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Sept. 24, 2008

Five Accomplished Smith Alumnae to be Honored on Rally Day 2009

NORTHAMPTON, Mass.—For their extraordinary professional achievements and outstanding service to their communities, five alumnae will receive the Smith College Medal, an award presented each February on Rally Day.

Beginning at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 18, in John M. Greene Hall, honored alumnae will receive the medals, an event that is free and open to the public.

The Smith College Medal was established in 1962 to recognize alumnae “who, in the judgment of the trustees, exemplify in their lives and work the true purpose of a liberal arts education.” This year’s recipients are Helen “Penny” Chenery, Thoroughbred horse breeder and racer; Naomi Lynn Gerber, physician scientist; Kathleen Marshall, choreographer and music theater director; Beverly Morgan-Welch, museum director; and Simran Sethi, environmental journalist.

The five accomplished women who will receive Smith College Medals:

Helen “Penny” Chenery ’43, thoroughbred breeder and racer

Chenery is best known for her work in Thoroughbred horse racing and as owner of the celebrated racehorse, Secretariat, who won the Triple Crown. She took over her father’s stables when he became ill, and she has received many awards including the Thoroughbred industry’s highest award, the Eclipse Award of Merit, in 2005.  Chenery has been dubbed the “The First Lady of Racing.” Those who know her talk about Chenery’s class, determination and integrity – and her commitment to the horses.  Upon the retirement of Secretariat to Claiborne Farm, she insisted that he would be available to the public for viewing as she felt he belonged to the United States and the world.  

Chenery has served on numerous boards, both in the horse racing industry and outside of it.  She has worked to promote equine research and thoroughbred retirement and rehabilitation. Of note, she helped found the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF), an organization dedicated to the prevention of the slaughter of retired racehorses, which finds them new careers. The TRF works with prisons to retrain the horses and has a positive impact on the inmates. 

As president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association from 1976-84, Chenery was the first woman to lead a national horse racing organization. In 1983, she was one of the first three women elected to membership in the previously all-male Jockey Club.  She has been an active community volunteer as well as a loyal Smith alumna, whose mother, sister and two cousins also attended Smith. 

(Naomi) Lynn Hurwitz Gerber ’65, physician scientist

Gerber’s career as a physician scientist began when she was a philosophy major at Smith and completed research fellowships at the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Both laboratories were directed by scientists who later became Nobel laureates. Gerber earned her medical degree at Tufts University Medical School and completed two residencies and a fellowship before beginning a 30-year career in the Clinical Center of the NIH, retiring as chief of the Rehabilitation Medicine Department in 2005. In 2006, she began a second career as professor of rehabilitation science at George Mason University where she is developing a doctoral program and founding a new Center for the Study of Chronic Illness and Disability. In 2008, she was awarded the position of University Professor.

Widely published, Gerber has developed new ways to measure human motion, which has led to the design of braces and orthotics for a variety of disabling conditions.  She devised methods for measuring human performance, function and disability and developed ways to restore function, or prevent its decline, in those suffering from chronic illnesses. Currently, she is pursuing research that helps better understand the causes of fatigue, and how to better treat it.

For more than three decades, Gerber has served as mentor to students interested in science and biomedical careers. In particular, she has sought out, encouraged and advocated for students from underrepresented groups to pursue science careers. Among her numerous awards are the 2006 Distinguished Public Service Award from the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation; the Health Advocate Award of the American Occupational Therapy Association; the Debra Flomenhoft Humanitarian Award of the American Physical Therapy Association; and the Distinguished Academician Award of the Association of Academic Physiatrists.

Kathleen Marshall ’85, choreographer and musical theatre director

Marshall has won widespread critical acclaim for her work in the field of musical choreography. Marshall won the Tony Award, the Drama Desk Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Choreography for both her work on “Wonderful Town” in 2004 and “The Pajama Game” in 2006.  She has also received the George Abbott Award, the Richard Rodgers Award and the Pennsylvania Governor’s Award for the Arts. 

As a director, Marshall has also been widely recognized, having received two Tony Award nominations. Currently, she is director and choreographer for the Broadway revival of “Grease.” An English major at Smith, Marshall began her career as a dancer at Pittsburgh’s Civic Light Opera and later assisted her brother, Rob Marshall, in choreographing his first three Broadway shows. She rapidly advanced to choreograph a large number of Broadway productions and is recognized for her innovation with revivals of some of the country’s most beloved musicals. 

Marshall generously supports nonprofit organizations in the theater industry, including the Roundabout Theatre and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.  She is a mentor with a program called Open Doors, which makes theater available to New York City high school students. And, she has traveled to Russia as a teaching artist on behalf of the U.S. State Department. Marshall directs the annual gala for the Worldwide Orphans Foundation, and she recently traveled to Ethiopia to teach dance at a summer camp for 50 children in Addis Ababa.  She also supports the Smith College Theatre Committee's annual visits to New York by making productions accessible to Smith students. 

Beverly Morgan-Welch ’74, museum director, educator, historian

As executive director of the Museum of African American History in Boston and Nantucket, Mass., Morgan-Welch has garnered national recognition for this New England institution comprised of collections that include three National Historic Landmarks. Attracting scholars and collections to illuminate African American history, she invigorated the museum to present the powerful communities of free black abolitionists who were instrumental in ending slavery, establishing schools and fostering movements for basic freedoms and human rights. 

Morgan-Welch began her career in the corporate sector and the arts and education community. In the early 1980s, she helped administer the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company Foundation. Fifteen years later, she managed Raytheon Company’s charitable contributions program for the eastern half of the country and developed an education program in the Brazilian Amazon. While Morgan-Welch was Director of Development at the Wadsworth Atheneum, she established the Amistad Foundation, acquiring a collection of 7,000 African American objects of art and artifacts and organized a national tour for Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Morgan-Welch’s success has been attributed by some to the interests and skills that she developed as a theatre and speech major at Smith. She has built an institution that reflects her vision of the power of history to enrich lives by raising funds to acquire two historic buildings and producing a unique roster of exhibitions and educational programs. She also co-chaired Governor Deval Patrick’s inauguration.

Preeti Simran Sethi ’92, environmental journalist

Preeti Simran Sethi is the contributing environmental correspondent for CNBC and the Lacy C. Haynes Visiting Professional Chair at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications, where she teaches courses on environmental communications. Sethi is writing a book on environmental equity for Harper Collins and is the contributing author of “Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy,” winner of a bronze 2008 Axiom Business Book Award. She is the co-host and writer of Sundance Channel's environmental programming, “The Green,” and the creator of the Sundance Web series, “The Good Fight,” highlighting global environmental justice efforts and grassroots activism. 

Named one of the top ten eco-heroes of the planet by the United Kingdom's Independent and lauded as the “environmental messenger” by Vanity Fair and environmental “Woman of Impact” by Variety, Sethi is committed to a redefinition of environmentalism that includes voices from the prairie, the inner-city and the global community. She has contributed segments to “Nightly News with Brian Williams,” the “Today Show,” the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” and the “Martha Stewart Show.” She has been a featured guest on National Public Radio and is the host of the Emmy Award-winning PBS documentary “A School in the Woods.” 

Sethi is a member of the Sustainability Advisory Board in her Lawrence, Kansas, community and chairs the working group on Climate Change Education, Outreach and Policy for the Mayor's Climate Protection Task Force.  She earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology and women’s studies at Smith cum laude and her master’s of business administration in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management in San Francisco.

Smith College educates women of promise for lives of distinction. By linking the power of the liberal arts to excellence in research and scholarship, Smith is developing leaders for society’s challenges. Smith enrolls 2,800 students from nearly every state and 61 other countries.


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