A Closer Look at This Year's Honorary Degree Recipients

Rita Rossi Colwell

Since taking office as the eleventh director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1998, Rita Rossi Colwell has spearheaded the agency's emphases in K-12 science and mathematics education, graduate science and engineering education/training, and the increased participation of women and people of color in science and engineering. Her policy approach has enabled the agency to strengthen its core activities as well as establish support for major initiatives in areas including nanotechnology, biocomplexity, information technology, and the twenty-first century workforce. In her capacity as NSF Director, she serves as cochair of the Committee on Science of the National Science and Technology Council.

Colwell is a nationally respected scientist and educator and has authored or coauthored sixteen books and more than 600 scientific publications. She produced the award-winning film Invisible Seas and has served on editorial boards for a variety of journals. The recipient of numerous awards, including the Medal of Distinction from Columbia University, the Gold Medal of Charles University, Prague, and Alumna Summa Laude Dignata from the University of Washington, Seattle, Colwell has also been awarded fourteen honorary degrees.

Before coming to NSF, Colwell was president of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute (1991–1998), and professor of microbiology at the University Maryland. She was also a member of the National Science Board (NSF's governing body) from 1984 to 1990. She served as guest scientist at the National Research Council of Canada after earning her Ph.D. From 1963 to 1972, she was a member of the biology faculty at Georgetown University. Colwell earned a B.S. in bacteriology, an M.S. in genetics, and a Ph.D. in oceanography.

She previously served as chairman of the Board of Governors of the American Academy of Microbiology and also as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Washington Academy of Sciences, the American Society for Microbiology, the Sigma Xi National Science Honorary Society, and the International Union of Microbiological Societies.

Susan D. Kare '75

Susan D. Kare's innovative work designing icons for Macintosh, IBM, and many other companies has made her somewhat of an icon herself. Most of us see examples of the computer illustrator and interface graphic designer's work every day when we turn on our computers. She is the creator of the signature icons (the moving watch; Moof, the dogcow; the paintbrush; and the trash can) that are a fixture on every Macintosh, as well as most of the icons in Microsoft's Windows 3.0 program. Her goal, she says is to help software writers improve the overall look and feel of their products, from the borders on the overlapping windows to the drop-down menus.

“Susan Kare's hero is Paul Rand, the great graphic designer who created the IBM and the UPS logos. So although Kare works in Lilliputian scale, it seems especially appropriate that her screen icon designs for Apple's Macintosh and Microsoft's Windows software eventually may be even more familiar and subtly influential than those of her famous exemplar,” says Forbes Magazine. “Even if we see five UPS trucks a day, how much more often do we drag a computer file to that familiar little trash can, or eye a tiny wristwatch waiting out the seconds of our spreadsheet calculations? When it comes to giving personality to what otherwise might be cold and uncaring office machines, Kare is the queen of look and feel.”

After earning her A.B. in English and fine arts, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from MHC in 1975 and receiving a doctorate in fine arts from New York University in 1978, Kare moved to the San Francisco area to work as a freelance graphic artist. One day she received a call from Andy Hertzfeld, a friend who was a programmer at Apple Computer, Inc. He was working on a new computer and needed help creating graphic images by turning on and off the tiny dots, or pixels, on the computer's screen. “He told me to go to the stationery store and get the smallest graph paper I could find and color in the squares to make images,” Kare remembers. She was soon a member of the Macintosh development team.

In addition to developing icons, Kare designed the original type fonts that shipped with the Macintosh and were named for cities: Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. Since leaving Apple in the mid-'80s, she has created hundreds of icons as a freelance designer for companies ranging from AT&T to Sony.

Om Dutta Sharma

Om Dutta Sharma came to this country in 1974, leaving behind a successful tax-law practice to come to New York with his family and later becoming a cab driver. For the past twenty years, he has saved all his extra money. “Right from the beginning, I wanted to do something for the underprivileged people of my village, which did not have any school or any health-care facility when I was there,” says Sharma. “Someday, I told myself, I would be able to give something back to my village, to my people.”

In 1997, he did just that, taking about $23,000 he had earned working almost sixteen hours a day over years and establishing a trust fund in India. The fund now supports the Ram Kali School for Girls, a free junior school for girls in his native village of Doobher Kishanpur. The school, named in honor of his mother (who like many poor women in India never learned to read), has 179 students. Each month out of his salary, Sharma pays for four teachers, a doctor, and medical supplies. Earnings from a mango farm that he owns in India pay for the students' books and school uniforms.

Sharma told Time magazine that he will retire from driving only when he has made enough money to open four more schools. He also hopes to open free health clinics for everyone in the village. “Providing such gifts is what life is all about,” Sharma says, “If I can help somebody be on the right path, then the purpose of living is achieved.”

Ruth Simmons

Ruth J. Simmons, who as the newly named president of Brown University will be the first African American to lead an Ivy League institution, assumed the presidency of Smith College in 1995. She was the first African American woman to head a top-ranked college or university in the United States.

Simmons's rise to the Brown presidency has been an extraordinary accomplishment. The twelfth child born to sharecroppers in a small East Texas town, Simmons moved with her family to Houston when she was of school age.
Simmons earned a B.A., summa cum laude, from Dillard University (1967) and an M.A. and Ph.D. in romance languages and literatures from Harvard University (1970 and 1973). Her effort to understand how her own society could countenance racial cruelty and legally enforced segregation led her to a lifelong interest in humanities and other cultures. She studied in Mexico and France and later served as an interpreter for the United States State Department.

Simmons began her academic career at the University of New Orleans as an assistant professor of French and later served as assistant dean of the College of Liberal Arts. She moved to California State University in Northridge in 1977 as visiting associate professor of pan-African studies and acting director of international programs. From 1979 to 1983, she was assistant and later associate dean of graduate studies at the University of Southern California.

In 1983 she came to Princeton University, where she directed Afro-American studies and rose to become associate dean of the faculty. After two years as provost at Spelman College in Atlanta, Simmons returned to Princeton as vice provost, a position she held until her move to Smith in 1995.

Simmons has worked tirelessly toward opening higher education—particularly elite private institutions—to disadvantaged people of color, a mission she has described as “a matter of national salvation.” At Smith, she established the nation's first engineering program at a women's college and started Meridians, a journal focusing on the concerns of women of color. Her achievements in higher education have brought her dozens of honors and awards, including Danforth and Fulbright fellowships and nine honorary doctorates.

Jean Taylor '66

After a highly successful career at Mount Holyoke (she graduated first in her class, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, with a major in chemistry), Jean Taylor went on to an impressive—and convoluted— graduate school career. Two years in physical chemistry at Berkeley were followed by two quarters in mathematics, which were followed by a year at the University of Warwick in England, which was followed by two years at Princeton University. She passed three different sets of Ph.D. qualifying examinations along the way (one in chemistry, two in mathematics) and picked up two M.Sc.‘s before receiving her Ph.D. from Princeton in 1973. She missed by only a few months being the first woman to earn a math Ph.D. from that university.

Her illustrious student period finally over, Taylor moved on to an equally stellar teaching career at Rutgers University, where she has been a mathematics professor since 1973; a string of prestigious fellowships and research grants; fame for solving a problem that had stumped mathematicians for a century, proving that the observed structure of singularities in soap-bubble clusters and films was precisely what occurred in a mathematical model; articles in more than ninety publications; and pathbreaking work in the mathematics of minimal surfaces. Her current research centers around developing mathematical models for crystal growth. Much of it is interdisciplinary work conducted jointly with scientists who study the microstructure of metals and other materials.

Taylor is active in societies ranging from the Association of Women in Mathematics, of which she has served as president, to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to whose board of directors she was elected. She was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science more than a decade ago and of the Association for Women in Science in 1999. In 2000, she was awarded a crowning distinction, induction as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


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