Event marks the first alumna recipient of the award.
Dr. Priscilla A. Schaffer ’64, Sc.D. ’94 was honored as the 35th recipient of Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ Elizabeth Blackwell Award on Friday, April 27.
Schaffer is an internationally recognized expert in the pathogenesis of DNA viruses and Chief of the Laboratory of Molecular Virology, Harvard Medical School at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. She is the first William Smith alumna to receive the Blackwell Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Colleges.
“With your intelligence, dedication and passion you have broken new ground in the struggle against infection and developed new tools to combat some of humanity’s oldest threats,” said Colleges’ President Mark D. Gearan, before bestowing the award on behalf of the Board of Trustees. “Dr. Schaffer, today we recognize your life of service to medicine and humankind reflecting the ideals and achievements of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell.”
In her remarks, Schaffer paid tribute to the hours she spent in the lab of Lois Nellis ’46, who taught biology from 1948 to 1995, and Helen Bateman Heath, former Dean of William Smith College.
“The education I received at William Smith is the cornerstone of my life as a scientist and professor…I can say without hesitation that I’d do it all over again if I had the chance,” Schaffer said.
She said she was proud to accept the first Elizabeth Blackwell Award presented to a basic scientist. “To recognize the tremendous benefits that basic science can provide is highly appropriate as the very future of our planet now depends on the ability of science to solve such problems as air and water pollution, resistance of infectious agents to antimicrobial drugs and alternative sources of energy.”
Schaffer’s research has focused primarily on the herpes simplex virus, its ability to establish lifelong latent infections and its relation to neurological diseases. The virus is a leading cause of infectious blindness and can be fatal to individuals with weak immune systems, such as newborns, the elderly and AIDS patients. Schaffer has successfully illuminated the molecular chain of events that facilitate virus replication and enable antiviral drugs to combat herpes virus infections.
In addition to her duties as Chief of the Laboratory of Molecular Virology, Schaffer is also Professor of Medicine and of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Harvard Medical School. She was previously Chair of the Department of Microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine where she was the first woman to serve as chair of any department at that institution.
The event, which coincided with the annual celebration of Moving Up Day, recognized the diverse academic achievements of William Smith students.
Shaffer was accompanied to Geneva by her mother and sister both of whom she acknowledged from the platform. Read a transcript of the honoree’s
The Blackwell Award is given to women whose lives reflect the ideals and achievements of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell—among them, the determination to break through stereotypes that limit women’s talents and aspirations and the dedication of those talents to the betterment of humanity. Blackwell is the first woman in America to receive the Doctor of Medicine degree. She earned her degree in 1849 from Geneva Medical College, later Hobart College. Schaffer joins such notable women as former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, professional tennis legend Billie Jean King, and anthropologist and author Margaret Mead.