For more than two decades, Kay Holekamp has led groundbreaking studies of spotted hyenas in the Masai Mara, Kenya. Her research is renowned because of its cross-disciplinary approach incorporating zoology, ecology and animal behavior. Holekamp earned her doctorate in psychobiology at the University of California, Berkeley, and is a distinguished professor of zoology at Michigan State University. Her work focuses on group dynamics of the matriarchal hierarchies of hyenas, the influence of hormones on their behavior and their remarkable resistance to disease and toxins. In recognition of her research, Holekamp has received numerous awards, including the C. Hart Merriam Award for outstanding research in mammals given annually by the American Society of Mammalogists. Throughout her career, Holekamp has published widely in scientific journals. In 2001, she was elected a fellow of the Animal Behavior Society and contributes to the Science at Work blog at The New York Times.
In 1962, the trustees of Smith College voted to establish the Smith College Medal. It is given annually to those alumnae who, in the judgment of the trustees, exemplify in their lives and work the true purpose of a liberal arts education.