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Nina Fedoroff, Class of 1960, Inducted in 2009

Gifts of intelligence, determination, and focus have allowed Nina Fedoroff to reach levels of advancement few individuals achieve. In 2006, she was awarded the National Medal of Science, the highest science award given in the USA.

In 2007, Condoleezza Rice named Fedoroff as the National Science and Technology Advisor to the Secretary of State and the Administrator of USAID, a position she continues to hold under the current Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

In this position of oversight and management Fedoroff is responsible for enhancing science and technology literacy within US agencies and organizations, employing and training scientists and engineers, supporting research and outreach, building relationships with science communities throughout the world, and providing advice and counsel on science and technology issues relative to foreign policy.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio to an immigrant father and 1st generation mother, Fedoroff’s first language was Russian. Around the age of nine her family moved to Fayetteville. At F-M High School she combined academic endeavors with leadership on the student council, school store management and participation in choir and band.

After moving to Philadelphia with the intention of pursuing music, she quickly determined that she lacked the stamina to practice flute the endless hours required. That combined with family responsibility brought her back home where she found fascination in scientific experiments as a Syracuse University student. She graduated in 1966, with a B.S. in Biology and Chemistry and then earned a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from Rockefeller University, an institution renowned for scientific breakthroughs.

After a short period on the faculty of the University of California, Los Angeles she moved back East to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Baltimore. While there, Fedoroff succeeded in pioneering DNA sequencing and produced one of the first complete animal gene sequences.

This endeavor led Fedoroff to the next layer of her work, applying molecular techniques to plants. Through cloning and control of molecular mechanisms, she advanced the work of McClintock, who had identified mobile elements now known as transposons.

Faculty positions and continued research at Carnegie and John Hopkins eventually landed Fedoroff at Pennsylvania State University where she was asked to serve as the first director of the Life Sciences Consortium (now the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, which serves over 500 Penn State faculty in 7 participating colleges).

Fedoroff is modest about the two Penn State honorary titles preceding her name, Willaman Professor of Life Sciences and Evan Pugh Professor. She concedes, "I wasn’t looking for titles," but adds, "People are just a little more willing to take you seriously with that heft behind you."

Ferdoroff’s name carries its own influence with membership in the National Academy of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, among others organizations. In addition to numerous awards and recognitions, including the New York Academy of Sciences Outstanding Contemporary Women Scientist (1992) and Syracuse University’s Arents Pioneer Medal (2003), Fedoroff’s name graces over 170 technical and non-technical publications and several books. Her most recent book, Mendel in the Kitchen brings the topic of genetically modified foods to the layperson’s kitchen table.

With all Fedoroff does at the federal management level, she still maintains her research lab at Penn State with a focus on understanding and strengthening the mechanisms that allow plants to withstand both biological and non-biological stresses. She is the mother of three children and the grandmother of seven. To relieve the stresses of her own hectic professional life, Fedoroff retains her early interests - music, theatre, and singing - when she can.

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