Winter 2009 Bulletin

New Fellows Reflect on Membership in the Academy

New members arrived at the House of the Academy in a state of anticipation, awaiting the morning orientation. Many vividly described the moment that news of their election arrived: the flurry of congratulatory phone calls and emails from colleagues followed by the deepening realization they would be joining a membership that included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Marian Anderson, and T. S. Eliot, among so many others.

Richard Foster, a managing partner at Millbrook Management Group in New York, reflected on how the Academy’s values resonate with his own. “The Academy provides us with a place to compare and contrast our mental models. I am really looking forward to being a member.”

Many Fellows paused to study the framed letters of acceptance set along a wall in the atrium. Anne Walters Robertson, a music professor from the University of Chicago, was thrilled by the range of people represented by the historic letters. She was particularly moved when she found a beautifully handwritten letter by an earlier Fellow she considered one of the greatest teachers of music composition in the twentieth century, Nadia Boulanger.

“Election to the Academy is a great honor,” said Pablo G. Debenedetti, a professor in engineering and applied science at Princeton University and an immigrant from Argentina. “It is a reminder of how great this country is.”

While many Fellows were eloquent about the role of the Academy in preserving free inquiry and encouraging interdisciplinary scholarship, they said they were waiting for the day’s presentations to ground them in the institution’s specific programs and reports. “I am looking forward to finding out more about how I might contribute,” said Alan M. Leslie, professor of psychology and cognitive science at Rutgers University.

The responsibility of the scholar to inform public discourse and play a larger role in society was a recurring theme among Fellows. “It is very interesting to see that the American Academy deals with such diverse topics,” said Nikos K. Logothetis, a neuroscientist from Max-Planck-Institut für Biologische Kybernetik in Germany. He was particularly interested in an Academy project about educating the world’s children.

Another source of excitement throughout the day was the simple pleasure of meeting exceptional people from such an array of backgrounds. “Although I was really interested in the presentations, particularly the ones on nuclear weapons and security on the Internet,” said Jorge Durand, a professor of anthropology at the Universidad de Guadalajara, Mexico, “today is also an opportunity to meet people from diverse fields. The Academy is a unique place that brings us all together.”