Biographical or Historical Information
France A. Córdova, the eleventh president of Purdue University, was born in 1947 in Paris, France. Córdova is the oldest of twelve siblings born to her parents, who returned to the United States after her father’s service to the United States’ State Department was complete. Córdova attended Bishop Amat High School in West Corvina, California and was active in her community and school activities. In spite of her later interest in astrophysics, she was initially drawn to the liberal arts, graduating cum laude from Stanford University with a bachelor’s degree in English. During her tenure at Stanford, Córdova also explored her heritage while doing fieldwork with the Zapotec Indians in Oaxaca, Mexico. The trip resulted in the publication of a short novel and recipe book which ultimately led to an internship with Mademoiselle that allowed her to travel further after graduation. These early experiences affected Córdova greatly, and had an impact on her approach as an educator- namely her support of international study, broad-based liberal arts education, and interdisciplinary research.
After the Apollo 11 moon landing, Córdova renewed her early interest in science and became fascinated by space. Her initial exploration of astrophysics began with her appointment as a lab assistant. While working, she also took classes to gain foundational knowledge in astrophysics before ultimately earning her PhD in Physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1979. Her PhD thesis was titled X-Ray Observations of Dwarf Novae, and led to several publications and conference presentations. This research continued during Córdova’s 10 year appointment at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Córdova first tried her hand at higher education during her four year stint at Pennsylvania State University, where she began as a professor and was promoted to the head of the newly developed Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Subsequently, she was selected as the Chief Scientist of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration where she worked on the Hubble Space Telescope and with several other committees.
In 1996, she returned to higher education when she was appointed as the vice chancellor for research and professor of physics at University of California, Santa Barbara. In 2002, she remained in the University of California system but transferred to the Riverside campus as the newly appointed chancellor, where she helped to establish a School of Medicine. She remained there until her 2007 appointment as Purdue’s eleventh president. This appointment brought much attention as Córdova was recognized for being the first female as well as the first Hispanic president of Purdue. Córdova’s time at Purdue was noted for the establishment of the College of Health and Human Sciences, the Global Policy Research Institute, and for improving upon various rankings of the university. At the conclusion of her five year term in 2012, Córdova served as the chair of the Board of Regents for the Smithsonian Institution, before being appointed in 2014 as the new head of the National Science Foundation. In addition to her impressive resume and career thus far, Córdova has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors, some of which are highlighted throughout the collection.
UA 3, France A. Córdova papers, Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University
France Córdova Oral History Interview, Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University
Chris Foster Oral History Interview, Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University
Bailey, Martha J., American Women in Science: 1950 to the Present, A Biographical Dictionary, Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO Inc., 1998, pp. 57-58.
Note written by Virginia Pleasant