Center News Magazine: Celebrating Excellence: 2014 Academic Convocation and Gerstner Sloan Kettering Graduate School Commencement

Sunday, June 1, 2014
Pictured: Douglas Warner III, Mary-Claire King & Craig Thompson (From left) Douglas Warner III, Chairman of MSK's Boards; Mary-Claire King, recipient of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Biomedical Research; and MSK President and CEO Craig Thompson

On May 14, Memorial Sloan Kettering’s 35th Academic Convocation ceremony and third annual Commencement exercises recognized 12 exceptional students who earned their PhD degrees this year from the Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

Also honored were leaders in cancer research from outside institutions as well as members of the MSK community who received awards, including younger MSK physicians, scientists, and postdoctoral fellows recognized for showing great promise in the early stages of their careers. Graduating PhD students at Weill Cornell Medical College who conducted their dissertation work in MSK laboratories — 50 this year — also were recognized.

“It has been an amazing time at MSK. The year has gone by in a blur,” said Craig B. Thompson, MSK President and CEO, in welcoming the ceremony attendees. “Over the course of the past 12 months, we have created a number of programs and initiatives that hold enormous promise for the future of cancer research and the development of more precise ways to diagnose and treat the disease.”

“I could go on much longer about everything that energizes and excites [me] about this institution and the work I see going on around me every day,” he added. “But let me just say that MSK is an incredible institution filled with dedicated staff and talented trainees.”

Among those in the MSK community who were honored this year were Cole M. Haynes, an Associate Member in the Cell Biology Program of the Sloan Kettering Institute (SKI), who received the Boyer Basic Research Award; Ronglai Shen, an Assistant Member in the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department, who received the Boyer Clinical Research Award; and neurosurgeon Mark H. Bilsky, who received the Willet F. Whitmore Award for Clinical Excellence.

“Today we recognize Mark for his exceptional clinical skills, his compassionate commitment to his patients, and for the guidance, inspiration, and friendship he has provided to us at MSK over many years,” said Physician-in-Chief José Baselga in presenting the award to Dr. Bilsky.

Thomas J. Kelly, a former Director of SKI who remains at MSK as an investigator in the Molecular Biology Program, was presented with an honorary Doctor of Science degree for his role in leading the largest expansion of laboratory research in SKI’s 65-year history. Before conferring the degree on Dr. Kelly, Dr. Thompson said, “Tom’s time, energy, and inspiring leadership for this effort have put MSK in a unique position to make discoveries that have and will continue to further our understanding of human disease.”

This year, Mary-Claire King, a professor of genome sciences and medicine at the University of Washington, was presented with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Biomedical Research. Dr. King was recognized for her extraordinary discovery of genetic causes of some breast and ovarian cancers and her pioneering use of genetics to identify victims of human rights abuses. In a compelling convocation address, Dr. King summoned graduates to follow in the footsteps of scientists striving to improve society by pursuing their future careers as fully engaged citizens of the world.

At a symposium earlier in the day, biochemist and biophysician Joseph Schlessinger of Yale University School of Medicine presented the C. Chester Stock Award lecture, and developmental biologist Brigid L. M. Hogan of Duke University School of Medicine presented the Katharine Berkan Judd Award lecture. Dr. Schlessinger was honored with the award for his pioneering research into cell signaling, and Dr. Hogan for her contributions to stem cell research and technology.

Fostering Scientists and Citizens

Kenneth J. Marians, Dean of Gerstner Sloan Kettering, presented the graduating students with their degrees. Moriah Nissan, a GSK student who conducted her thesis work in the laboratory of physician-scientist David B. Solit, addressed her class before the diplomas were presented.

“The Gerstner School has prepared us in this collaborative model from the start by recruiting a class from diverse backgrounds and with varied interests, and the school managed to create for us a lush, fertile learning environment,” Dr. Nissan said. “In order to succeed, we must continue to work together to teach each other, to pick each other up when we are down, and to link each other as rafts in times of flooding.  It does not stop with our scientific colleagues because though we are all scientists, we cannot forget that first and foremost, we are all citizens.”

Receipient Lists

PhD Recipients
Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

Sloan Kettering Division / Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences

Awards

Frank Lappin Horsfall, Jr. Fellowship Award

Peng Gao

Dorris J. Hutchison Fellowship AWARD

Jennifer Jia-Ying Tsai, MBChB

Louise And Allston Boyer Young Investigator Awards

Cole M. Haynes, PhD
Ronglai Shen, PhD

Postdoctoral Research Awards

Pu Gao, PhD
Xiaowei Hou, PhD
Sevin Turcan, PhD

C. Chester Stock Award

Joseph Schlessinger, PhD, MSc
Yale School of Medicine

Willet F. Whitmore Award for Clinical Excellence

Mark H. Bilsky, MD

Katharine Berkan Judd Award

Brigid Hogan, PhD, FRS
Duke University School of Medicine

Doctor Of Science, Honoris Causa

Thomas J. Kelly, MD, PhD

The Memorial Sloan Kettering Medal For Outstanding Contributions To Biomedical Research

Mary-Claire King, PhD
University of Washington School of Medicine