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Profile: icipe DG, CEO recipient of 2022 prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor

Dr Segenet Kelemu. Picture:

Addis Abeba -International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) Director General & Chief Executive Officer, Dr Segenet Kelemu, is the 2022 International Recipient of the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

The medals, which were established in 1986 by the Ellis Island Honors Society (EIHS), are among the United States most renowned awards. They are officially recognized by the US Senate and House of Representatives, and all the recipients are listed in the Congressional Records; the official record of the proceedings and debates of the US Congress.

The medals are aptly named after Ellis Island, located in Upper New York Bay, which served as the US principal immigration reception center (1892–1954). Thus, the island remains an enduring symbol of the immigrant roots and diversity that characterizes the United States.

The Ellis Island Medals of Honor are awarded to individuals “who have made it their mission to share with those less fortunate, their wealth of knowledge, indomitable courage, boundless compassion, unique talents and selfless generosity. They do so while acknowledging their debt to their ethnic heritage as they uphold the ideals and spirit of America.”

“My journey to becoming a scientist started in rural Ethiopia, where I was inspired by the possibility of changing the lives of rural communities through science and agriculture”

Dr Segenet Kelemu

Since 2003, the EIHS also awards one International Medal of Honor for special achievements and contributions to the global community, with Dr Segent being the sole recipient in 2022.

“It is a great privilege to receive this recognition and to be associated with its symbolism. My journey to becoming a scientist started in rural Ethiopia, where I was inspired by the possibility of changing the lives of rural communities through science and agriculture,” Dr Segenet remarked, adding “the opportunity to study in the United States helped to transform this dream into reality, setting me up for an international career as a molecular plant pathologist and the rise to scientific leadership.”

Dr Segenet Kelemu

Born in Finote Selam, Ethiopia, Dr Segenet Kelemu obtained a Bachelors degree from Addis Abeba University, Ethiopia, in 1979, before proceeding to the US for an MSc at Montana State University, in 1985; and a PhD in molecular plant pathology from Kansas State University, in 1989. From 1989 to 1992, she was a postdoctoral research scientist at Cornell University. She assumed leadership of icipe in 2013, becoming the first woman and the second African to head the institution – Africa’s only research institution dedicated to research on insects and other arthropods. She took the helm of icipe after a highly prolific scientific tenure (1992–2007) at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia; as the Director of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub at the International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI Hub), from 2007 to 2012; and as Vice-President of Programs at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), from 2012 – 2013.  

Dr Segenet joins a list of noteworthy past recipients of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor including: several United States Presidents, among them Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Joe Biden; Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, Madeline Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton; American activist and civil rights movement icon, Rosa Parks; Nobel Prize laureates Elie Wiesel and Malala Yousufzai; artistes including singer and actor Frank Sinatra, film director Martin Scorsese, actress Rita Moreno and opera singer Renée Fleming; celebrated sports figure Muhammad Ali; Albert II, Prince of Monaco; industry leaders, including former Apple CEO John Sculley; former Google Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt; Mastercard Executive Chairman, Ajay Banga; former IBM CEO Ginni Rometty; former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi; and Prof. Bill Hansson, Director and Scientific Member, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology and former Chair of the Governing Council of icipe. Dispatch

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