Former UCR chancellor named head of National Science Foundation

Courtesy of UCR Newsroom
Courtesy of UCR Newsroom

On July 31, President Barack Obama announced his intention to nominate former UC Riverside Chancellor France D. Cordova to head the National Science Foundation (NSF), the leading federal agency in sponsoring national health and science advancement.

“The extraordinary dedication Cordova brings to her new role will greatly serve the American people. I am grateful she has agreed to serve in this Administration and I look forward to working with her in the months and years to come,” said President Obama.

If the president’s nomination is confirmed by the Senate, Cordova will become the NSF’s 14th director and the first Latina to lead the agency. She will be filling the position left by Subra Suresh, who announced his resignation in February. In the meantime, the NSF will be led by acting director Cora Marrett.

During her five-year term serving as UCR’s seventh chancellor from 2002 to 2007, Cordova helped propel UCR forward. She took the preliminary steps to establish the UCR School of Medicine, founded UCR’s first Health Sciences Research Institute for biomedical and related research, secured private funding for UCR’s Palm Desert Graduate Center and made initial proposals for the future UCR School of Public Policy.

Cordova’s former colleague, Umar Mohideen, chairman of the UCR physics and astronomy department, lauded President Obama’s selection, saying, “Cordova is a very accomplished academic researcher. She’s managed academia, and those are qualities that would make her a good choice.”

Born in France and raised in California, Cordova graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in English from Stanford. She originally wanted to pursue a career in creative writing, but made a radical change in direction from writing to physics due to inspiration from the 1969 moon landing. Cordova later attained a Ph.D. in physics from the California Institute of Technology, and afterward dedicated her life to the service of science and education.

As a prominent university administrator, Cordova served as a professor of physics and vice chancellor for research at UC Santa Barbara before coming to UCR. After her departure from UCR in 2007, Cordova assumed the presidency of Purdue University, where she served for another five years from 2007 to 2012.

In addition to Cordova’s outstanding roles in academia, she is also a nationally-recognized astrophysicist. Between 1993 and 1996, she served as a leading scientist at NASA, and was appointed to the board of directors of BioCrossroads in 2007. In 2008, she was appointed by George W. Bush to the National Science Board and in the following year, she was appointed by Barack Obama to the board of regents of the Smithsonian Institution.

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