Pioneer in Genetic Counseling, National Institutes of Health Director, to Share Spotlight at Sarah Lawrence College Graduate Commencement

Pioneer in Genetic Counseling, National Institutes of Health Director, to Share Spotlight at Sarah Lawrence College Graduate Commencement

Diane Baker MS ’79, former director of the University of Michigan Genetic Counseling Graduate Program, and National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins will deliver a joint address at Sarah Lawrence College’s Graduate Commencement ceremonies on Thursday, May 23

The ceremony will also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the College’s world-renowned Joan H. Marks Graduate Program in Human Genetics and confer an honorary Doctor of Science degree to the program’s namesake, Joan H. Marks ’51.

Commencement will begin at 10 a.m. on the Westlands South Lawn

Baker, MS ’79, is a pioneer and leader in the field of genetic counseling. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence’s Joan H. Marks Graduate Program in Human Genetics, she went on to become a founding member of the genetic counseling program at the University of Michigan, serving as director of the Genetic Counseling Graduate Program and a premiere member of its faculty.

She served as President of the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC), and in 2004 she was the recipient of the Natalie Weissberger Paul Achievement award from the NSGC.  In 2010, the University of Michigan established the Diane Baker Alumni Lecture and Award in Genetic Counseling in honor of her contributions to the profession.

Collins, M.D., Ph.D., was appointed the 16th Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by President Barack Obama and was sworn into office on August 17, 2009. On June 6, 2017, President Donald Trump announced his selection of Dr. Collins to continue to serve as the NIH Director. In this role, Dr. Collins oversees the work of the largest public supporter of biomedical research in the world, spanning the spectrum from basic to clinical research.

Dr. Collins is a physician-geneticist noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the international Human Genome Project, which culminated in April 2003 with the completion of a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book. He served as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH from 1993-2008.

Before coming to NIH, Dr. Collins was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of Michigan. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 2007, and received the National Medal of Science in 2009.

Joan Marks ’51 graduated from Sarah Lawrence College and began a career as a psychiatric social worker at several major New York teaching hospitals. In 1972, she returned to Sarah Lawrence as director of the College’s nascent genetic counseling program, which she developed into the largest in the country.

A pioneer in the field of genetic counseling, Marks delivered a groundbreaking presentation at the 1974 American Society of Human Genetics conference on the field of genetic counseling and the value of the genetic counselor in the medical team, giving rise to the new profession. She became the first woman and first non-MD to receive the Excellence in Human Genetics Education Award in 2003, presented by the American Society of Human Genetics. In 2012, she received the Natalie Weissberger Paul Lifetime Achievement Award, the most distinguished honor given by the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC).

The 2019 undergraduate commencement speaker is Maggie Haberman ’96, White House Correspondent for The New York Times and political analyst for CNN. Undergraduate ceremonies will be held Friday, May 24 at 10 a.m. on the Westlands South Lawn.


About Sarah Lawrence College

Founded in 1926, Sarah Lawrence is a prestigious, coeducational liberal arts college that consistently ranks among the leading liberal arts colleges in the country. Sarah Lawrence is known for its pioneering approach to education, rich history of impassioned intellectual and civic engagement, and vibrant, successful alumni. In close proximity to the unparalleled offerings of New York City, the historic campus is home to an intellectually curious and diverse community.