2021 Alumni Award Winners Take a Bow

In June, three exceptional alumni received Alumni Achievement Awards during a presentation ceremony held as part of the university’s Alumni Weekend.

Patricia Hill Collins ’69, PhD’84, a scholar in social theory at the intersection of feminism, gender, race and social inequality, is Distinguished University Professor Emerita in sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies Emerita at the University of Cincinnati. She is the author of 10 books, including the award-winning “Black Feminist Thought” and “Black Sexual Politics.” In 2008, she became the first African American woman to preside over the American Sociological Association.

“I started my work in race at Brandeis, but I continued on through class, gender, sexuality, nationalism, ethnicity and ability, because these are all axes of social inequality,” she told President Ron Liebowitz during the awards ceremony. “What kept me going was the importance of the question I was investigating, and recognizing that I got my education for a reason.”

Susan Reich Weiss ’71, professor of microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, began studying coronaviruses in the 1970s. Her research has helped scientists understand COVID-19, as well as the 2002 SARS and 2012 MERS outbreaks. Today, she serves as co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens.

“After all these years, it’s finally gratifying to have worked on this virus for all this time,” Weiss acknowledged during the awards ceremony.

Drew Weissman ’81, MA’81, P’15, is a professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. His collaborative research with former colleague Katalin Karikó into the modification of nucleic acids for RNA therapeutics and vaccines is credited with laying the groundwork for the COVID-19 vaccines created by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.

As he accepted his Alumni Achievement Award, Weissman talked about the challenges of conducting this research. “We were fighting for grants,” he explained. “We were fighting to get our papers published. We were fighting for recognition. […] It was a continuous struggle. We kept generating data. We finally convinced companies that this was a potential great advance, and that’s when things turned around.”