SU Alumna of Distinction

Trail Blazers

Cornelia Clapp
Vintage photo of Cornelia Clapp and her colleagues in the lab

Cornelia Maria Clapp

Cornelia Maria Clapp (1849-1934) was a pioneering research zoologist who inspired women to seek careers in the natural sciences. After graduating from Mount Holyoke College in 1871, Clapp followed a conventional path for educated women of her time, teaching. But a college lecturer, recognizing Clapp’s potential as a scientist invited her to professional meetings and field trips. “I had an opening of doors,” Clapp said. Clapp returned to Mount Holyoke to become a biology lecturer. But to engage in complex research, she needed a full faculty appointment, requiring a doctorate. She turned to Syracuse, one of the few universities admitting women to graduate programs in the sciences. With a Ph.D., Clapp returned to Mount Holyoke and emerged as a leading scholar in marine zoology, publishing her work in top journals and developing new teaching facilities, including a laboratory fish tank that allowed students to better observe animal behaviors. After 15 years of faculty debate, she was promoted to professor in 1904.

“I have always had an idea that if you want to do a thing, there is no particular reason why you shouldn’t do it,” Cornelia Marie Clapp, circa 1900

Sara Loguen Fraser
Painted portrait of Sara Loguen Fraser with a book open on her lap.

Sarah Loguen Fraser

Sarah Loguen Fraser, daughter of abolitionist activists, was born January 29, 1850 in Syracuse, NY. The family ran a booming Underground Railroad station in their home that housed more than 1,500 escaping slaves. While traveling home from a visit to Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1873, Loguen Fraser observed a tragic wagon incident that left a small boy severely injured. When a large crowd formed but no one offered help, she decided to commit her life to becoming a physician. With the help of family doctor Michael Benedict, Loguen Fraser received her doctorate from SU’s College of Medicine (now Upstate Medical University) in the spring of 1876, becoming the fourth African American woman in the United States to become a physician. In 1882, she relocated to Santo Domingo and passed the certification exam, making her the first woman in the Dominican Republic licensed to practice medicine. After her death on April 9, 1933, flags in Puerto Plata waved at half-mast for nine days.


Edith M Flanigan
Headshot of Edith M Flanigan teaching

Edith Marie Flanigen

Edith Marie Flanigen began her career in chemistry in the early 1950s, at a time when few women were working in the field. Flanigen received her master’s degree in inorganic-physical chemistry from SU in the spring of 1952. She was the first female corporate research fellow to become a senior research fellow in 1982 at Union Carbide, where she spent 42 years. Flanigen was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2004, and worked with a national team to create the science and math school inside the Hall of Fame, which opened in the winter of 2008. In 2004 Flanigen also won the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award for her groundbreaking achievements in zeolite and molecular sieve technology. In addition, in 1992 Flanigen became the first woman to win the Perkin Medal. She holds 108 patents in the United States, as well as many other awards and honors, including the Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal of the American Chemical Society.


“Because there are a lack of women at all levels of education and careers in engineering and sciences, there is inherently a lack of female role models for junior female members of the STEM community. Without support and guidance from other women, both at junior and senior levels, many women may find engineering and sciences to be inhospitable disciplines. It is important that women include in their career plan opportunities to reach back to the next generation of women engineers and scientists.” ~ Dr. Shobha Bhatia

Highlights of Some of Our Contemporary Alumni

Nina Fedoroff
Headshot of Nina Fedoroff in her office

Nina Vsevolod Fedoroff (born 1942) Dr. Fedoroff is the Willaman Professor of Life Sciences and Evan Pugh Professor in the Biology Department and the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, Pennsylvania State. She is known for her research in life sciences and biotechnology. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice named Dr. Nina V. Fedoroff to be her Science and Technology Adviser in August 2007. She received in 2006 the National Medal of Science in the field of Biological Sciences, the highest award for lifetime achievement in scientific research in the United States. Dr. Fedoroff is a leading geneticist and molecular biologist who has contributed to the development of modern techniques used to study and modify plants. She completed undergraduate work at Syracuse University, graduating summa cum laude with a dual major in biology and chemistry. She received her Ph.D. in molecular biology from the Rockefeller University in 1972.

Commander Eileen Collins
Official NASA headshot of Commander Eileen Collins in her space uniform with helmet.

Eileen Collins (Born 1956) received her bachelor of arts degree in mathematics and economics from Syracuse University in 1978 . She earned a master of science degree in operations research from Stanford University in 1986; and a master of arts degree in space systems management from Webster University in 1989. In July 1999, then U.S. Air Force Colonel Eileen Collins became the first woman to both command and land a space shuttle. The shuttle Columbia touched down with Collins at the helm in a tricky nighttime landing at the Kennedy Space Center. It was only the 12th nighttime landing in shuttle history! Collins retired on May 1, 2006 to pursue private interests, including service as a board member of USAA.

20th Anniversary of Eileen Collins piloting Space Shuttle Discovery in SU News (offsite)

“My daughter just thinks that all moms fly the space shuttle.” Air Force Col. Eileen Collins, first female Space Shuttle commander, 1999.

Ms. Donna Francher received a bachelors of science degree in biology from Syracuse University. After graduation, she spent four years interning at the SUNY Upstate Medical center and has since become a leader in pharmaceutical research in oncology. She helped found the Women in Oncology group, and was chosen as the keynote speaker at the Women’s Entrepreneurship Conference in 2004.

Dr. Anne O’Brien teaches courses in environmental, analytical and instrumental chemistry at LeMoyne College. Her research specializes in air sensitive synthetic techniques for the design of coordination compounds that react to the world’s great waste product, CO2. The goal is to transform this ubiquitous source of carbon into useful organic products. Dr. O’Brien received her doctorate at Syracuse University.