SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — Surrounded by friends, faculty colleagues and former students, Elizabeth E. Powelson, professor emeritus of biology, became only the 18th person in Wittenberg’s history to receive the university’s prestigious Medal of Honor.
Awarded by the Board of Directors, the medal is presented in recognition of service and dedication to Wittenberg as a liberal arts institution. Powelson received the award during the university’s 2005 Homecoming and Reunion Weekend, Oct. 28-29.
The first woman in Wittenberg’s history to teach in the sciences and one of only a handful of women scientists in the nation in 1957, Powelson inspired hundreds of students during her 44-year career at the university. Former students G. David K. Hopper, Wittenberg class of 1963, Ann Walchner Bellisari, class of 1962, and Marlene Van Cleve Shaw of the class of 1964, recently spearheaded an effort to establish an endowed chair in her name to which students and friends of the beloved professor generously contributed.
“Dr. Powelson had a huge impact on the careers of hundreds of biology students, biology majors, pre-med and pre-dentistry majors, not only in the classroom, but also in the many enriching extra-curricular experiences she provided,” Bellisari said. “She was an absolutely outstanding teacher, a wonderful role model for many of us who became college and university teachers ourselves, and she demonstrated genuine concern for the lives of her students. My colleagues and I are immensely gratified to be able to recognize her achievements with an endowed chair in her name.”
In addition to providing a stipend and program/research support, an endowed chair, created by gifts to the university, represents one of the most prestigious achievements for college faculty members at American universities. It also increases the university's ability to attract future academic talent.
An expert in genetics and microbiology and chair of the biology department, Powelson helped to develop one of the finest liberal arts college programs in the life sciences at Wittenberg. In recognition of her distinguished teaching, advancement of the field and significant scholarly and professional achievement, Wittenberg named her the George L. Greenawalt Chair in Biology in 1972.
During her tenure, Powelson also received several grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health for research and for developing new audio-visual approaches to teaching. A longtime member of the Ohio Academy of Science, Powelson co-authored a range of papers with students and was instrumental in establishing Wittenberg’s marine science program with Duke University. She also assisted with the design of the university’s first new science facility in the 1960s.
“Betty insisted that the new facility include student-centered research space, which was decades ahead of what is now an expected element of science education,” said Provost Kenneth Bladh in his remarks at the awards ceremony.
Powelson also helped to establish a molecular biology program with David Mason, professor of biology.
“Betty Powelson was a dedicated colleague in the biology department and remains a wonderful friend,” Mason said. “I am pleased to have had the opportunity to work with her on numerous projects.”A graduate of Oberlin College, Powelson received her M.A. from Wellesley College and her Ph.D. from Indiana University.
- Karen Gerboth
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