Yale University Graduate School to Honor Four Alumni

Four alumni of the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences will be awarded Wilbur Lucius Cross Medals, the school’s highest honor, on October 6 at an event hosted by University President Richard C. Levin, Graduate School Dean Jon Butler and Carlos Riobó, chair of the Graduate School Alumni Association Executive Committee.

This year’s honorees are geneticist Michael S. Levine (Ph.D. 1981, Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry), art historian Richard J. Powell (M.A. 1982, African American Studies, Ph.D. 1988, History of Art), and physicist William J. Willis (B.S. 1954, Ph.D. 1958, Physics). In addition, Laura L. Kiessling (Ph.D. 1989, Chemistry) will be honored at the ceremony and will receive her medal, which was officially awarded in 2008.

Each medalist will give a talk on Tuesday, October 6. Levine will speak on “Transcriptional Precision in the Drosophila Embryo” at 1 pm in Rm. 202, Osborn Memorial Laboratories, 165 Prospect Street. The other honorees will speak at 4 p.m. Kiessling will talk about “The Chemistry of Carbohydrate Biosynthesis in Mycobacteria” in Rm. 110, Sterling Chemistry Laboratory, 225 Prospect Street. Powell will discuss “Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture” in Rm. 250, Loria Center, 190 York Street; and Willis will address the question “Can We Make Large Facilities with Global Collaborations?” in Rm. 59, Sloane Physics Laboratory, 217 Prospect Street.

Kiessling pioneered the field of carbohydrate-mediated biology. Her research involves designing and synthesizing molecules that mimic natural molecules. Tracking what happens when these synthetic molecules enter into, or in some cases block, bodily processes has helped promote an understanding of how these processes function at the molecular level. Her research merges synthetic chemistry and biology, breaking new ground and creating new fields of study. She earned a B.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1983) before coming to Yale. Her honors include a MacArthur Prize Fellowship and election to the National Academy of Sciences. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Kiessling joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin in 1991, where she is currently the Hilldale Professor of Chemistry and the Laurens Anderson Professor of Biochemistry.

A groundbreaking researcher, Levine studies gene networks that control animal development and disease. With two colleagues, he discovered the “homeobox” genes, which turn certain DNA segments on and off in the fruit fly to control differences in body segments and, scientists were surprised to learn, have similar functions in humans. He now works with sea squirts, whose DNA more closely resembles human genetic material. After completing his bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Berkeley, Levine came to Yale for his Ph.D. in the Department of Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry. He held postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Basel (Switzerland) and at Berkeley, before joining the faculty of Columbia University (1984–1990), and then the University of California-San Diego (1991–1996). He joined the faculty at University of California-Berkeley in 1996, where he heads the Division of Genetics, Genomics, and Development and is co-director of the Center for Integrative Genomics. His honors include the Monsanto Prize in Molecular Biology in 1996 and election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1998.

Powell is considered the nation’s foremost scholar on the history of African American art. His books and articles have profoundly influenced the field, and his Black Art: A Cultural History has become the standard text on the subject worldwide. His seven exhibition catalogues have made him as well known and respected in the museum world as he is in the academy, and his insights have altered public understanding of African American and African diaspora art.

Powell is the John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art and Art History at Duke University and editor-in-chief of Art Bulletin, published by the College Art Association. He earned a B.A. from Morehouse College, then an M.F.A. in printmaking from Howard University. He came to Yale to become a scholar, first earning the M.A. degree in African American Studies and then a Ph.D. in the History of Art. He joined the faculty of Duke in 1989 after serving as director of programs at the Washington Project for the Arts and holding appointments at the Smithsonian Institution, Middlebury College, and Wesleyan University.

A pioneer in the field of elementary particle physics, Willis developed some of the most basic tools of high-energy elementary particle research: calorimetry and transition radiation. His wide-ranging experiments have been central to this evolving field. He has also been an outstanding scientific administrator at national and international laboratories, including Brookhaven National Laboratory, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). He has served on many international scientific advisory panels and now chairs the Research and Development Board for the International Linear Collider. After earning both his B.A. and Ph.D. from Yale, Willis worked at Brookhaven for seven years, and joined the Yale faculty (1965–1973). From 1973 to 1991, he worked at CERN, and then was named the Higgins Professor of Physics at Columbia University. His honors include membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Physical Society, which awarded him the Panofsky Prize in 2003.

The Yale Graduate School Alumni Association established the Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal in 1966. It honors graduates of the Yale Graduate School for outstanding achievement in a phase of activity in which Cross himself excelled. An alumnus of Yale College and the Graduate School (Ph.D. 1889, English), Cross was a scholar of distinction and a distinguished literary critic. He headed the Graduate School 1916–1930. Following his retirement from academia, he served as governor of Connecticut for four terms.

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Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325