University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Ada Comstock Distinguished Women Scholars Award & Lecture


This prestigious award/lecture has been established to acknowledge and honor the scholarly accomplishments and leadership of distinguished women faculty at the University of Minnesota and to offer a forum for them to share their insights and ideas with a campus and community audience. One scholar from the sciences or engineering and one scholar from the humanities, arts, or social sciences will be selected to present a lecture on alternating years. 


The award is named after Ada Louise Comstock, a Minnesota native who was a professor of rhetoric at the University of Minnesota, and in 1907, became the University’s first Dean of Women. In 1912, she became Dean of the College at Smith. Later she led Smith College, but she was denied the title of president because she was a woman. In 1923, she became Radcliffe College’s third president and the first woman to ever be appointed college president. It would take the Ivy League schools 61 more years before a woman would assume the presidency, with Judith Rodin at the University of Pennsylvania in 1994. Further details of Ada's legacy are available on the University of Minnesota Alumni Association website


This award/lecture is sponsored by the Women's Center with support from the Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, and University Libraries.


A specially selected piece of artwork created by a Minnesota woman artist is designed to highlight this scholar's work, and is presented at the event.


Former U Provost E. Thomas Sullivan with inaugural Ada Comstock winner, Catherine Verfaillie

4:30 p.m., second Friday in March. A scholar will be selected from the sciences or engineering in even years, and a scholar from the humanities, arts or social sciences will be selected in the odd years.


Eligibility is limited to tenured women faculty employed at the University of Minnesota for at least five years. (While it is anticipated that the majority of Ada Comstock lecturers will be at the rank of full professor, we recognize that exceptional cases may exist among those who have achieved prominence at earlier stages of their career.)

Selection Criteria

Nominees are evaluated on the basis of a narrative documenting their scholarly accomplishments, national and international reputation and impact, and ability to deliver an engaging, scholarly lecture to a general audience. The narrative should provide specific evidence of excellence worthy of this recognition.
Selection criteria in order of importance are:

  • Quality of the nominee’s scholarly or creative achievements, with emphasis on originality, imagination and innovation.
  • National and international reputation and impact of the nominee's scholarly work. This may be reflected in the receipt of major grants and/or prestigious awards. Scholarly achievement such as that recognized by the Sara Evans Faculty Woman Scholar/Leader Award, the Regents Professorship, the McKnight Distinguished Professorship, and the Fulbright Foundation Award, is an essential characteristic for those chosen to deliver the Ada Comstock Distinguished Women Scholars Lecture.
  • The ability of the nominee to deliver a dynamic, engaging, and scholarly lecture to a general audience.

Selection Committee

The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Women’s Faculty Cabinet serves as the Ada Comstock Distinguished Women Scholars Award/Lecture Selection Committee.

Nomination Process

A nomination letter (preferably under 1000 words) recommending a scholar’s selection as the Ada Comstock Distinguished Women Scholars Lecturer may be submitted by a faculty member’s department chair/head, collegiate dean, or faculty colleague.

A completed nomination packet includes:

  • A nominator narrative describing how the nominee meets the selection criteria.
  • Nominee's curriculum vitae

E-mail Nominations to: Women's Center at, Attn: Ada Comstock Distinguished Women Scholar Award Selection Committee

Past Ada Comstock Distinguished Women Scholars Award/Lecture Awardees

Year, Award winner, Department, Lecture Topic/Minnesota Woman Artist, Medium

Lectures from Fall 2008-Fall 2011 are available on iTunes U

  • Fall 2015: Anna Clark, History, "Drink and Sex in the British Empire: Controlling Men or Controlling Women?" / Jil Evans, Painting
  • Fall 2014: Carol A. Lange, Medicine and Pharmacology, "Women's Cancer: Making Sense of Hormones" / DC Ice, Painting
  • Fall 2013: Denise Guerin, Interior Design, "Beyond HGTV: Can Design Change People's Lives?" / Sara Balbin, Sculpture
  • Fall 2012: Karen Mesce, Entomology, "Two Brains Are Better Than One: How Small Brains Make Big Decisions" / Nickdokht (Nicky) Torkzadeh, Painting
  • Fall 2011: Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, History of Science and Technology, "Uncovering the Past, Charting the Future: The Rise of Women in Science" / Jude Ryan Reiling, Ceramics
  • Fall 2010: Deborah Swackhamer, Chemistry & Public Health, "Drop by Drop: Everyday Solutions to Toxic Water" / Jude Ryan Reiling, Ceramics
  • Fall 2009: Rose Brewer, African American & African Studies, "Colorblind, Postracial or Not? Exploring Race in the Obama Era" / Ida Kumoji-Ankrah, Textiles
  • Spring 2009: Jane Davidson, Mechanical Engineering, "Solar After Dark: Going Green at Night" / Stacy Kelly, Glass
  • Fall 2008: Sara Evans, History, "The Presidential Glass Ceiling is Broken: The Path from Victoria to Hillary" / Joyce Lyon, Lithography
  • Spring 2008: Maria Gini, Computer Science and Engineering, "Robots: A New Type of Companion" / Margaret Bohis, Ceramics
  • Fall 2007: Joanne B. Eicher, Design, Housing, & Apparel, "Beyond the F Word: Fashion, Dress & Cultural Meaning" / Judith Kinghorn, Metal
  • Spring 2007: Catherine French, Civil Engineering, "Shake, Rattle, and Roll: Testing Structures to Their Limits" / Maren Kloppmann, Ceramics
  • Fall 2006: Karlyn Kohrs, Communication Studies, "The Solitude of Self: Woman's Rights Are Human Rights" / Joyce Lyon, Drawing
  • Spring 2006: Ruth-Ellen B. Joeres, German, Scandinavian & Dutch, "The Universal Appeal of the Particular" / Christine Baeumier, Painting
  • Fall 2005: Catherine Verfaillie, Stem Cell Institute, "Caught in Cultural Crosswinds: The Promise and the Pitfall of Stem Cell Research" / Harriet Bart, Sculpture