Rita Colwell (Photo by Sam Kittner)

The American Association of Geographers has named Rita Colwell, the first woman to be director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), as its 2019 AAG Honorary Geographer. Rita Colwell currently is a distinguished university professor at the University of Maryland at College Park and at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, a senior advisor and chairman emeritus at Canon U.S. Life Sciences, Inc., and the president and CEO of CosmosID, Inc.

Colwell’s internationally recognized research primarily focuses on water and health with particular focus on cholera and infectious disease. A pioneer for women in science, she has published more than 750 articles and has authored or co-authored 17 books. During her time at the NSF she not only increased the size of individual grants awarded by expanding the budget of the NSF by 68 percent, but also advocated for greater support for women scientists and science and technology education. Dr. Colwell has taken on many significant advisory positions in the U.S. Government, nonprofit science policy organizations, and private foundations throughout her career, including her role as a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Prior to joining NSF, Colwell served as president of the University of Maryland’s Biotechnology Institute and as Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University. She has been awarded 55 honorary degrees, as well as the recipient of the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, bestowed by the Emperor of Japan, the 2006 National Medal of Science awarded by the President of the United States, and the 2010 Stockholm Water Prize awarded by the King of Sweden. The Colwell Massif geological site in Antarctica was named in recognition of her work in the polar regions.

Colwell may be familiar to some members of the AAG, as she provided the opening keynote lecture at the Centennial Meeting of the AAG in 2004 in Philadelphia, PA. Her talk, entitled “The New Landscape of Science: A Geographic Portal,” still resonates within the discipline today. AAG will confer the 2019 AAG Honorary Geographer Award upon Rita Colwell at the 2019 AAG Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. Details of this session will be forthcoming.

Every year the Association bestows its Honorary Geographer Award on an exceptional leader, to recognize excellence in the arts, research, teaching, and writing on geographic topics by non-geographers. Previous AAG Honorary Geographer awardees have included biologist Stephen J. Gould, architect Maya Lin, Nobel Laureate in economics Paul Krugman, sociologist Saskia Sassen, economist Jeffrey Sachs, and authors Calvin Trillin, Barbara Kingsolver, John McPhee and Barry Lopez, among others.