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Winter 2000

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Health-policy expert wins Periclean award

Helen Halpin Schauffler '73
Photo by Emma Dodge Hanson
Public-health researcher and professor Helen Halpin Schauffler '73

At Skidmore I learned I could do what I love and be valued and rewarded for it–the choice of what to do would be the hardest part." So said Helen Halpin Schauffler ’73 in accepting Skidmore’s Alumni Periclean Scholar Award last fall. Evidently she chose wisely, for she also said, "I love my job. They will have to carry me out of there in a box!"

That job is a teaching and research post in health policy at the University of California at Berkeley. Along with teaching in Berkeley’s School of Public Health, Schauffler, who directs the Health and Public Policy Program, is the principal investigator for some $2.2 million worth of research. Her biggest study is the five-year Health Insurance Policy Program, which tracks access to health insurance in California and issues reports to state and federal policymakers. Schauffler has testified before the U.S. Senate and the California legislature, is a member of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s national advisory group on tobacco control, is the policy editor for the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, and serves on advisory boards from the California Wellness Foundation, to Children Now, to the Bay Area Business Group on Health.

Her work neatly combines her two primary interests as a Skidmore student: teaching and science. As she told the Family Weekend audience of Periclean students, friends, and family members, she entered Skidmore under the assumption that women were limited to being wives, nurses, or teachers, so she planned an elementary-education major. But her first science courses so intrigued her that she instead became a biology-chemistry major. "I had no idea how I could use a science degree," she said, "but I went ahead with it. And I learned the meaning of excellence, a love of scholarship, and a passion for research."

In fact, change marked every aspect of Schauffler’s Skidmore career. "I arrived in 1969 at an all-female college with curfews and parietal restrictions," she recalled, "but soon we had co-ed dorms, the Pill, and ‘free love.’ There was a powerful surge of feminism, and I realized I could do everything a man could do. In the spring of my freshman year, the students here (as at other colleges) shut down the campus in protest of the U.S. bombing in Cambodia." In the midst of this turmoil, Schauffler found a mentor and role model in Professor of Chemistry Charlotte Fahey. "She was one of very few women teaching in the sciences. As well as a scholar, she was a wife and a mother. She was my inspiration." So much so that Schauffler became a scholar, a wife, and a mother too.

After Skidmore, Schauffler earned a master’s degree in public health at Harvard. Then, as a member of the Arthur D. Little consulting firm, she provided management and planning advice to hospitals and health departments, and later, for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, she directed cholesterol screening, hypertension control, blindness prevention, and other programs. She did some teaching at Harvard as well, but she knew she needed a doctoral degree to continue in her career, and she won a Pew Foundation fellowship to pursue a Ph.D. in health policy at Brandeis University. With that Ph.D., she landed her faculty post at Berkeley.

Schauffler attributes much of her success to skills gained at Skidmore–and she advised the students in the audience to hone those skills too. "At Skidmore I learned to write. I urge you to take courses that require lots of writing; it’s especially important for publishing in academe. I also learned leadership skills–from being ‘director of communications’ during the student strike to being vice president of Periclean." From those experiences, she said, she went on to be a PTA president, serve on the Berkeley faculty council, and otherwise help shape her community. Schauffler also pointed to her summer fellowship at the University of Rochester Medical School, where she learned electron microscopy. "Internships are invaluable. I urge you all to take advantage of such opportunities."

Finally, Schauffler told the group, "At Skidmore I discovered that being smart doesn’t exclude having fun. I was a Sonneteer all four years." In terms of personal growth, navigating change, and career preparation, she concluded, "Skidmore helped me see my potential and gave me the tools to achieve my goals."

And with her words still ringing in the auditorium, the Periclean honor society began its annual fall induction ceremony, welcoming fresh recruits into the ranks of the smart and the fun. –SR


© 2000 Skidmore College