2020 Blaisdell Distinguished Alumni Award Winners

Each year, Pomona College selects alumni to receive the Blaisdell Distinguished Alumni Award, which recognizes alumni for high achievement in professions or community service. This year, the winners are Steven G. Clarke ’70, Jennifer Doudna ’85, Ann Hardy ’55 and Anjali Kamat ’00. These are alumni who have carried the spirit of the College into the rest of the world and lived up to the famous quotation from James A. Blaisdell which is inscribed into the gates of the College: "They only are loyal to the college who departing bear their added riches in trust for mankind."

Steven G. Clarke ’70

UCLA Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Steven G. Clarke is an authority on the biochemistry of the aging process and how protein modification can regulate biological function. 

Raised in Altadena and Pasadena, California, Clarke earned a B.A. in chemistry and zoology from Pomona, with magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa and Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Honors. He spent the summer after his junior year as an NIH Undergraduate Fellow in the laboratory of Peter Mitchell in Cornwall, England, and obtained his Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology at Harvard University in 1976, working as an NSF Fellow with Professor Guido Guidotti.

He returned to California to do postdoctoral work as a Miller Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, with Professor Daniel Koshland. Clarke joined the faculty in the Department of Chemistry and the Molecular Biology Institute at UCLA in 1978.  He directed the UCLA Cellular and Molecular Biology Training Program from 1988 to 2018 and the UCLA Molecular Biology Institute from 2001 to 2011.

His current research interests include understanding the roles of spontaneous protein damage and repair in aging, especially in Alzheimer's disease.

Clarke has been a visiting scholar in the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University, in the Department of Pathology at the University of Washington, and in the Department of Biochemistry at Vanderbilt University. From 2012 to 2107, he was the Elizabeth R. and Thomas E. Plott Chair in Gerontology at UCLA.

His achievements have been honored by the William C. Rose Award in Biochemistry from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the American Chemical Society Ralph F. Hirschmann Award in Peptide Chemistry, a MERIT award from the National Institutes of Health, a Senior Scholar Award in Aging from the Ellison Medical Foundation, and by selection as the 107th Faculty Research Lecturer at UCLA.  He is a recipient of the UCLA Academic Senate Distinguished Teaching Award, including the Eby Award for the Art of Teaching.

Jennifer Doudna ’85

An internationally renowned professor of chemistry and molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley, Jennifer A. Doudna and her colleagues rocked the research world in 2012 by first describing a simple way of editing the DNA of any organism using an RNA-guided protein found in bacteria. This powerful technology, called CRISPR-Cas9, has enormous potential in agriculture and in curing serious human diseases, including cancer.

A vocal proponent of its responsible use, she called for a moratorium on using CRISPR technology to make permanent to the human germline in 2015. Doudna's early guidance for more research and discussion came to the fore in the "CRISPR babies" announcement of late 2018, when she and other leaders in the field expressed horror at a Chinese scientist's claim of creating twin "designer babies" in an experiment flawed in both ethics and science.

Doudna, who studied chemistry at Pomona College, is an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, senior investigator at Gladstone Institutes, and the executive director of the Innovative Genomics Institute. She co-founded and serves on the advisory panel of several companies that use CRISPR technology in unique ways, including Inari, Synthego, Mammoth Biosciences and Caribou Biosciences.

She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Inventors, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Doudna is also a Foreign Member of the Royal Society and has received numerous other honors including the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the Japan Prize, Kavli Prize, and Wolf Prize. Doudna's work led TIME to recognize her as one of the "100 Most Influential People" in 2015 and a runner-up for "Person of the Year" in 2016. She is the co-author of A Crack in Creation, a personal account of her research and the societal and ethical implications of gene editing.

Ann Hardy ’55

Ann Hardy was vice president of Tymshare and co-founder of Key Logic, a computer security business and of Agorics, a software consulting business.

When Hardy was born in 1933, it would have been hard to imagine she would become a pioneer in the computer industry. In fact, it would have seemed unlikely that a good middle-class girl would ever have a career. Hardy, however, soon developed a plan that would shock everyone in her well-behaved suburb. As the oldest of five children, she spent much of her youth running the household, and she watched as more and more chores became simplified by automation. She came to realize that her generation of women could be the first to have time to pursue a career and a family.

Since the only professional woman she had heard of was Marie Curie, and because she loved high school chemistry, Hardy set her heart on becoming a chemist. Unfortunately, when she arrived at Pomona in 1951, she was informed by the head of the chemistry department that she would not be able to realize her dream, because he did not want a woman distracting the men in the advanced chemistry labs. Consequently, he would not allow her to even sign up for the freshman course. Despite her lack of a science degree, she talked her way into a computer training course at IBM in 1956. The class was told that the highest achievers would be allowed to enter the lucrative career path of sales. However, when she proved to be one of the best students, the president of IBM wrote a letter to the class, explaining that naturally women wouldn’t be allowed into sales, but that she could instead become a “systems service girl.”  Declining the opportunity to take on a job with the word “girl” in the title, she instead opted to become a programmer.

In the late 1960s, she heard of a startup in California called Tymshare. She called on the co-founder and told him he needed to hire her to write the operating system for the computer they were about to purchase. The co-founder, not fully understanding what an operating system was, agreed. The product based on her system was the most consistently profitable division of the company for 20 years, Hardy rose in the ranks at Tymshare, eventually becoming a vice president. When Tymshare was acquired in the 1980s, she left to start her own computer security business, Key Logic, which she ran successfully for several years. She then started a software security consulting company, Agorics, which worked to bring on-line checking to banks and the government.

When Hardy retired, she moved to Mexico for three years to learn Spanish. She came home when her grandson was born, and they have enjoyed each other’s company ever since.

Anjali Kamat ’00

Anjali Kamat is a Peabody Award-winning and Emmy nominated investigative journalist, writer and documentary filmmaker based in New York City. Her reports from around the world cover geopolitics, the global economy, migration, poverty, racism, social movements, wars, and the intersection of money and politics.

She has been a correspondent and host at New York Public Radio, Al Jazeera's current affairs documentary show Fault Lines, and the daily television and radio news hour Democracy Now!

You can find her recent work on NPR, The New Republic, Slate, Dissent and Trump, Inc. and The Stakes podcasts.

Kamat, who grew up in Chennai, India, studied history at Pomona College with a focus on South Asia. She has an M.A. in Near Eastern Studies from New York University, studied Arabic in Jordan and Egypt, and spent 2011 covering the Arab uprisings from Egypt and Libya. She currently is writing a book on South Asian labor migrants in the Middle East for Verso Books.