news and events

Wellesley College president speaks at HST fall dinner

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The HST Dinner Seminar Series was launched in 1974 with a grant from the Kieckhefer Foundation.

HST Fall Dinner speaker, Paula Johnson, president ofWellesley College, middle.

Physician Paula Johnson, president of Wellesley College, recently told attendees of the annual HST (Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program) Dinner Seminar Series, that “the importance of the HST program has only increased with time…to evolve in ways we could not have imagined.”


The fall dinner, which was launched in 1974 with a grant from the Kieckhefer Foundation, was held at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge on Nov. 21, and was attended by 95 current HST students and some 42 HST faculty, alumni and staff.


Wolfram Goessling, MD, PhD, co-director of HST, welcomed the dinner attendees by pointing out that past HST dinner speakers included Francois Jacob, winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology; Mary Ellen Avery, Thomas Morgan Rotch Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School (HMS); Paul Farmer, Kolokotrones University Professor of Global Health and Social medicine; and George Daley, HST alumnus and HMS Dean. Goessling, Chief, Division of Gastroenterology, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH); Associate Professor, Medicine, Health Sciences and Technology, HMS, and associate physician, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, introduced Johnson as an “innovator recognized globally for advancing, promoting, and defending the education, health, and well-being of women.”


“President Johnson has dedicated her scientific and medical career to furthering our knowledge of the biological differences between women and men,” Goessling said. “She has led the way in ensuring that research findings are effectively translated in order to improve health care for women and has used her voice to effect important changes in policy so that sex differences are included in research.”


Before taking on the leadership of Wellesley, Johnson founded and served as the inaugural executive director of the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology and was the chief of the Division of Women’s Health, both at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. A cardiologist, Johnson was also the Grayce A. Young Family Professor of Medicine in Women’s Health at HMS (a professorship named after her mother), and a professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.


Johnson, who received her AB, MD and MPH degrees from Harvard, was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. She told the dinner that while there have been improvements with the ways that the medical and scientific communities approach clinical care for women, as well as how research along gender lines is conducted, “we still have work to do.”


“We need all the voices at the table to solve the problem,” she said. “…How can we ignore over 50% of the population? How can we make the other 50% the universal norm?”


“Inclusion and diversity make a difference,” she said.


She decried the fact that fewer women get funding for research and corporate development (though she pointed out that when women are in charge of allocating resources, women receive more monies); and that women in academics are still paid less than men in comparable positions.


Pointing out that “curiosity, kindness, humility – these qualities are absolutely essential,”

she praised the dinner as a great “opportunity to come and be together.”


“In a world where we live with our screens and individual work – the inclusion and belonging go far to help us shape a future to face these grand challenges,” Johnson said.