NSF deputy director receives WAA’s Distinguished Alumni Award

October 10, 2012 By Kate Dixon

UW–Madison welcomed Cora Marrett, deputy director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), back to campus Oct. 5-6 as the Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA) presented her with the 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award.

Photo: Cora Marrett

Marrett

The Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest honor bestowed by WAA. The award celebrates outstanding UW–Madison graduates whose professional achievements, contributions to society and support of the university exemplify the Wisconsin Idea.

The twelfth child of parents who barely finished the sixth grade in tiny Kenbridge, Virginia, Marrett earned her master’s and Ph.D. in sociology at UW–Madison in 1965 and 1968, and rose to leadership at NSF, which annually awards about $7 billion for basic research in nonmedical fields of science, engineering, mathematics, computer science and the social sciences.

As NSF’s deputy director, Marrett is recognized for her innovations and outreach. “This is not a bureaucratic organization,” she says of the 1,700-employee agency. “It’s about people who have a commitment to excellence, and who want to help address the curiosity about the world around us.”

Marrett was a faculty member at UW–Madison from 1974-97, with appointments in the departments of sociology and Afro-American Studies. She served as associate chair of the Department of Sociology from 1988-91 and was affiliated with the Energy Analysis and Policy Program and the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. From 2001-07, Marrett served as senior vice president for academic affairs for the University of Wisconsin System, before moving to her role at NSF.

Marrett was honored on the field at Camp Randall Stadium during the Wisconsin vs. Illinois football game and at the annual dinner of the UW Foundation’s Bascom Hill Society.

Marrett credits her “energizing” University of Wisconsin experience for making a difference where it really counts: “support for creative ideas, connections across intellectual and geographical boundaries, and dedication to the continued development of scholars at the cutting edge.”

She also delivered a lecture about science, technology and public policy for the 21st century during an Oct. 5 talk to faculty, students and the public, hosted by the UW-Madison Biotechnology Center and WAA. The talk will be broadcast at a future date on Wisconsin Public Television’s Wisconsin Channel.

Marrett credits her “energizing” University of Wisconsin experience for making a difference where it really counts: “support for creative ideas, connections across intellectual and geographical boundaries, and dedication to the continued development of scholars at the cutting edge.”

Marrett is one of five recipients of this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award. Fellow 2012 honorees are: Carl Djerassi, who received his Ph.D. in 1945 and is a playwright, author and co-inventor of the first successful oral contraceptive; 1967 graduate Kay Koplovitz, the first female cable network president in television history; attorney William Shernoff, J.S., who graduated in 1962; and Grammy-nominated jazz musician and 1967 grad Ben Sidran, who was also recognized at Camp Randall on Oct. 6.

More about Marrett’s life and work and her essay about her experience can be found here.

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