Dr. Alfred Sommer to speak at Founder’s Day


By Matt Olson

Today, Feb. 27, Dr. Alfred Sommer ’63 will deliver the keynote address in Memorial Chapel in honor of Union’s 219th Founder’s Day celebration.

Sommer, who is a global public health leader, will speak on “Health, Genes, Behavior and Environment.” The talk continues this year’s theme on wellness.

Sommer is best known as a pioneer in Vitamin A deficiency research. Vitamin A is a molecule that is required by the eye. Vitamin A (and its many forms) binds to proteins in the retina that aid in vision.

Vitamin A deficiency is said to affect nearly one-third of the world’s children under the age of five. Of those children, it is estimated that nearly 700,000 of them will die each year from Vitamin A deficiency.

Sommer researched the causes and possible treatments for Vitamin A deficiency. Today, Vitamin A pills are ubiquitous and can be taken orally to prevent the harsh symptoms of the deficiency.

Sommer was born in New York City and graduated from Union in 1963. He holds an M.D. from Harvard Medical School and is dean emeritus of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.

The School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins established the Sommer Scholarship in 2004 aimed at recruiting “the next generation of public health leaders to devise new, effective interventions to improve global health.”

Founder’s Day celebrates the charter of Union on Feb. 25, 1795. Union was the first college to be chartered by the New York State Board of Regents, although it was the third college founded in New York State behind Columbia University (1754) and Hamilton College (1793).

At the Founder’s Day celebration, the College will present the Gideon Hawley Teacher Recognition Award. The award is named in honor of Gideon Hawley, who was largely responsible for the development of elementary schools in the state and the State University of New York at Albany.

The award will be presented to Christian Talbot, who was nominated by Jakub Kaczmarzyk ’16.

The Founder’s Day Commemoration will begin today at 12:45 p.m. in Memorial Chapel.



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