France Anne Córdova is the Science Philanthropy Alliance’s president and ex officio member of its board. She is an experienced leader in science, engineering, and education with more than three decades of experience at universities and national labs. She has served in five presidential administrations, both Democratic and Republican. She is an internationally recognized astrophysicist for her contributions in space research and instrumentation. She has served on both corporate and nonprofit boards, often assuming a leadership position.
Prior to joining the Alliance, Córdova was the fourteenth director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), a presidential-appointed, Senate-confirmed executive position. NSF is an $8.5 billion independent federal agency. It is the only government agency charged with advancing all fields of scientific discovery, technological innovation, and STEM education.
Through her leadership at NSF, the agency grew by over $1 billion, strengthened existing partnerships while forging new ones, and launched a strategic framework defined by 10 Big Ideas—promising areas of research for targeted investment. She initiated NSF’s Convergence Accelerator to leverage external partnerships to accelerate research in areas of national importance. To broaden STEM participation from traditionally underrepresented groups, she launched NSF INCLUDES; today seven other government agencies, including NASA and NIH, have joined INCLUDES. She co-chaired with other agency heads several committees of the National Science and Technology Council for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, including committees on science, education, innovation, and Arctic research. She has spoken before the U.S. Congress and on global stages including the Global Research Council, Arctic Ministerials, and the World Economic Forum.
She is the only woman to serve as president of Purdue University, where she led the university to record levels of research funding, reputational rankings, and student retention and graduation rates. She established a College of Health and Human Sciences at Purdue, as well as a Global Research Policy Institute.
Córdova is also chancellor emerita of the University of California, Riverside, where she was a distinguished professor of physics and astronomy. She laid the foundation for a medical school, California’s first public medical school in over 40 years. As vice chancellor for research and professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, she led a campus-wide effort to fund and support convergence in blue-sky research.
Previously, Córdova served as NASA’s chief scientist, representing NASA to the larger scientific community. She was the youngest person and first woman to serve as NASA’s chief scientist and was awarded the agency’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal.
She has published more than 150 scientific papers. She has been awarded several honorary doctorates, including ones from Purdue, Duke, and Dartmouth Universities. She was awarded the Kennedy-Lemass Medal from Ireland, and the Order of Bernardo O’Higgins from Chile. She is a Kilby Laureate for “significant contributions to society through science, technology, innovation, invention and education.” Córdova received her bachelor of arts from Stanford University and her Ph.D. in physics from the California Institute of Technology.