Press Release

Saint Mary's College Announces 2009 Alumna Achievement Award Recipient


Gwen O’Brien
Director of Media Relations
Saint Mary’s College
(574) 284-4579

May 27, 2009 (Notre Dame, Ind.)—The Alumna Achievement Award, awarded annually by the Alumnae Association of Saint Mary's College, honors an alumna who is outstanding in her personal and professional accomplishments and a recognized leader in her field of endeavor. The honoree exemplifies the standards, ideals, and mission of the College in its commitment to the value of a Christian liberal arts education. This year the award is given to Dr. Joan Richtsmeier '77 of State College, Penn. The award ceremony will take place at the Reunion Banquet on Saturday, June 6 as part of Reunion Weekend, June 4-7.

Richtsmeier majored in sociology at Saint Mary’s and went on to graduate school in anthropology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she received her master’s degree.  She then attended Northwestern University for PhD studies in anthropology.  While at Northwestern, she took a course in osteology and became fascinated with the study of the skeleton, especially the skull.  She began working as a research assistant for the Center for Craniofacial Anomalies at the University of Illinois where she looked at X-rays of patients born with skull and face deformities. In 1986 Richtsmeier joined the faculty of the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore where she continued her research in craniofacial morphology and growth.

In August 1994 Richtsmeier’s personal and professional lives intersected when her third child, Faith, was born prematurely and was soon diagnosed with sagittal synostosis, a craniofacial anomaly. It was a condition Richtsmeier had studied and even written about, but her background and research could not answer her questions about what causes sagittal synostosis. Shortly after the diagnosis, she sought and received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) fellowship to learn a science that could help her find answers—molecular biology and genetics.

Richtsmeier is currently an anthropology professor at Pennsylvania State University where she is respected by both her colleagues and students. Members of her lab at Penn State say she “maintains a lab environment that is both productive and academically stimulating.” She leads students in their projects and encourages them to follow their own interests in the lab.  

If you would like to interview someone regarding this award, please contact Gwen O’Brien, director of media relations at Saint Mary's College.

About Saint Mary’s College: Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Ind., is a four-year, Catholic, women’s institution offering bachelor’s degrees in more than 30 major areas of study. The College has six nationally accredited academic programs: social work, art, music, teacher education, chemistry and nursing. Saint Mary's College ranks among the nation's top liberal arts colleges in U.S. News & World Report's 2009 annual survey. Founded in 1844, Saint Mary’s is a pioneer in the education of women, and is sponsored by the Sisters of the Holy Cross.