- Honorary Degree (2019)
- Doctor of Science
- IU Bloomington Graduate Commencement
- Bloomington, Indiana
- Presenter: Michael A. McRobbie
Colwell is regarded as one of the early pioneering women in science having earned an undergraduate degree in bacteriology and master's degree in genetics from Purdue University, and a Ph.D. in oceanography from the University of Washington. Her research has focused on global infectious diseases, water, and health. In collaboration with the Safe Water Network, she developed an international network to address emerging issues surrounding infectious diseases and water, including making safe drinking water available in both the developed and developing world. Colwell's major contributions to biomedical science, scientific policy, and administration have spanned nearly six decades.
While at the University of Maryland, she served as president of the Biotechnology Institute and professor of microbiology and biotechnology, and was a member of the National Science Board from 1984 to 1990. Colwell has been recognized by a wide range of domestic and international organizations including: 63 honorary degrees from institutions of higher education; the 2005 Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, bestowed by the Emperor of Japan; the 2006 National Medal of Science, awarded by U.S. President George W. Bush; and the 2010 Stockholm Water prize, awarded by the King of Sweden. In recognition of her work in the polar regions, the U.S. Colwell Massif research site in Antarctica is named in her honor.
As a recognized leader in science, Cromwell served as the eleventh director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) from 1998 to 2004, and had the distinction of being the first woman to hold that position. As NSF director her initiatives included enhancing K - 12 and college-level science, mathematics, and engineering education and increasing participation of underrepresented groups in science and engineering professions. Colwell also played a major role in assessing the extent of discrimination and harassment in the sciences, especially with respect to gender.
Colwell has authored or co-authored 19 books and more than 800 other scientific publications, and produced the award-winning film Invisible Seas. Colwell has previously served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, and is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of Canada, the Royal Irish Academy, the Bangladesh Academy of Science, the Indian Academy of Science.
In 2019, Indiana University awarded Rita R. Colwell with an Honorary Doctor of Science at its spring graduate commencement ceremony in Bloomington, Indiana for her outstanding achievement in the sciences.