DeVane Medal awarded to scientist Joan Steitz and music historian Ellen Rosand
Molecular biophysics and biochemistry professor Joan Steitz and retired music professor Ellen Rosand are the latest recipients of the William Clyde DeVane Medal, Yale College’s oldest award for outstanding teaching.
The medal honors faculty who have distinguished themselves as teachers of undergraduates in Yale College and as scholars in their fields, and has been conferred annually since 1966 by the Yale Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa (PBK). The medal’s namesake, DeVane, was dean of Yale College from 1938 until 1963, a long-time president of the Yale Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, and former national president of the United Chapters of PBK.
Each year, Phi Beta Kappa members in Yale College elect an undergraduate teaching recipient from among active members of the faculty, while graduate members of the society elect a recipient from among the retired members of the faculty. This year, Steitz and Rosand were honored by undergraduates and graduates, respectively.
Steitz, Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, is recognized throughout the global scientific community for her contributions to the understanding of RNA biology. She received her B.S. in chemistry from Antioch College in 1963 and her Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from Harvard University in 1967. After completing postdoctoral work in Cambridge, England, she joined the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale as an assistant professor in 1970 and later became an associate and full professor, as well as chair of the department.
Steitz is an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, American Philosophical Society, and American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and an honorary member of Yale’s chapter of PBK. Among her accolades are the U.S. Steel Foundation Award in Molecular Biology (1982), the National Medal of Science (1986), L’Oréal Award for Women in Science (2001), the RNA Society Lifetime Achievement Award (2004), the Pearl Meister Greengard Prize (2012), and the Herbert Tabor Award from American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (2015).
Charles Kinzig ’16, who nominated Steitz for the prize, has taken two courses with her and worked in her lab. He praised Steitz for being able to “find both the time and energy to excel as an instructor” and her “special knack for posing exceptionally challenging questions.”
“[H]er questions challenged my classmates and me to analyze the data presented by researchers in the papers we were assigned and helped us gain insights into the science that we wouldn’t have achieved otherwise. She has a unique way of motivating her students to produce the best work they can muster,” he explained.
“During her 46 years here, she has worked tirelessly and successfully overcome the obstacles faced by women pursuing a career in science. And despite her many accomplishments, she has remained extraordinarily modest. She has served as an outstanding role model for me and, I imagine, many other Yalies during her time here,” he added.
Rosand, the George A. Saden Professor Emeritus of Music, specializes in Italian music and poetry of the 16th through 18th centuries, the music and culture of Venice, Italian opera, Handel, Vivaldi, and opera criticism. She earned her B.A. from Vassar College in 1961, her M.A. from Harvard in 1964, and her Ph.D. from New York University in 1971. After spending a year as a visiting professor of music, she joined the Yale faulty in 1992 and chaired the department from 1995 to 1998.
She received fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, National Endowment for the Humanities, Rockefeller Foundation, and Guggenheim Foundation, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1996. Rosand has served as editor of the Journal of the American Musicological Society (1981-1983), president of the American Musicological Society (1992-1994), and vice-resident of the International Musicological Society (1997-2002). In 2007, she was awarded the Andrew Mellon Foundation Distinguished Achievement Award and used it to found and direct the Yale Baroque Opera Project, which merges exacting scholarship with undergraduate teaching and performance in an annual 17th century opera production.
Penelope Laurans, a graduate advisor to PBK, presented the medal to Rosand during the award ceremony and echoed the tribute read at the Yale College faculty meeting in May 2014, describing Rosand as “a much-loved mentor to generations of dedicated students” and praising her for her leadership of the music department.
“You are one of the towering musicologists of your generation, a lifelong scholar of some of the grandest traditions of vocal music … The world of musical knowledge is much richer, much wiser, and much more humane for your work and distinguished career,” she said.
The tribute also celebrated Rosand’s role in the Yale Baroque Open Project, “the likes of which can be found at no other university.”
“Anyone who has seen one of these incredible productions,” the tribute continued, “has a direct understanding of the way you have made Yale a leader in the sustenance and continuation of baroque opera. In tribute to your astonishingly varied career of historical scholarship, inspiring teaching, and operatic production, the Yale faculty salutes you in chorus, and, if only it could sing, would regale you with the triumphal march from ‘Aida.’”