Profile: Rita Rossi Colwell

Name: Rita Rossi Colwell
Education: B.S., M.S. in genetics from Purdue University, Ph.D. in oceanography from the University of Washington
Honorary Degree: Doctor of Science
Accomplishments: Director National Science Foundation, Columbia University Medal of Distinction, Gold Medal of Charles University, Prague

Rita Colwell, who became the 11th director of the National Science Foundation in 1998, has focused the agency’s energy on science and mathematics education for kindergarten through 12th grade, graduate science and engineering education and increasing the participation of women and minorities in science and engineering.

A Massachusetts native, Colwell was a microbiology professor and president of the Biotechnology Institute at the University of Maryland from 1991 to 1998. She also served as a member of the National Science Board from 1984 to 1990 and a member of the biology faculty at Georgetown University from 1963 to 1972.

Colwell, who began her career as a research assistant at the University of Washington, has chaired the board of governors of the American Academy of Microbiology. She has served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Washington Academy of Sciences, the American Society for Microbiology, the Sigma Xi National Science Honorary Society and the International Union of Microbiological Societies.

Colwell, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, also produced the award-winning film Invisible Seas.

-Kate Stepan

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