Weekly Feature


Profiles in “Genius”: Five 2008 MacArthur Fellows

September 26, 2008
by Isabel Cowles
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awards annual fellowships to 25 individuals who demonstrate creativity, leadership and potential in their fields. We showcase five of the 2008 Fellows, who have worked to improve the fields of farming, sculpture, astronomy, medicine and music.

Will Allen: CEO of Growing Power, Inc.

Will Allen’s organization “Growing Power” provides personal training and outreach to people and communities hoping to produce or procure sustainable food.

After a career as a professional baseball player, Allen returned to his roots and bought a farm in Milwaukee. In an interview about his fellowship, Allen stated, “If we want healthy, local food, the new generation of farmers are not going to come from rural communities. They’re not going to come from traditional farm families because those things don’t exist in our system anymore. These new farmers are going to come from folks that live in the city. I don’t build gardens with fences … you have to engage the community.”

Tara Donovan: Sculptor

Tara Donovan works in New York City and has exhibited at museums both nationally and internationally. She accumulates everyday materials such as straws, paper plates and Styrofoam cups to create the effect of growth. Donovan describes her work: “it is not like I’m trying to simulate nature. It’s more of a mimicking of the way of nature, the way things actually grow.”

A selection of Donovan’s works is available on the ACE Gallery Web site.

Andrea Ghez: Astronomer

Astronomy Professor Andrea Ghez works at UCLA, which co-owns the world’s largest telescope, the Keck I Telescope. She studies star formation and black holes and has developed new viewing techniques to better analyze the sky.

Ghez has been recognized as a pioneer in the field of astronomy for two major innovations. According to an article in Science, “Ghez was among the first to employ a technique called speckle imaging to greatly enhance the resolution of ground-based telescopes, using it to solidify the evidence for the existence of a black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Later, she applied a declassified military technique to help push the resolution of ground-based telescopes to even greater limits.”

Regina Benjamin, M.D: CEO of Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic

While establishing a private practice, Dr. Regina Benjamin studied for her M.B.A. at Tulane University. “My goal is to find a way to provide the best possible medical care to patients who often can’t afford health insurance,” she explained, “and the only way to do that was to learn how to run a business efficiently.”

In 1995, Benjamin became the youngest person and the first African-American woman ever to serve on the board of trustees at the American Medical Association. She is also a former president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama; she was the first African-American woman to lead the organization.

Benjamin first established the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic as an independent health clinic. In 1998, she converted it into a nonprofit organization that provides free health care to local residents.

Miguel Zenón: Jazz Saxophonist

Miguel Zenón is from San Juan, Puerto Rico. He studied saxophone at the Escuela Libre de Musica and jazz at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. In 2002, his debut CD “Looking Forward” was selected by The New York Times as the number one independent jazz record of 2002.  Zenón has since released three additional recordings, toured with his quartet and made teaching music a priority.

In a March interview with Jazz.com, Zenón discusses a variety of his compositions and albums. When asked what he hoped he could provide as a musician, Zenón answered, “I hope to keep making music for as long as I can and I really appreciate everybody that has enjoyed anything we have done. If this music makes people happy, that’s enough of a reward.”

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