By Paige P. Parvin 96G
A few nights ago, I happened to catch a TV commercial that poses an interesting question: What if scientists were treated like celebrities?
The ad for General Electric (GE) casts Mildred Dresselhaus, the first woman to win the National Medal of Science in Engineering in 2015, as an international star—a status signaled by flashy newsstand covers, crowds of fans and paparazzi, glitzy events, talk show appearances, “Millie” dolls, and her very own emoji.
Although the spot was created to publicize GE’s impressive goal of having twenty thousand women in STEM roles by 2020, it also serves as a reminder that in the public popularity contest, even the brightest minds in science are all too easily outshone by limelight lovers in entertainment, sports, politics, social media, and Saturday Night Live.
But at research universities like this one, that ad comes to life every day. Emory scientists and scholars across academic disciplines are our own celebrities—appearing on the university’s magazine covers and websites, in the mainstream news, and at landmark events and conferences around the world. Many are widely recognized, published, photographed, and quoted; students stop them on the Quad to shake hands and maybe snap a selfie.
In this issue, we spotlight a few of those local stars—including public health champions like Jeffrey Koplan and Robert Breiman, who have brought decades of combined CDC experience to help the Emory Global Health Institute achieve sweeping impact in just ten years.
Deborah Bruner of the School of Nursing and Winship Cancer Institute is breaking new ground as one of the top-funded researchers in the country, never losing sight of the cancer patients who inspire her and the young nurses who follow in her footsteps.
And two alumni of Emory’s Institute for the Liberal Arts are shaping the public conversation about race as curators at the recently opened African American history museum in Washington, D.C.
Of course, one of the most recognizable figures on the Emory campus is our new president, Claire E. Sterk, who was formally inaugurated on February 8. Following the colorful procession of university leaders and scholars in academic regalia, notable guests including speaker Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed packed Glenn Memorial Auditorium as assistant professor of neurosurgery and CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta delivered the keynote address, pointing out that Sterk is Emory’s first female president. “Kind of has a nice ring to it,” he added.
When President Sterk accepted the university mace, she received a thunderous standing ovation as reporters scribbled notes and cameras flashed. Like Millie Dresselhaus, she is a highly accomplished scientist, and should be treated accordingly, like a star.