Dr. William Hillis Honored With Cornelia Marschall Smith Professor of the Year Award

  • News Photo 4703
    Dr. William Hillis and Dr. James Bennighof
  • News Photo 4704
    Argye and William Hillis with Dr. James Bennighof
May 8, 2009

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Dr. William D. Hillis, who serves as The Cornelia Marschall Smith Distinguished Professor of Biology at Baylor University, has been honored with another distinction named for the revered professor: the Cornelia Marschall Smith Professor of the Year Award, presented during the annual Honors Convocation held April 22 at Baylor.

"It is certainly considered by me the honor of a lifetime, because I knew and loved Cornelia Marschall Smith," Hillis said. "She was the professor responsible not only for me going to medical school but to Johns Hopkins. I held her as a real treasure throughout her life and my 25 years back at Baylor. In her later years when her physical health failed, I would do things for her, such as take her to the symphony. She always remained so alert and mentally capable. She was challenging to the very end, so this prize named in honor of Dr. Smith means a lot to me."

The annual award is presented to a Baylor faculty member who makes a superlative contribution to the learning environment at Baylor. As this year's recipient, Hillis will receive $20,000 and will present a public lecture in the fall on an academic topic of his choosing.

The award is based on:

    Teaching, which is judged to be of the highest order of intellectual acumen and pedagogical effectiveness,

    Research, which is recognized as outstanding by the national and international, as well as local, community of scholars, and

    Service, which is regarded as exemplary in building the character of intellectual community at Baylor.

"Dr. Hillis has served Baylor and our broader constituency in a wide variety of capacities, ranging from participating in research that addresses critical global health concerns to two vice-presidencies at Baylor," said Dr. James Bennighof, vice provost for academic affairs and policy and professor of music theory at Baylor. "Comments from the many students and colleagues who nominated him for this award reveal that perhaps his essential contribution has been as a teacher: a teacher in the classroom, a teacher in the varied settings of study-abroad programs and a teacher in the intimate settings of mentoring and vocational advising."

Hillis graduated at the top of his Baylor class in 1953 and went on to earn his M.D. from Johns Hopkins in 1957. Over the years, he held a number of research positions with the U.S. Air Force in Denmark, the Republic of the Congo and at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where he focused on the investigation of human infectious disease epidemics throughout the world. He remained active as a colonel in the Air Force Reserve until 1985, serving in a variety of clinical and hospital positions.

In 1965 he joined the faculty of Johns Hopkins as assistant professor of pathobiology. From 1968-70 he served as a virologist and resident coordinator at the Johns Hopkins Center for Medical Research and Training in Calcutta, India. From 1972-78 he was an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins, and was on staff at The Good Samaritan Hospital and The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore until 1982. He served as director of The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine outpatient clinical research center from 1973-82. In 1978 he was appointed associate professor of medicine, holding that rank until 1982.

Hillis joined the Baylor faculty from Johns Hopkins in 1981 to serve as chair of the biology department. He also served the university as executive vice president from 1985-89 and vice president for student life from 1998. He currently teaches several classes, including vertebrate histology and immunology, among others.

Hillis received Baylor's Outstanding Professor Award in 1985 and is a three-time recipient of Baylor Mortarboard's Distinguished Professor Award. Baylor Student Congress awarded him the organization's Outstanding University Administrator Award in 1994. In 1998, he was named a Distinguished Alumnus by the Baylor Alumni Association. He also is a recipient of the Air Force Legion of Merit.

Bennighof said Hillis's selection as this year's award recipient is particularly meaningful because of Hillis's personal association with Smith, who mentored him during his student days at Baylor. In 1985, Hillis was appointed to the endowed chair bearing Smith's name. In 1994, he was named The Cornelia Marschall Smith Distinguished Professor of Biology.

A 1918 Baylor biology graduate, Dr. Cornelia Marschall Smith earned a master's degree from the University of Chicago in 1925 and her doctorate from Johns Hopkins in 1928. She was a professor of biology at Baylor from 1940-67, chair of the biology department from 1943-67, and director of Strecker Museum from 1943-67. She retired in 1967, but maintained an office in Armstrong Browning Library to assist charitable causes. In 1980, Baylor honored Smith with an endowed chair known as the Cornelia Marschall Smith Professorship in Biology. She was widely celebrated among her colleagues, students and alumni for fine teaching, generous mentoring and her many interdisciplinary interests. She was a lively and continuing contributor to the Baylor intellectual community until her death on Aug. 27, 1997, at the age of 101.

Previous recipients of the award include Dr. D. Thomas Hanks Jr., professor of English and Master Teacher; Dr. Robert M. Baird, professor of philosophy and Master Teacher; Dr. Kevin G. Pinney, professor of chemistry; Dr. Ann E. Rushing, professor and associate chair of biology; and former Baylor history professor Dr. Wallace L. Daniel Jr., who now serves as provost at Mercer University.

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