In the Phyllis Cohen Rappaport ’68 New Century Term Professorship, they have done just that.
“This was an example of working with the college to design a professorship that would serve both our goals well,” Phyllis said. “That’s why this gift makes us so happy.”
Specifically, the professorship is designed to fund a trailblazing junior faculty member to support his or her innovative research and curricular development for three or four years.
For the Rappaports, the criteria is perfectly aligned with the Foundation’s tradition of celebrating and supporting up-and-coming, uniquely innovative talent. And for Smith, it’s an opportunity to encourage young professors to think boldly in their respective fields.
“What’s beautiful about the way the Rappaports approach their philanthropy is that they understand the importance of recognizing talent,” said Beth Raffeld, Senior Vice President for Alumnae Relations and Development at Smith. “Smith still very much honors and appreciates the tenure process, which is there to allow young professors to distinguish themselves, to earn their stripes.
“This opportunity the Rappaports have provided allows a young star to be recognized early in one’s career.”
The young star, in this case, is mathematics professor Patricia Cahn, who in 2019 was named the inaugural recipient of the Rappaport Professorship.
And though the Rappaports themselves have nothing to do with the selection process, the first winner undoubtedly earned the family’s stamp of approval. Not only is Professor Cahn a Smith graduate herself and an accomplished double bass player (the Rappaports’ appreciation of the arts once included a prize for music composition), but Phyllis’s mother was likewise a math major in college, and later taught math.
In addition to a Smith undergraduate degree, Professor Cahn’s resume includes earning a PhD in math at Dartmouth before becoming a Hans Rademacher Instructor at the University of Pennsylvania and a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in Bonn, Germany.
Her biography will tell you that she uses algebraic invariants to detect information about intersections and linking of topological objects as part of her research in geometric and low-dimensional topology. And in particular, she has studied curves on surfaces, linking of knots in three-manifolds and knot theory under geometric constraints, including contact topology.