1 Innovation. We will be an innovative and agile organization; to this end, we will rely on strategic, collaborative approaches to initiate and support pioneering programs that break new ground and challenge the status quo.
2 Focus. We will focus our efforts on enduring areas of domestic and global concern; our goals especially include advancing the frontiers of biomedical science, leadership and education. We will respond to short-term societal needs and undertake programs consistent with the mission and vision of the Foundation.
3 Lasting Outcomes. We seek to advance new ideas and discoveries that address the root causes of challenging problems; we will define success by objectives linked to a significantly positive and lasting impact on individuals and the broader society.
4 Collaboration. We will work with and convene leaders to develop and implement strategies that support innovation and bring new ideas and information to targeted groups; new areas of collaboration will evolve as we continually reevaluate human needs.
5 Core Values. We will bring to our work and seek in our relationships with others a commitment to, and belief in, the positive power of courage, hope, passion, and shared aspirations; we are committed to translate these core values into effective action.
6 Leadership. To be a leader and a model both in our programs and in our operations, we will embrace appropriate levels of risk; we will foster an entrepreneurial spirit informed by inquisitiveness, due diligence, creativity, and responsible stewardship of our assets.
7 Learning. We will engage in a collegial process of continuous learning, hard work and reassessment; we recognize that these qualities are essential to achievement of our mission.
The Foundation was established in 1953 and is based in Princeton, New Jersey. Its financial assets were built over time through the generosity of members of the Allen and Cassel families, including Charles Allen, Jr., Rita Allen Cassel, Milton Cassel and Lucette Cassel.
The Rita Allen Foundation Scholars program selected its first class of Scholars in 1976 as one of the first philanthropic fellowship programs of its kind for early-career biomedical scholars. The program grew out of a deep interest in improving human health, guided by input from leaders in biomedical research.
With the Scholars program, the Foundation began what would become its defining approach to philanthropy: investing in the earliest stages of big ideas that have the power to be transformative.
New resources allowed the Foundation to hire its first chief executive officer, Elizabeth Good Christopherson, and open its first office in 2009. In the years that followed, with the addition of new Board members and a strategic outlook, the Foundation continued to build on the Scholars program while expanding its venture philanthropy work to invest in innovative solutions to strengthen our democracy through civic literacy and engagement. Today, the intersection of science and democratic engagement is a promising new horizon—science requires robust public support to thrive, and it is in turn an essential element of solutions across society.
The Board of Directors of the Rita Allen Foundation is responsible for governing, advising and overseeing our policy, direction and resources. Directors assist with the leadership and general promotion of the Foundation to support our mission and needs, as well as the work of our Scholars and other grant recipients. Since 2009, the Rita Allen Foundation Board has welcomed new members with diverse backgrounds and professional experiences.
- William F. Gadsden Chair
- Elizabeth Good Christopherson President and Chief Executive Officer
- Andrew K. Golden
- Sivan Hong
- Landon Y. Jones
- The Honorable Thomas H. Kean
- Carl F. Nathan, M.D.
- Rodney D. Priestley, Ph.D.
- Samuel S.-H. Wang, Ph.D.
- Emeritus Members
- Robert E. Campbell
- Robbert Dijkgraaf, Ph.D.
- Moore Gates, Jr.
- Aristides Georgantas
- Henry H. Hitch
- Geneva Overholser
The Scientific Advisory Committee of the Rita Allen Foundation consists of leading scientists and clinicians from outstanding research institutions. Drawing on their collective experiences in medical discovery and development, members of the Committee provide guidance for the Rita Allen Foundation Scholars program, which awards multiyear grants to early-career scientists conducting basic biomedical research in cancer, immunology, neuroscience and pain.
- Emeritus Members
- Douglas T. Fearon, M.D.
- Maurice S. Fox, Ph.D.
- Irving H. Goldberg, M.D., Ph.D.
- Howard H. Hiatt, M.D.
- Thomas M. Jessell, Ph.D.
- Arnold J. Levine, Ph.D.
- Joan A. Steitz, Ph.D.
- Torsten N. Wiesel, M.D.
Dr. Foley is Attending Neurologist Emeritus in the Pain and Palliative Care Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York City and Professor Emeritus of Neurology, Neuroscience and Clinical Pharmacology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. Dr. Foley was elected to the National Academy of Medicine for her clinical research expertise in opioid pharmacology and her national and international efforts in the treatment of patients with cancer pain. She was recognized as a Rita Allen Scholar in 1978. Dr. Foley remains active in numerous efforts to advance pain research and palliative care nationally and internationally for patients with life-limiting diseases.
Dr. Dymecki received her B.S.E. and M.S.E. from the University of Pennsylvania, and her M.D. and Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. After doctoral study, Dr. Dymecki began independent work as a Helen Hay Whitney Fellow and John Merck Scholar at the Carnegie Institution of Washington where she developed genetic approaches to study the deployment and function of cell populations across development, in particular in the mammalian nervous system. Dr. Dymecki joined Harvard Medical School in 1998 and is presently a professor in the Department of Genetics. Her lab continues to pioneer transgenic tools to subtype neurons and elucidate their origin, function, and connectivity map, focused on the serotonergic neuronal system in the brain. Dr. Dymecki’s lab has identified specialized subtypes of such neurons together with their network architecture and controlling roles in specific behaviors and physiology. Findings provide new ways to conceptualize bipolar disorder, depression, sleep apnea, and the sudden infant death syndrome, as examples. Her honors include the HMS Morgan-Zinsser Teaching Faculty Fellowship Award, the Gulf Oil Outstanding Achievement in Biomedical Science Award, the Faculty Leadership Award for outstanding service leading the Ph.D. Program in Biological and Biomedical Sciences at HMS, the A. Clifford Barger Award for Excellence in Mentoring, and other mentoring awards from the HMS community. Dr. Dymecki was selected as a Rita Allen Scholar in 1999. She is an advisor to the Rita Allen Foundation and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Dr. Gilbert received his M.D. and Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School, where he held an academic appointment until he joined The Rockefeller University in 1983 as an assistant professor; he is now head of the Laboratory of Neurobiology at Rockefeller. Dr. Gilbert received the Rita Allen Scholar award in 1986 and subsequently became associate professor and professor at Rockefeller. In 2004, he was named Arthur and Janet Ross Professor. A member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he has received numerous awards, including the W. Alden Spencer Award from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Edward M. Scolnick Prize in Neuroscience from the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT.
Dr. Hannon is Senior Group Leader of the CRUK Cambridge Institute, Professor of Molecular Cancer Biology, and a Wellcome Trust Investigator at the University of Cambridge. He is a former Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, an Associate Core Member and Director of Cancer Genomics at the New York Genome Center, and an Adjunct Professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Dr. Hannon obtained a B.A. in biochemistry from Case Western Reserve University and a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the same institution. His work focuses on the roles of small RNAs, the biology of cancer cells, and the mammalian genome as revealed through next-generation sequencing. Dr. Hannon received the 2007 National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology and the 2007 Paul Marks Prize for Cancer Research from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Prior to these achievements, he was named a Rita Allen Scholar in 2000. Dr. Hannon was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in May 2012.
Dr. Johnston is a Professor of Genetics and Development at Columbia University. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Washington Medical Center. Her lab uses Drosophilato study the dynamics of tissue growth and size control in development, during regeneration, and in models of cancer, with a particular emphasis on the role of the Myc oncogene in cooperative and competitive cell behavior. She has been a Scholar of the V Foundation for Cancer Research, an American Cancer Society Research Scholar awardee, and a recipient of the Harold and Golden Lamport Award for Excellence in Basic Science. Dr. Johnston was named a Rita Allen Scholar in 2004. She was elected President of the U.S. National Drosophila Board of Directors for 2016-17 and serves on the editorial advisory board for the journal Development.
Dr. Li is a Member of the Immunology Program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Professor at Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences. He received a B.S. in biochemistry from Fudan University in Shanghai, China and an M.S. in molecular biology from the Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry. After receiving a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from Columbia University, he trained as a postdoctoral research fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Richard Flavell at Yale University. Dr. Li’s honors include a 2008 Rita Allen Scholar award, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Faculty Scholar award, Louise and Allston Boyer Investigator Award for Basic Research, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Scholar award, an American Cancer Society Scholar award, and the 2016 American Association of Immunologists (AAI)-BD Bioscience Investigator Award.
Dr. Macklis is the Max and Anne Wien Professor of Life Sciences in the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, and the Center for Brain Science, at Harvard University. He is also Professor of Neurology and of Neurosurgery at Harvard Medical School. He is on the Executive Committee and was the founding Program Head of the Neuroscience Program at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and previously founding Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital-Harvard Medical School Center for Nervous System Repair. Dr. Macklis graduated from MIT, Harvard Medical School, and MIT graduate school in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. In 1991 he was recognized as a Rita Allen Scholar. In 2015 he was named an Allen Distinguished Investigator by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, and was awarded the Cajal-Krieg Cortical Discoverer Award.
Dr. Nathan is the R.A. Rees Pritchett Professor and Chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College. He co-chairs the Program in Immunology and Microbial Pathogenesis at Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, he trained in internal medicine and oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital, the National Cancer Institute and Yale before joining the faculty of The Rockefeller University. Dr. Nathan is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1984 he received the Rita Allen Scholar award and in 2009 accepted the Robert Koch Award for his research on mechanisms of defense against bacterial pathogens. In 2013, Dr. Nathan received the Anthony Cerami Award in Translational Medicine.
- Elizabeth Good Christopherson President and Chief Executive Officer
- Kate Belyi Program and Knowledge
- Randi Chmielewski Strategic Engagement
- Tamika Davis Program Administration
- Eliza Fisher Collaboration Project Management
- Nancy Kovacevich Grants Administration
- Janie Ferguson Scurti Executive Office Assistant
- Kari Williams Finance and Treasurer