1999 Bios

Francis Sellers Collins, M.D., Ph.D., 1974 (Physical Chemistry)  Francis Sellers Collins, director of the National Center for Human Genome Research at the National Institutes of Health, was honored for groundbreaking scientific work as a molecular biologist, for effective leadership, and for his monumental contribution to human knowledge. He began his career in chemistry, completing a doctorate at the Yale Graduate School in just three years with a project involving the theory of vibrational energy transfer. He soon transferred his own intellectual energy to medicine and the rapidly-changing field of molecular biology. After medical training at the University of North Carolina, he returned to Yale for a three-year fellowship in human genetics where he worked on methods of crossing large stretches of DNA to identify genes associated with hereditary disease. He continued to develop his technique, which he termed positional cloning, as a faculty member at the University of Michigan. There, with colleagues in Canada, he made his most famous discovery to date, the gene for cystic fibrosis. That milestone in genetics was achieved before he reached the age of 40, and was followed by his team's identification of genes for neurofibromatosis and Huntington's disease. Since 1993, he has directed the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health. Under his guidance, scientists and engineers around the world are marshaling new technologies to map the entire DNA sequence in the human genome, and expect to accomplish that task years ahead of schedule and under budget.


William N. Fenton, Ph.D., 1937 (Anthropology)  William N. Fenton was cited as an internationally renowned cultural anthropologist and ethnohistorian of North American Indians. Now in his ninety-first year, he has remained professionally active and universally respected as the dean of Iroquoian studies, a field that includes ethnographers, linguists, archeologists and historians worldwide. During more than sixty years of scholarly publication, he contributed classic works of analytical and historical ethnology, often with high aesthetic qualities, as well as more than one hundred critical and informative reviews in the scientific, historical and general literature. Most importantly, last year the University of Oklahoma Press published his eight-hundred-page volume, The Great Law and the Longhouse: A Political History of the Iroquois Confederacy, acclaimed by Iroquoian scholars and Iroquois leaders themselves as the definitive study of the most influential political structure in indigenous North America.  In the tradition of Dean Cross, who admitted him to the Yale Graduate School in 1931, he has held both academic and public service positions: as community worker in the U.S. Indian Service, senior ethnologist in the Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of American Ethnology, executive secretary for anthropology and psychology at the National Research Council, director of the New York State Museum, and distinguished professor of anthropology at the State University of New York at Albany.


Allen Lee Sessoms, Ph.D., 1972 (Physics)  Allen Lee Sessoms was honored as a scientist, diplomat, and academic administrator whose spectacular career illustrates a unique synthesis of leadership, intelligence, integrity and courage. Raised in the South Bronx, Sessoms studied physics first at Union College, and then at the University of Washington and Yale University Graduate School. He embarked on an academic research career in high energy physics as an assistant professor at Harvard but, after recuperating from a long illness, decided to leave academia for public service in the diplomatic corps. As science attaché to the U.S. Embassy in Paris, he achieved unprecedented cooperation with the French in medical research, space science and environmental protection. Later, as political counselor to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico and as Deputy Chief of Mission, second in rank to the Ambassador, his diplomatic skill was invaluable in fostering mutual understanding and good will. After thirteen years of government service, Sessoms returned to academia as vice president for academic affairs at the University of Massachusetts, where he was responsible for a university system with five campuses and 60,000 students. Four years ago, he was named president of Queens College of the City University of New York and has dedicated himself ever since to bringing this institution into the realm of the highest national ranking.


Rosemary A. Stevens, M.P.H., 1963, Hospital Administration and Health Care; Ph.D., 1968, (Epidemiology)  Rosemary A. Stevens is an internationally recognized expert in the history and development of health care delivery systems who was honored for her outstanding career as a policy analyst, scholar, administrator and teacher. She was born and educated in England: she earned a bachelor's degree in English Language and Literature at Oxford University, studied administration at Manchester University, and worked in hospital administration before coming to Yale to earn advanced degrees in epidemiology and public health. Stevens progressed quickly through the academic ranks to become professor of public health in the Yale Medical School and master of Jonathan Edwards College. At Yale, at Tulane University and at the University of Pennsylvania, where she twice chaired the department of the history and sociology of science and served as Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, Stevens is known as an exceptional lecturer and mentor of graduate students. An expert in the historical evolution of the American health care system and the role of hospitals in determining health care policy, she has elucidated the present system's strengths and deficiencies. She has also contributed scholarly knowledge and perspective to one of the difficult questions of our time: how to provide all citizens access to the best possible medical care within the context of a free enterprise system.


Geerat Jacobus Vermeij, Ph.D., 1971 (Biology and Geology)  Geerat Jacobus Vermeij is a distinguished evolutionary biologist, morphologist, paleontologist, naturalist, prolific author and inspiring teacher who is revered for his extraordinary powers of observation and original way of thinking. He was honored for his prodigious contributions to science and for his …XXX. His love of science and fascination with shells began early, in a fourth-grade classroom, and propelled him through a bachelor's degree in biology from Princeton University, summa cum laude. He completed a doctorate at Yale in record time. Through his study of shell and invertebrate morphology along dozens of shores all over the world, Vermeij developed a theory of the evolution and diversification of species based on adaptation both to physical conditions and to predators in the environment over geological time. His enthusiasm for research, for first-hand careful observation of species in their natural habitats, has been transmitted to his students at the University of Maryland and, since 1989, to students and colleagues at the University of California at Davis. Vermeij is an inspiration to the learned world as a scientist and scholar of the first rank.