Woman of the Year

The Woman of the Year program at Ursuline Academy began in 1986 as part of the school’s 90th anniversary celebration to recognize and honor outstanding alumnae.

Numerous Ursuline graduates have distinguished themselves in careers as varied as health care, the arts and sciences, education, business, and countless other fields. Just as important to the Ursuline tradition are those alumnae who have lived lives of service to their families, church, and community. All of these achievements are deserving of recognition and are cause for great pride on the part of everyone associated with Ursuline Academy.

Emily Balskus '98

2020 Woman of the Year

The Ursuline Academy Woman of the Year program began in 1986 as part of the school's 90th anniversary celebration to recognize and honor outstanding alumnae. Emily Balskus '98 was recently celebrated as the 2020 Woman of the Year at the Laurel Leadership Recognition Event on November 11th.

Work to solve the problems that interest you most. Listen to your inner compass. Have the determination to chart your own path. Throughout her career, Emily Balskus has clearly worked to follow her own advice to young women pursuing careers. A scientist who studies the human microbiome, she works to understand the chemical reactions that microbes carry out in our gut and one day hopes that this research will help us create drugs that target microbes themselves, not just the resulting diseases they cause.

Emily has been the recipient of numerous prestigious professional awards over the past decade. In 2018, she was recognized by Science News as a member of its SN 10 Class of 2018, early- and mid-career scientists who are breaking new ground. Just this past summer, Emily was awarded the Alan T. Waterman Award, the National Science Foundation's most prestigious prize for scientists under 40 in the United States. The $1M prize will allow her research team to take on higher-risk projects with potentially greater rewards. Emily has shared that, "I hope that by receiving this award I can inspire women and other individuals who are underrepresented in science as well as gain a platform to highlight the challenges we currently face."

Among her other remarkable accomplishments, Emily was the first woman in her field of chemistry to be awarded tenure at Harvard University. It may be surprising to many UA women, but Professor Balskus is often the first female chemistry professor that students have at Harvard! Emily counts herself lucky that, unlike many educational institutions, Ursuline provided many highly intelligent, female science teachers who helped inspire her path. She believes that the high proportion of women scientists at Ursuline helped her and her classmates to see themselves as scientists and to see that having a passion for science wasn't unusual. As a high school student this empowering environment didn't seem out of the ordinary, but Emily suspects that without it, she might not otherwise be on this noteworthy career path.

Over the years, Emily hasn't forgotten the inspiration and courage Ursuline gave her to blaze her own path. She steadfastly supports our alma mater because it gave her "more than just an education [but] the opportunity to be in this environment…surrounded by strong female leaders." With her support, Emily hopes that more young women can continue to have this type of transformative experience.

As a woman of creative vision who is working to improve our world's understanding of the human microbiome, and our ability to harness its power to better treat patients, Emily Balskus '98 is a truly deserving recipient of the 2020 Ursuline Woman of the Year Award. Ursuline is proud of Emily for her significant work in support of humankind and thankful to her for helping other women get the tools to do the same. She is using her voice, values, and vision to create a better world for us all.

Emily's Thank You Speech