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'A contribution to scholarship and humanity'

Judith Lasker (left), professor of sociology, joins biophysicist Bruce Alberts (center), historian Leo Marx (right), and museum curator Keith Christiansen (seated) as the four recipients of the 2014 Centennial Medal given by the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. (Photograph by Bethany Versoy, courtesy of the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Science)

Judith Lasker, who is renowned for her research into pregnancy loss, infertility and the sociological aspects of chronic disease, has won the highest honor given by Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Lasker, the NEH Distinguished Professor of Sociology in the department of sociology and anthropology, is one of four alumni this year to receive the Centennial Medal. The award, first given in 1989 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the school’s founding, honors alumni who have made significant contributions to society in the discipline that they studied at Harvard.

In the award citation in Harvard Magazine, Lasker was praised “for never forgetting the human impact of your scholarly research, and for selflessly supporting your students and colleagues in their academic, professional, and personal development.”

Lasker who earned a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1976, joined Lehigh’s faculty in 1981. She is the coauthor of four books and more than 70 journal articles.

“It is rare in academia for an eminent scholar to be as personally cherished—by undergraduates, graduate students and faculty at all levels—as is Judith Lasker,” said the Harvard Magazine citation. “But then, Lasker has always combined the personal and the intellectual, viewing her academic work as intimately connected to the real world and to the emotional lives of those around her.”

The “complete professor”

“Judy is the complete professor,” said James McIntosh, professor of sociology at Lehigh. “She is an excellent teacher-professor in the best sense of the phrase. She determinedly pursues answers to serious questions in her research, and at the same time brings numbers of students into the tent of the scholarly process.”

Lasker’s first book, When Pregnancy Fails: Families Coping with Miscarriage, Ectopic Pregnancy, Stillbirth, and Infant Death, is perhaps her most influential. The book was co-written with Susan Borg and published in 1981 by Beacon Press. A revised version was published by Bantam Books in 1988.

After writing the book, said Harvard Magazine, Lasker worked with Lori Toedter and Louise Potvin to develop “a widely used quantitative tool for assessing the effects of pregnancy loss—the Perinatal Grief Scale—and she conducted domestic and international studies that strengthened the literature on grief and bereavement.”

In 1987, Lasker and Borg followed up with In Search of Parenthood: Coping with Infertility and High Tech Conception, which was also published by Beacon Press. This book, said Harvard Magazine, was “part of a body of work exploring the social and ethical dimensions of new reproductive technology.”

Lasker’s other books include Equal Time, Equal Value: Community Currencies and Time Banking in the USA (2012), a collaboration with Ed Collom and Corrine Kyriacou.

Lasker is currently at work on a fifth book, Giving Back?: Short-Term International Volunteer Programs in Health, which will examine the effectiveness of short-term service stints in overseas healthcare settings.

“Judith Lasker has consistently been using a rich sociological imagination,” said Barbara Katz Rothman, professor of sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. “She connects troubles to issues, individual concerns to larger social problems—and engages with the search for solutions. Her work truly is a contribution to both our scholarship and our humanity.”

Ellen Sogolow, a retired research scientist from the Centers for Disease Control who is Lasker’s friend and coauthor, said Lasker’s legacy as a teacher and researcher “will span generations.

“From her personal strength, her reach already is vast, in ways that perhaps science does not measure,” said Sogolow.

“Dr. Judith Lasker shines a bright light on how very much one person can accomplish with one lifetime.”

Story by Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Wednesday, June 04, 2014

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