New Scholarship Fund Established for STEM Students

There’s no better way to start 2014 than by announcing that Pride Foundation is offering a new scholarship this year, started by an Idaho donor and volunteer motivated simply by the desire to give students the opportunity to succeed in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

The new fund is named for Alan Turing, an openly gay British mathematician from the early 1900s, considered by many to be the father of computer science. Pride Foundation will award one $1,500 scholarship from the new fund in May 2014.

The initial gift for the “Friends of Alan Turing Scholarship” came from Lora Volkert, a lifelong Boise-area resident and Idaho Leadership Action Team member whose first Pride Foundation volunteer experience was reviewing scholarship applications.

“I love Pride Foundation’s scholarship program because it recognizes that LGBTQ students have special financial needs and helps them achieve their academic goals, while also encouraging them to be involved in the LGBTQ community,” Lora said. “I wanted to expand on that goal.”

Lora has worked as a software developer the last three and a half years for Clearwater Analytics in Boise, shifting careers and returning to college to pursue computer science after nearly a decade as a newspaper journalist, covering the technology beat.

“I had the opportunity to interview local technology entrepreneurs and computer science professors,” she said. “A common topic of conversation with them was the need for more graduates in computer science if the local tech industry was to grow. Whenever I talked to these people, I felt at home with them. I hadn’t taken math or science classes in a long time, but I always enjoyed them and wondered what my life would be like if I had pursued them.”

Reading Pride Foundation scholarship applications gave Lora insight into the financial constraints of many applicants and planted the seed for creating a new fund for students pursuing the STEM fields.

“The future of the U.S. really depends on more students going into science, technology, engineering, and math fields,” she said. “These are the students who will perform the research and development that will make the scientific and technological breakthroughs we all will depend on in the future. Their jobs will drive the economy. Their discoveries will make life better for all of us.”

When it came to naming the fund, Alan Turing was a perfect fit.

“He broke Nazi codes during World War II, helping to win the war for the Allies,” Lora said. “He made numerous innovations in computer science and artificial intelligence. He was also a gay man, and was convicted under Britain’s indecency laws at the time and chemically castrated. His story is tragic, but his influence has been enormous.”

After the war, Turing was criminally prosecuted for his homosexuality and accepted treatment with female hormones as an alternative to prison. He died in 1954, two weeks before his 42nd birthday, of cyanide poisoning that was eventually deemed suicide. In 2009, then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown publicly apologized for Turing’s treatment. A bill that will posthumously pardon Turing was made official by Queen Elizabeth II on Monday, December 23, 2013.

“When I created this fund, I wanted a symbol that spoke to the promise and achievement that STEM education holds,” Lora said. “But I also wanted a symbol that spoke to Pride Foundation’s mission to help LGBTQ students and allies. I could think of no one better than Alan Turing, and I hope in some small way this scholarship fund honors the man who gave so much to my chosen field.”

“It is a great honor to partner with donors like Lora Volkert in the creation of new funds, knowing that her investment will inspire many and transform lives in the process,” said Pride Foundation Executive Director Kris Hermanns. “Through this new scholarship fund and because of Lora’s generosity, students in the STEM fields will be able to bring their voice and creativity to settings where currently there are not enough visible LGBTQ leaders.”

“I am confident that we will support student leaders that embody the best of Mr. Turing—intellectual brilliance and personal courage,” Kris added. “The possibilities that this fund represents give me hope for the future.”

Steve Martin is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Idaho. Email Steve.

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