Emory President Claire E. Sterk elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Emory Report | April 23, 2019

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A pioneering public health scholar, Claire E. Sterk is the 20th president of Emory and Charles Howard Candler Professor of Public Health. She has served for the past two decades as a social scientist, academic leader and administrator at Emory.

Emory President Claire E. Sterk has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS), one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honorary societies and a leading center for independent policy research. 

Sterk is among more than 200 newly-elected members recognized for achievements in academia, the arts, business, government and public affairs. 

“With the election of these members, the Academy upholds the ideals of research and scholarship, creativity and imagination, intellectual exchange and civil discourse, and the relentless pursuit of knowledge in all its forms,” says David W. Oxtoby, president of the AAAS. “We are pleased to recognize their excellence, celebrate their compelling accomplishments, and invite them to join the Academy and contribute to its work.”

A pioneering public health scholar, Sterk is the 20th president of Emory and the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Public Health. She has served for the past two decades as a social scientist, academic leader and administrator at Emory, serving as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs prior to beginning her role as president in 2016.

Sterk has been recognized as a globally renowned thought leader who has deepened our understanding of social and health disparities; addiction and infectious diseases, specifically HIV/AIDS; community engagement; and the importance of mentoring and empowering women leaders. Her academic publications include three books and more than 125 peer-reviewed articles. Her work is widely cited and has received more than $30 million in external research funding. Professor Kirk Elifson, to whom she is married, is a key research partner; together they have lectured widely at universities around the world.

Both in her role as president and in her previous role as provost, Sterk has emphasized the choices and responsibilities of research universities and their real-world impact. She is a strong advocate for increased access and inclusion, and she is known for championing collaboration and innovation within the academy as well as through global external engagement — including at the local level. 

A native of the Netherlands, Sterk earned her PhD in sociology from Erasmus University in Rotterdam and a doctorandus degree in medical anthropology from the University of Utrecht. She completed her undergraduate education at the Free University in Amsterdam.

The American Academy was founded in 1780 by John Adams, John Hancock and others who believed the new republic should honor exceptionally accomplished individuals and engage them in advancing the public good. The Academy’s dual mission remains essentially the same 239 years later with honorees from increasingly diverse fields and with the work focused on the arts, democracy, education, global affairs and science.

The 2019 class includes poet and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander, former First Lady Michelle Obama, academic leader and former Gov. Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., Cisco Systems CEO Chuck Robbins, journalist James M. Fallows, and actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, among others.

“While the work of this class includes areas never imagined in 1780 — such as cultural studies, cybersecurity, disease ecology, nanotechnology, paleoclimatology and superconductivity — the members of the class of 2019 embody the founders’ vision of cultivating knowledge that advances, in their words, a ‘free, virtuous, and independent people,’” says Nancy C. Andrews, chair of the Board of Directors of the American Academy.

The new class will be inducted at a ceremony in October 2019 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and join the company of Academy members elected before them, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century, Charles Darwin and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 19th, Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King Jr. in the 20th.