In the College of Arts and Sciences’ (A&S) Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES), women have served as leaders and mentors dating back to the early 1980s, a time when the field was predominantly comprised of men.
The legacy of high-impact research and stewardship by women came to the fore beginning in 1983 with the hiring of Professor Cathryn R. Newton. A leading expert in the study of modern and ancient biodiversity, her work on one of the major mass extinctions pushed researchers to examine the fossil record for clues to the catastrophic causes for extinction in the history of life. Newton was the first woman to be named chair of the department (1993-2000) and the first woman to serve as dean of A&S (2000-08). During her time at Syracuse, she has been an ardent advocate and mentor to women in the sciences, co-founding the University’s Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) program.
Among Newton’s early advisees was an undergraduate student named Linda Ivany ’88. Ivany, now a professor at Syracuse herself, majored in geology and minored in zoology (now biology). She graduated at the top of her class and was named a Syracuse University Scholar, an honor conferred to high-achieving seniors.
A Trailblazer in Her Field
After graduating from Syracuse, Ivany continued her academic focus on paleontology—the study of life’s deep history and evolution. It was during her time as a graduate student at the University of Florida-Gainesville where she became aware of the lack of equal representation among paleontologists.
“As an undergraduate at SU, I didn’t realize how rare and special it was to have a woman advisor—and a formidable one—in the geosciences at that time. Once I got to graduate school, it became abundantly clear that there were very few senior women in the field, and that they generally didn’t get the recognition they deserved for the work they were doing,” she says.
But this never discouraged Ivany. After graduating from the University of Florida-Gainesville with a master’s degree, she attended Harvard University where she received a Ph.D. in Earth and planetary sciences, studying with noted paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. After a fellowship at the University of Michigan, she returned to Syracuse University as a professor, following in the footsteps of her mentor, Cathryn Newton. That year, in 2000, she joined Professor Suzanne Baldwin as the second and third woman to be hired into the faculty of EES at Syracuse. Over the past two decades, Ivany has served the department as director of undergraduate studies and associate chair.
A proven leader in her field, Ivany has authored or co-authored more than 60 pivotal papers. Her recent work uses geologic and fossil evidence to estimate ancient climate conditions and studies how life responds to environmental change. The chemistry and growth banding in ancient mollusk shells reveals past seasonal temperatures that Ivany uses to test the accuracy of climate models and provide insight into what to expect in a future warmer world. These same data enable her to study the evolution of lifespan and growth, and she has worked on how marine ecosystems responded to environmental change, including global warming, millions of years ago.
A devoted researcher, professor and advisor, Ivany has received numerous recognitions for her accomplishments at the University, including the Excellence in Graduate Education Faculty Recognition Award in 2019. For her innovative work in the field and the classroom, Ivany was also featured in an exhibition titled Daring to Dig at the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, New York, in 2021. The gallery highlighted the careers of women paleontologists, reflecting on their challenges and triumphs.
Adding to her list of teaching accomplishments, Ivany recently received an Outstanding Educator Award from the Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG). With over 1,000 members, AWG aims to enhance the quality and level of participation of women across the geosciences and introduce girls and young women to geoscience careers.
“I am extremely humbled to receive the Outstanding Educator Award,” says Ivany, who has served as advisor to seven Ph.D. students, 12 M.S. students and 20 undergraduate students at Syracuse. “An award for outstanding educator is especially meaningful to me because it feels like I’ve somehow been successful at giving back, at honoring the educators and mentors who were so influential for me when I was a student.”
–by Dan Bernardi