The hallmark of an outstanding university is its people—students, faculty, administrators, and alumni—and the impact they make on the nation and the world. And for Penn State, that impact gets bigger and bigger with each passing year. Especially this year.
Consider TIME magazine’s recent issue featuring “The TIME 100: The World’s Most Influential People.” Sure, TIME had the rich and famous —Michelle Obama (profiled by Oprah Winfrey), Rush Limbaugh (profiled by Glenn Beck), and George Clooney (profiled by Bono). Less obvious was TIME’s inclusion of three Penn Staters among “The TIME 100,” grouped under the category “Scientists and Thinkers.” Not too shabby for dear old State. When a single university lands 3 percent of the world’s most influential people—or 15 percent of its scientists and thinkers—in a given year, that’s impact.
The first is alumnus Roland Fryer, who earned his Ph.D. in economics at Penn State in 2002 and, at age 30, became the youngest tenured African-American professor in Harvard University’s history.
Raised by his grandmother, Fryer came out of one of the toughest neighborhoods in Daytona Beach, Fla., was steered into accepting an athletic scholarship at the University of Texas–Arlington, and came to Penn State in 1998, where he did his dissertation on “Mathematical Models of Discrimination and Inequality.”
At Harvard, he has published prolifically on the racial achievement gap, affirmative action, the impact of the crack-cocaine epidemic, racial differences in health and life expectancy, and much more. In addition, he also serves as chief equality officer for the New York City Department of Education. As his profiler, Michelle Rhee, District of Columbia Public Schools chancellor, put it: “Through his pioneering work on the effects of financial incentives on student achievement in the New York City and now Chicago and Washington, Fryer continues to push the envelope, bringing academic rigor and economic insight to the school districts with which he partners.”
Keep your eye on young Dr. Fryer. Last year, he was to have received Penn State’s Alumni Achievement Award, given to highly accomplished alumni under the age of 35. An emergency call to meet with the governor of New York forced him to cancel his visit. We hope he can return to receive the award next year.
The two other Penn Staters on “The TIME 100” were scientists Stephan Schuster, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, and Webb Miller, professor of biology, computer science, and engineering. Last year, Schuster and Miller reported their successful sequencing of the DNA of the 20,000-year-old woolly mammoth. They and their Penn State research team developed a novel approach for gene studies that reads ancient DNA highly efficiently. The also were the first to achieve the successful sequencing of genes from the extinct Tasmanian tiger.
“In doing so,” wrote profiler Craig Venter, who mapped the human genome in 2001, “they helped science overcome what had been seen as an insurmountable obstacle. Most biologists and geneticists thought that nuclear DNA, the genetic material contained in the nucleus of a cell, degraded rapidly after death and would not be available for analysis … Schuster and Miller’s pioneering work will undoubtedly inspire many to push the limits of DNA analysis, both to explore our past and perhaps predict our future.”
If you’re looking for evidence of Penn State’s increasing worldwide influence, look no further than “The TIME 100.”
For the glory,
Roger L. Williams ’73, ’75g, ’88g