Scientist-Educator Nominated as Alumnae Trustee

Alumnae MattersLila M. Gierasch ’70 is interested in the world. a well-respected scientist, researcher, and university professor with innumerable awards and professional commendations to her name, Gierasch is, according to one colleague, a leader, possessed of excellent judgment, and “at home in any company.”

Those desirable accomplishments, and her experience as department head and director of NIH-sponsored research programs throughout her career, led to her nomination this summer as alumnae trustee of Mount Holyoke by the nomination of Alumnae Trustees/Awards Committee of the Alumnae Association. The fact that she lives in nearby Ashfield and works in Amherst was considered a plus in strengthening local community ties to the board. Election to the five-year term will take place during the association’s annual meeting in May 2008.

Currently distinguished professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and chemistry at the University of Massachusetts, Gierasch in her work seeks to understand the basic physical and chemical underpinnings of biological phenomena. recipient in 2006 of a five-year, $2.5 million Pioneer Award from the National Institutes of Health, she focuses her research on protein formation in cells and how diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and cystic fibrosis develop when mistakes occur in the folding and assembly of proteins.

In her application to the committee, Gierasch recalled that by age nine, she already knew she wanted to attend Mount Holyoke. Her mother, Marian Bookhout Gierasch ’32, and a neighbor were both alums, and women she very much admired. Her appreciation of the opportunities she was afforded at MHC and involvement with MHC faculty and students will make her a valuable member of the board, committee members agree.

Deeply committed to interdisciplinary education, she received her PhD in biophysics from Harvard University in 1975 and went on to teach at Amherst College, the University of Delaware, and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center before joining the faculty at the University of Massachusetts. Her work has been hailed as “technically superior and very imaginative” and for it she received the Frances P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal from the American Chemical Society last year. (She is the fourth Mount Holyoke-affiliated chemist to receive the award; the first was 1902 alumna Emma P. Carr.)

In her spare time Gierasch, who received the Mary Lyon Award in 1985, likes to bike ride, golf, and is a bird-watcher and avid naturalist. For a look at Lila’s presentation to the Women Chemists Committee of the American Chemical Association—and some great pictures of her family—check out


As the association bylaws state: Names of additional candidates may be submitted to the Committee on the Nomination of Alumnae Trustees/Awards provided that the nominations shall be by written petition, signed by at least 100 voting members, no more than 30 percent of whom shall be from the same class or from the same club area, and such written petition is received by the executive director by January 15 of the year of the election. Nominations by petition shall include the written consent of the nominee to serve if elected.


Photo courtesy of University of Massachusetts