Ok, so maybe that headline is a little ridiculous.
Nonetheless, I’m a huge fan of the MacArthur Foundation “genius grants” and I particularly love it when young people recieve them. In fact, young people recieve these grants all the time (see the past fellows list), but this year I couldn’t help but wonder what Beth (Beth Shapiro) and Becky’s (Rebecca Onie) friends must have thought about their friend recieving this honor. Beth is 33 and Rebecca is 32. I can just see Beth’s friends from the University of Georgia (where she graduated as an undergrad in 1999) posting something like this OMG statement on Facebook. Sure, she left Georgia as a Rhodes Scholar, but still, it wasn’t that long ago.
Per their website, the MacArthur Foundation awards their unrestricted $500,000 fellowships to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” The basic idea is that the foundation quietly identifies these extraordinary people (see the mysterious identification process) and makes an ‘investment’ in them to pursue whatever they want with ‘no strings attached.’ The fellowships pay out the 500k fellowship money in 100k installments for 5 years, plus they cover other things like health insurance, etc. to really give their fellows a chance to pursue whatever they want. Most keep doing what they have already been doing, some drop everything and try something new. For a country built on the shoulders of very creative people and innovations, this program seems like a fantastic way to push forward America’s creative spirit into the next millenium very strategically.
As for Beth and Becky, they are each involved with some pretty cool stuff. Beth’s work focuses on the use of biostatistics to understand population dynamics in recently extinct or endangered species. She worked with some of the best people in the world at the University of Oxford, and has done interesting work on species as diverse as the dodo bird and T-Rex. Rebecca was recognized for her work with Project Health, an organization that pairs college kids with hospitals and health clinics to meet the unmet needs of the poor and sick. The work evolved out of her experience as a sophomore at Harvard, and now she is the CEO of the organization leading its national and international expansion. Their goal is to better reach out to those in poverty to overcome the obstacles that prevent people from getting decent health care.