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In From The Cold

Esther Sparberg still hasn't gotten over the phone call she received more than 25 years ago from the Columbia Spectator, many years after she'd graduated from TC  with an Ed.D. in Science Education.  As Sparberg tells it, the reporter asked her whether she was aware that her TC  dissertation on the discovery of nuclear fission had been funded by the CIA. "I almost fell off  my chair," Sparberg says. "I thought it was a spoof."

But Sparberg says that she and her four male colleagues, who each received a $4,000 fellowship --a lot of money in the 1950s--to study various scientific breakthroughs, had always wondered about the source of their funding, as well as the unusual requirement that their dissertations remain unpublished. She says she remembers a man in a naval uniform coming to meet with them regularly and that she and her colleagues suspected they might be involved in naval research.

Sparberg says she enjoyed her time at TC a great deal  and she put her fellowship and her TC  education to good use: after graduating she became a part-time instructor and  eventually a full professor in the chemistry department at Hofstra University. She taught the  physical sciences to non-science majors as well as chemistry and the history of science, co-authored several textbooks and published papers on the history of science. She retired in 2000.

To commemorate her fond memories of her time at TC, she recently created the $50,000 Sparberg, Braun, Alexiou Fellow-ship for students at TC in need of financial support "who want to go on and have full professional lives." The fellowship also honors her father (Braun was her maiden name), who she says always encouraged her and her sister to seek careers, and her daughter (whose married name is Alexiou).  Her daughter and son-in-law also hold various Columbia degrees.

Of course no recipient  of a Sparberg fellowship need worry about receiving a phone call from the Spectator in 25  years about the source of their funding. "You're correct there," Sparberg says. "That's certainly part of it." 


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