Distinguished Alumni Award


MaryFran Sowers 84PhD

2008 Achievement Award

MaryFran Sowers, 84PhD, is an internationally recognized researcher in musculoskeletal disorders who has spent her career pursuing the answers that will bring relief to legions of women suffering from arthritis, osteoporosis, and bone disease.

Indeed, it is largely through her achievements that the University of Michigan—where Sowers has held a professorship in the Department of Epidemiology for 20 years—has achieved an international reputation for the excellence of its women's health programs.

Sowers completed a B.A. degree in nutrition at Emporia State University in 1968 and a M.S. in nutrition from Oklahoma State University in 1973. In 1984, she graduated from the University of Iowa with a Ph.D. in epidemiology, and she spent another two years as a postdoctoral fellow in endocrine and epidemiology.

Before beginning her distinguished career as a professor and researcher in the University of Michigan's School of Public Health, Sowers spent two years as an assistant professor at Cornell University in New York. At Michigan, she also holds appointments with the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Department of Internal Medicine. In 2002, Sowers founded and became director for the UM Center for Integrated Approaches to Complex Diseases.

An expert and groundbreaking researcher in the epidemiology of endocrine function and related disorders in women, Sowers has helped shed light on the physiologic changes associated with various phases of the female life cycle and aging, including the effects of genetic and nutritional factors on bone loss and other problems.

Her field of study is impressive for both its depth and its breadth. Although osteoporosis and bone health are her main focus, Sowers has made significant contributions in the areas of osteoarthritis, nutritional epidemiology, genetic epidemiology, and cardiovascular disease. Further, she is the principal investigator for six National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants that generate more than $11 million for her research projects at the University of Michigan.

A widely published author and gifted teacher, Sowers offers courses on women's health and epidemiology that are sought out by students eager to learn from such an acclaimed expert. She has mentored dozens of doctoral students and investigators across the UM campus on a broad range of topics including environmental health, kinesiology, oncology, obstetrics and gynecology, and sports medicine.

Sowers is dedicated to serving her university, the community, and her profession. Her recent contributions include serving as chair of the UM School of Public Health Advisory Committee on Academic Rank and of the Michigan Statewide Osteoporosis Initiative; providing consulting services to the Federal Trade Commission, the National Arthritis Foundation, and the National Academy of Sciences; serving on the editorial board of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research; co-editing two professional journals; and reviewing grant applications for the NIH.

Sowers has been honored with numerous awards and recognitions, and she was recently appointed as the new John G. Searle Professor of Public Health at the UM. In 2006, the University of Iowa's College of Public Health recognized her outstanding career with a Distinguished Alumni Award.

The University of Iowa is proud to add another Distinguished Alumni Award to this list of honors, in recognition of MaryFran Sowers and her exemplary efforts to improve the state of women's health in the U.S.


About Distinguished Alumni Awards

Since 1963, the University of Iowa has annually recognized accomplished alumni and friends with Distinguished Alumni Awards. Awards are presented in seven categories: Achievement, Service, Hickerson Recognition, Faculty, Staff, Recent Graduate, and Friend of the University.


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The Krause Essay Prize and its $10,000 award is presented annually by a unique panel of judges: UI graduate students. Photo: Tim Schoon/UI Office of Strategic Communication Students in the University of Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program's graduate seminar dug into their weekly reading assignments with particular enthusiasm this past spring?and for good reason. By the end of the semester, they were tasked with selecting the best of the bunch for a prestigious award on behalf of a university known for its literary tradition. This marks the 12th year that nonfiction graduate students served as judges for the newly renamed Krause Essay Prize, a national award presented to an essayist who pushes the boundaries of the genre through experimentation, exploration, and discovery. Thought to be the only national literary honor selected by students, the prize is accompanied by a $10,000 award for the first time this year thanks to a new partnership between the UI Nonfiction Writing Program and the Kyle J. and Sharon Krause Family Foundation. Shawn Wen, winner of the 2018 Krause Essay Prize, is the author of A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause. Her writing has appeared in The New Inquiry, Seneca Review, Iowa Review, White Review, and the anthology City by City: Dispatches from the American Metropolis. This year's Krause Essay Prize recipient is Shawn Wen, a San Francisco-based multimedia artist and the author of A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause (Sarabande Books, 2017), a book-length essay on the life of French mime Marcel Marceau. Wen, whom students selected from a pool of 14 nominees, accepted her award at a ceremony in September in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber. Nicol?s Medina Mora Perez, a third-year MFA student from Mexico City, was among the prize judges in the spring seminar taught by author and Nonfiction Writing Program director John D'Agata (98MFA). Perez said that beyond discussing the merits of the nominated essays each week, class conversations revolved around how they define essay writing and the type of nonfiction they wanted to champion as representatives of the UI. By serving as judges, Perez says, students had the opportunity to read a broad selection of contemporary nonfiction that they may not have otherwise sought out. "By the end of the semester I had a clearer idea of the sort of work that people are publishing today, which includes stuff that I'd like to imitate and stuff that I'd rather not," Perez says. "I guess it's a bit like watching the World Cup with your soccer teammates: You see moves that you think are cool and want to steal for your own gameplay, but you also notice pitfalls that you should learn to avoid." Wen says she's been "over the moon" since learning she was selected as this year's Krause Essay Prize winner. A producer for Youth Radio in Oakland, California, Wen says discovering essay writing "was very much like falling in love" and has long admired the UI's approach to the genre. "When I started writing essays, I felt like all these dusty windows in my brain were opened, letting in light and fresh air," she says. "It's incredibly meaningful to me that my writing has been recognized by this program and its students." D'Agata dreamed up the prize in 2007 as a way to introduce his students to high-caliber essay writing and the many forms it can take. The professor asked colleagues from around the country to recommend their favorite essays from the past year, which he then compiled into a reading list for his seminar. As an added twist, D'Agata noted that submissions could be from any medium?including radio and film?as long as they were "essayistic." To give class discussions a sense of consequence, D'Agata had students evaluate each piece at the end of the semester and select a single award winner. Author Aaron Kunin received the inaugural Essay Prize, as the award was previously known, and it soon became an annual tradition. D'Agata's seminar students spend the semester dissecting the pieces, giving presentations, and writing critiques for the The Essay Review, the Nonfiction Writing Program's national magazine. Over the years, the class has crowned winners as varied as poet?Claudia Rankine, science writer Oliver Sacks, performance artist Sophie Calle, and the producers of Radio Lab. A current group of 14 writers and artists from around the nation serve as the nominating committee, includes luminaries like Roxane Gay, Leslie Jamison (06MFA), and Kiese Laymon. "In the U.S. we do a great job teaching students about the powers and pleasures of reading and writing?poetry and fiction, but not so much with essays," says D'Agata, who in 2016 published an anthology titled The Making of the American Essay. "Essays are often an afterthought in literature classes in America." In 2017, the Kyle J. and Sharon Krause Family Foundation made a $500,000 donation to bolster the endowment of the UI Nonfiction Writing Program?the largest gift in the distinguished program's history. Founded in 1976, the Nonfiction Writing Program, a graduate program within the Department of English, is regularly ranked among the best in the nation and has launched the careers of alumni who have gone on to write for magazines like the New Yorker, Rolling Stone and Harper's. "The Krause Foundation is about giving back and giving forward," says Elliott Krause (14MFA), a Nonfiction Writing Program alumnus who now works at the Wall Street Journal. "Helping fund the Essay Prize is a rare chance to do both. Eleven Krauses and counting have graduated from the University of Iowa; the Krause Essay Prize is a way to both express our gratitude for all Iowa has given us and be a champion for the arts." The support from the Krause family has not only allowed the program to award a cash prize for the first time, but also to invite winners to campus to present their essays and spend time with students and faculty. When Wen visited in late September, she taught a series of master classes for nonfiction students. D'Agata says that the foundation's support further legitimizes the idea of a student-driven award and its importance to the literary world. "It's also helping to bring attention to the entire genre," D'Agata says. "There are a lot of awards out there for works of fiction and poetry, but very few awards for essays. This award is saying, 'essays are awesome.' If you're an essayist, you don't hear that very?often. The Krause Foundation is helping to fix that." Krause Essay Prize Winners The UI Nonfiction Writing Program has awarded a national essay-writing prize annually since 2007. With support from the Kyle J. and Sharon Krause Family Foundation, the award was renamed the Krause Essay Prize this year. For more on the prize, visit krauseessayprize.org. 2018: Shawn Wen, A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause 2017: Peter Middleton and James Spinney, Notes on Blindness 2016: Oliver Sacks, Gratitude 2015: Claudia Rankine, Citizen 2014: Sophie Calle, The Address Book 2013: David Rakoff, Waiting 2012: Lauren Redniss, Radioactive 2011: Judith Schalansky, Atlas of Remote Islands 2010: Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, New Normal? 2009: Mary Ruefle, The Most of It 2008: Joshua Raskin, I Met the Walrus 2007: Aaron Kunin, Secret Architecture

Iowa alumni with shared connections are invited to join an affinity group. Some of these organizations are an extension of student interests, like Alumni Band or Dance Marathon Alumni Group.

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