penn State led her family, notwithstanding the severe financial constraints of the Great Depression, to find a way to allow her to attend. She came to Penn State planning to be an accountant but left with a love of psychology and desire to pursue an academic career, unaware of the limitations that others might impose on women’s pursuit of careers in the sciences. She passed on to her children and others her love of all things intellectual and her belief in adherence to the highest standards in all endeavors. My hope is that this professorship will provide the same kind of support and encouragement to others looking to make their mark in the scientific world.” 

The Dr. Frances Keesler Graham Early Career Professorship will provide supplemental funding to faculty members within SSRI working in developmental neuroscience, a rapidly growing interdisciplinary field that Graham’s work helped to establish. The award will rotate every three years to a new recipient in the first 10 years of her or his academic career, providing seed money for innovative research projects and flexible funding for new approaches to teaching.

“Dr. Frances Keesler Graham was widely recognized for inspiring collaboration and unifying thinking across scientific domains, as is our Social Science Research Institute,” said Neil Sharkey, vice president for research at Penn State. “So this seems the perfect way to honor Dr. Graham’s extraordinary legacy while continuing the important work that defined her career.”

Penn State’s alumni and friends are invaluable partners in fulfilling the University’s land-grant mission of education, research and service. Private gifts from alumni and friends enrich the experiences of students both in and out of the classroom, expand the research and teaching capacity of our faculty, enhance the University’s ability to recruit and retain top students and faculty, and help to ensure that students from every economic background have access to a Penn State education. The University’s colleges and campuses are now enlisting the support of alumni and friends to advance a range of unit-specific initiatives. 

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Last Updated June 13, 2016