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Winter 2002

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Periclean winner advises humility

     Never mind that she’s saved countless lives, made vital medical discoveries, and served as a national advisor in her field. Humil-ity was the topic of Margaret Baker Rennels ’67 as she accepted the Periclean Alumni Scholar Award during Family Weekend in October.

Periclean awardee Peggy Baker Rennels ’67 is grateful to biology professor emeritus Hank Howard, “who was always supporting, encouraging, empowering me.”

     “Remember,” she said, “as you celebrate the well-deserved honor of joining Periclean, keep in mind a little humility. Your family gave you good genetic material to start with, and they encouraged education—not everyone is so fortunate.”

     Rennels built her medical career at the University of Maryland; an award-winning professor of pediatrics, she heads the divisions focusing on infectious diseases and vaccine development. She researched pneumonia and meningitis bacteria and was instrumental in creating vaccines against them. She also helped lead the effort against an infant diarrhea responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths around the world. She has served on advisory panels for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other national boards.

     “Periclean is important. In our commercial, entertainment-oriented society, it’s important to honor intelligence and hard work,” Rennels said. But, she argued, humility and integrity are essential too—as in the case of the infant-diarrhea vaccine. When she heard last-minute inklings of dangerous side effects, Rennels had to decide whether to voice her concerns or let the vaccine project go forward. The investment had been huge, and it held life-saving promise, but she felt she had to speak up about its risks, and use of the vaccine was soon suspended. Her behavior in that crisis, she believes, led to national recognition for her work.

     “Be generous and honest,” Rennels concluded, “because your colleagues, and eventually your juniors, will be judging you.” —SR

 


© 2001 Skidmore College