Established by Teresa Heinz to honor the memory of her late husband, U.S. Senator John Heinz, the Heinz Awards celebrates his accomplishments and spirit by recognizing the extraordinary achievements of individuals in the areas of greatest importance to him.
This year’s recipients include a two-term U.S. Poet Laureate; an ecologist whose pioneering science and technologies are mapping the world’s forests and coral reefs by plane and with satellites; a community development leader who is an expert on refugee and immigrant integration; a pediatrician and public health advocate who exposed the Flint water crisis and ignited renewed national action on lead exposure and drinking water safety; and a chemist who has created breakthrough innovations in 3D printing, nanomedicine and green chemistry.
Collectively, they represent the vision, creativity and determination that produce achievements of lasting good and meaningful impact, which the Heinz Awards hopes to inspire.
Natasha Trethewey, a two-term U.S. Poet Laureate, is recognized for her achievements as a poet and writer whose exquisitely crafted works intertwine personal and public histories of loss, grief, joy and hope.
Ms. Trethewey’s poetry is often anchored in the complex history of racial and social inequity in the American South, and in memories of her own experiences growing up in Mississippi as the daughter of an African-American mother and a white father whose marriage union was illegal in the state at that time.
Effortlessly moving from free verse to more traditional forms, she crafts poems that are at once poignant and painful, yet infused with elements of joy and optimism.
Ms. Trethewey is the author of Native Guard, for which she won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize; Bellocq’s Ophelia, which was named a Notable Book for 2003 by the American Library Association; and Domestic Work, which won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize in 1999.
As one of the younger poets laureate, serving from 2012 to 2014, Ms. Trethewey was also one of the most active, often meeting the public, mentoring underserved students, and holding office hours at the Library of Congress. In this role, she also worked with PBS NewsHour, with correspondent Jeffrey Brown, on Where Poetry Lives, a series of on-location specials that examined societal issues through poetry.
Ms. Trethewey’s most recent works include a short memoir of the South under siege, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; Thrall, a collection of poetry; and Congregation, a chapbook of poems. She recently joined the faculty of Northwestern University as Board of Trustees Professor of English following 16 years teaching at Emory University.
Ms. Trethewey’s artistry in weaving her compelling personal life story together with southern history, and her work as a professor and mentor, continue to impact and broaden the influence of poetry in the lives of Americans young and old.
Dr. Greg Asner, an ecologist, is recognized for his development and application of ultra-high-resolution imaging technologies that provide unprecedented detail on the biodiversity and health of the world’s forests and coral reefs, and the impact of threats such as deforestation, land degradation and climate change.
While traditional satellite imagery has allowed scientists to gauge the overall size of the world’s forests, Dr. Asner has created the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO), which deploys ultra-high-tech mapping technology and instrumentation aboard a fixed-wing aircraft to reveal in spectacular detail an ecosystem’s chemistry, structure, biomass and biodiversity.
Flying over swaths of thick forest canopy, Dr. Asner is able to image trees down to their individual branches, measuring the carbon stored in the soil, classifying each tree species based on its chemistry and evaluating the health of each tree.
Dr. Asner and his team have mapped 300,000 square miles of the Peruvian Amazon by plane and with satellites, and much of the rain and cloud forests of Ecuador, Borneo, Brazil, Colombia and South Africa, as well as California’s forests and Hawaii’s coral reefs.
In the United States, Dr. Asner’s research has investigated and called attention to the severity and extent of forest damage caused by the recent California drought. His findings are also helping to change the pace and strategy of forest management efforts, as well as shaping climate change policy in California and across the globe.
Whether in the arid American West, the rain forests of Borneo or the waters of Hawaii, Dr. Asner continues to explore new ecological frontiers revealing what lies hidden under forest canopies and at the bottom of oceans. His discoveries equip us with the information needed to inform decision making and protect our planet’s rich biodiversity.
Angela Blanchard, President and CEO of BakerRipley, the largest community development organization in the state of Texas, is recognized for creating a transformative model of community development, known as Appreciative Community Building, which recognizes the inherent strengths of the people residing in low-income and immigrant communities.
Throughout her more than 30 years of leadership at BakerRipley (formerly known as Neighborhood Centers) in Houston, Texas, Ms. Blanchard has operated on the belief that neighborhoods should be defined by their resources, achievements and hopes, not by their degree of need or brokenness. Her approach has guided the establishment of two major community centers and continues to impact Texans at BakerRipley’s more than 60 service sites.
“Seeing people come in having very little, and then helping them find a way to recreate a new life out of their own imagination—that is the most riveting thing on earth to me.”
Under Ms. Blanchard’s leadership, BakerRipley has been building on-ramps for newly arrived people to thrive in a city that she describes as a new “Ellis Island.” The proven success of BakerRipley in nurturing diverse communities has created a powerful model for cities across the globe facing the complex challenge of community transformation.
Most recently, during Hurricane Harvey, Ms. Blanchard was asked by government officials to take the lead on establishing and managing the largest shelter in Houston for those impacted by the storm. In a matter of hours, she mobilized staff, volunteers and public/private partners to welcome displaced neighbors and help them begin the difficult journey forward.
As she continues to serve low-income and immigrant families throughout Texas, Ms. Blanchard employs a process for revitalizing metropolitan areas that transforms them into healthy, thriving communities that are rich in diversity and stand as a model for cities across the United States.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician and public health advocate, is recognized for stepping forward to expose the presence of elevated lead levels in children residing in Flint, Michigan, and for her efforts to ignite a renewed nationwide conversation about lead exposure and drinking water safety.
As Director of the pediatric residency program at Hurley Medical Center in Flint and Associate Professor at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, Dr. Hanna-Attisha chose to analyze data on 2,000 pediatric patients in Flint in 2015 after families began complaining about pungent brown water flowing from their faucets.
The results of her research were stunning, showing the percentage of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood had almost doubled, even tripled in certain neighborhoods, since the city of Flint had changed its public water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River a year earlier.
In September 2015, Dr. Hanna-Attisha called a press conference, choosing to go public to ensure her research findings would be heard.
“My kids in Michigan continue to be the inspiration for this work. As a pediatrician, it’s my job to be an advocate for my patients, to protect and speak up for kids, because they can’t. That’s the privilege and honor of what I do every day.”
Despite initial pushback from officials in Michigan, Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s research, public statements and tireless advocacy efforts resulted in state of emergency declarations by both Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and President Obama, and forced renewed national attention to the profound and lifelong consequences of lead exposure in children.
Dr. Hanna-Attisha has since remained a central figure in efforts to change public health policy on a local and national level, and to meet the needs of children and families impacted by lead exposure. She is a member of the Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board, which released recommendations—such as mandatory testing of all children for lead poisoning, expanded home testing requirements and the creation of a statewide database of structures with dangerous lead levels—designed to protect Michigan’s children from lead exposure. One outcome of these recommendations was the creation of a group that will continue the state’s fight against lead exposure, the Child Lead Exposure Elimination Commission, of which Dr. Hanna-Attisha is a member.
As a result of Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s courage and willingness to expose the facts about her community’s drinking water and spearhead lead exposure treatment and prevention efforts, she is helping to mitigate the impact of the crisis and ensure the health of Flint’s children and families is a continued national priority.
Dr. Joseph DeSimone, a chemist and expert in polymeric materials, is recognized for his achievements in developing and commercializing advanced technologies in several cutting-edge fields such as 3D printing, precision medicine, nanoparticle fabrication and green chemistry, and for his commitment to diversity in the STEM fields as a “fundamental tenet of innovation.”
Dr. DeSimone’s work merges life, physical and engineering sciences with the goal of fostering innovation in how things are made in order to improve the human condition. He is noted for the recent breakthrough development of CLIP, a new approach that is moving 3D printing into large-scale 3D manufacturing for the first time; and for PRINT, a soft lithographic technique that uses the tools of the computer industry to fabricate tiny nanoparticles out of pure pharmaceutical ingredients for precision delivery of vaccines, pain treatment and cancer therapeutics.
To bring PRINT technologies out of the lab and into the private sector, Dr. DeSimone co-founded Liquidia Technologies to work with the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative on next-generation inhalable vaccines and GSK to develop new medicines for the treatment of pulmonary diseases.
To develop CLIP 3D printing, he co-founded Carbon, Inc., which is now working with manufacturing partners to develop applications for CLIP. With over 200 employees, Carbon has drawn more than $220 million in investment to date from companies such as Google, GE and BMW. Most recently, it partnered with adidas to create a new running shoe, called Futurecraft 4D, which has a lattice midsole that can be printed in 30 minutes, an impossible feat for traditional footwear manufacturing.
Dr. DeSimone’s achievements as a polymer scientist and entrepreneur, along with his leadership in convergence research, a new model integrating life, physical and engineering sciences to achieve innovations, is positively impacting human life in the areas of health, environment, energy and the economy.
“Although their fields of endeavor are very different, each of the men and women that we honor has demonstrated remarkable persistence in the face of barriers, and an unwavering determination to develop solutions that contribute to a healthier world, a more just society and a more vibrant economy.
At a time when rancor and divisiveness threaten to divide us, their grace and generosity in sharing and applying the knowledge they have gained reminds us all that people’s capacity for good remains, and that there is much more we can achieve.
This is the true spirit of the Heinz Awards.”
— Teresa Heinz, Chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation
This year, the Heinz Awards celebrates 22 years of honoring the outstanding contributions of those who are changing our world for the better.