Honoring Achievement: Five Alumnae Named Smith Medalists

Five extraordinary alumnae are being honored for their contributions to their communities and the world as 2017 Smith Medalists.

This year’s medalists are social activist Gloria Steinem ’56, economist Laura D’Andrea Tyson ’69, cardiac pulmonologist and surgeon Vickie Shannon ’79, broadcast news executive Ellen Weiss ’81 and winemaker/winery owner Helen Sebring Keplinger ’94. (See biographies of the medalists below.)

The Smith Medal was established in 1962 to recognize alumnae who exemplify in their lives and work “the true purpose” of a liberal arts education. More than 200 outstanding alumnae have received the award in recognition of their professional achievements and outstanding service.

This year’s honorees will receive their medals at a ceremony on Rally Day set for Thursday, Feb. 23, at 1:30 p.m. in John M. Greene Hall. Afternoon classes are cancelled for the occasion, which marks the first time seniors publicly wear their gowns—along with inventive hats in keeping with the day’s spirit of Smith pride.

About the 2017 Smith Medalists

Gloria Steinem ’56. Photo by Annie Leibovitz

Gloria Steinem ’56 has been a tireless promoter of equality for women around the world. An author, lecturer, editor and feminist activist, she became well known in the 1960s as an outspoken leader of the women’s movement. In 1971, she co-founded Ms. magazine, which became an influential forum for feminist issues. Around that time, Steinem and several other leading feminists—including Betty Friedan ’42—founded the National Women’s Political Caucus. Steinem also helped launch other important women’s groups, including the Ms. Foundation for Women, Women’s Action Alliance, Choice USA, the Women’s Media Center and GreenStone Media. Through her writing—in books such as Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Moving Beyond Words and My Life on the Road—Steinem continues to inspire generations of women. Steinem was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

Laura D’Andrea Tyson ’69

Laura D’Andrea Tyson ’69 is a renowned economist and policymaker dedicated to promoting positive social change through the business and for-profit sectors. Tyson began her career as an assistant professor in the Department of Economics at Princeton University, then moved to University of California, Berkeley, where she has spent much of her career, serving sequentially as professor of economics, professor in the Haas School of Business, director of the Institute of International Studies and as the S.K. and Angela Chan Professor of Global Management. In 1993, President Bill Clinton recruited her as the first woman to chair the Council of Economic Advisors and, later, the National Economic Council. In 1998, Tyson became the first woman to lead a U.S. business school when she was named dean of Berkeley’s Haas School of Business; four years later, she became the first woman dean of the London Business School. Deeply committed to connecting economic policy with social and environmental goals, Tyson has co-chaired the World Economic Forum’s Council on Women’s Empowerment and is the co-author of the Global Gender Gap Report.

Vickie Shannon ’79

In the traditionally male-dominated fields of science and medicine, Vickie Shannon ’79 has broken countless barriers. A board-certified pulmonary and critical care specialist who focuses on pulmonary rehabilitation in cancer patients, she is one of the first two African American women to be named full professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, one of the world’s premier cancer centers. (Shannon also serves as the center’s director of pulmonary rehabilitation.) Her primary clinical interests include molecular mechanism of radiation, chemotherapy, induced lung injury and lung injury in patients with compromised immune systems. In 2006, she helped launch a pulmonary rehabilitation program that uses innovative techniques to improve muscle strength and lung function in patients weakened by cancer. Throughout her career, Shannon has been committed to inspiring and supporting the aspirations of other women seeking careers in the medical field, serving as a mentor for students and girls in her community and partnering with various humanitarian organizations around the world.

Ellen Weiss ’81

A distinguished journalist and news executive, Ellen Weiss ’81  is a four-time recipient of the prestigious Peabody Award. She joined National Public Radio (NPR) shortly after graduating from Smith; over the next 29 years, she rose through the ranks to lead NPR’s national desk and serve as executive producer of “All Things Considered.” In 2007, she was named NPR’s vice president for news, a position she held until 2011. That same year, she became the executive editor at the Center for Public Integrity, one of the country’s oldest and largest nonprofit investigative news organizations. Since 2013, Weiss has served as vice president and as Washington bureau chief of the E.W. Scripps Company. In addition to the Peabody, Weiss has earned the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, among others. In addition, she has been honored by American Women in Radio and Television.  

Helen Keplinger ’94

Widely respected as one of California’s most socially responsible entrepreneurs, Helen Keplinger ’94 is a rising star in the winemaking world, known for making wines with classic European methods and producing wines that are expressive of specific vineyards. A biology major at Smith, Keplinger began her career as a medical researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital. Desiring a change, she settled on winemaking—a career that combined her interests in nature, gardening, science, art and wine. She earned a master’s degree in enology from the University of California, Davis, then worked at wineries in Australia and Spain before moving to Napa Valley, Calif., and founding Keplinger, an artisanal winery that has earned high praise from experts. In 2012, Keplinger was named Winemaker of the Year by Food & Wine magazine, and in 2014, she was selected as winemaker for Grace Family Vineyards, one of Napa Valley’s most respected wineries. Keplinger has used her talent to support good causes: She created a wine as part of a fund-raising effort for La Cocina, an organization providing support for women entrepreneurs in the Bay Area, and has organized vintners to support The Uncondemned, a film about the first prosecution of rape as a crime of war with the Rwanda war tribunals. She also is active with Wine for the World, a socially responsible organization that pairs U.S. and European winemakers with vintners in developing countries.