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AAAS President-Elect Gilbert S. Omenn Wins Prestigious Leadership Prize
Dr. Gilbert S. Omenn, an influential science and medical expert who serves this year as AAAS's president-elect, has received the prestigious John W. Gardner Legacy of Leadership Award from the White House Fellows Association.
Omenn received the award at a luncheon on 30 September in Washington, D.C., where he was cited for exemplary work in science and medicine and for his commitment to the White House Fellows program founded by Gardner, an influential civic leader who died in 2002.
At the ceremony, Omenn was cited for a "vision of science and technology enabling better health care, environmentally sustainable energy development, and long-term economic competitiveness, his mentorship of young leaders to pursue public service, and his own creative career in academia and government."
Omenn, 63, currently holds professorships in internal medicine, human genetics and public health at the University of Michigan.
He was a White House fellow at the Atomic Energy Commission from 1973-74, and since then has recruited numerous candidates for the fellowship program and mentored many of those who were selected. The White House Fellows program was founded under Gardner's direction in 1965 to provide exceptional young Americans with experience in government and public service.
In remarks at the award ceremony, Omenn referred to poets such as Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and W.H. Auden in describing the hallmark traits of scientific thinking: restless curiosity, intellectual independence, skepticism about evidence, and willingness to take "the road less traveled."
"Science can help all of us in framing and stimulating our thinking about the nature of the world and the nature of human interactions," he said. "In addition, science and technology have long provided new means to address many of the grand challenges facing societyfrom economic vitality and national security to better health, more sustainable energy and environmental actions, better education, more effective global control of infectious diseases and population pressures, greater appreciation for diverse human cultures, and potentially even reduction in violence and irrational behaviors.
"Never were these opportunities greater than today."
The White House Fellows program was founded when Gardner served as secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 to provide exceptional young Americans with experience in government and public service at the highest levels of the executive branch.
Curiosity and far-ranging interests have been evident in Omenn's own career, which has taken him from research and education to public service to business and back again to academia.
After his White House Fellowship at the Atomic Energy Commission in 1973-74, he returned to the University of Washington, where he was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. He returned to Washington D.C. to serve as a deputy to President Jimmy Carter's science and technology adviser, Frank Press, and later as an associate director of the Office of Management and Budget during 1977-81. He was the first Science and Public Policy Fellow at The Brookings Institution, then served as dean of the School of Public Health and professor of medicine and environmental health at the University of Washington in Seattle. He departed in 1997 to take the post of executive vice president for medical affairs and chief executive officer of the University of Michigan Health System. He resumed his faculty role at Michigan in 2002 and currently leads the international Plasma Proteome Project.
Omenn will succeed Shirley Ann Jackson as AAAS president in February. Jackson will then become chair of the AAAS board of directors, with Omenn slated to succeed her in that post in February 2006.
Gardner was president of the Carnegie Corporation and then secretary of Health, Education and Welfare from 1965-68 under U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, playing a major role in civil rights enforcement and education reform. He was instrumental in creating Medicare and establishing the public television network. In 1964, Gardner received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civil honor, for his leadership in education. Among his major books were "On Leadership" and "Self-Renewal: The Individual and Innovative Society."
Past winners of the John W. Gardner Legacy of Leadership Award include retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark and Timothy Wirth, a former U.S. senator from Colorado and now president of the United Nations Foundation. Among the guests at the award ceremony were AAAS CEO Alan Leshner and Science Editor Donald Kennedy.
"The intent of this Legacy of Leadership Award is to challenge all of us to carry the torch and spread the message and example of John Gardner," Omenn said in closing. "We can all help our protégés and the diverse people John chose to call constituents to exceed our own accomplishments, to draw satisfaction from learning and doing what can benefit others, and to leave trails where no paths previously were recognized."
Edward W. Lempinen
7 October 2004