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Joanne Berger-Sweeney

Neurobiologist and academic administrator Joanne Berger-Sweeney was born in 1958. After graduating from Wellesley College in 1979, she went on to receive her M.P.H. degree in environmental health sciences from the University of California, Berkeley in 1981 and her Ph.D. degree in neurotoxicology from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in 1989.

Following her graduate training, she worked for two years at the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM), a multidisciplinary public health research institution in France. Berger-Sweeney then joined Wellesley College in 1991 as the Allene Lummis Russell Professor in Neuroscience and was named associate dean in 2004. As the associate dean, Joanne Berger-Sweeney oversaw twenty academic departments and programs. Not only was she active in the Minority Mentoring Program at Wellesley College, but she also served as director of the Neurosciences Program and as the director of the Society for Neuroscience’s Minority Neuroscience Fellowship Program. In 2010, Berger-Sweeney was appointed as Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University – the largest school at the university.

Joanne Berger-Sweeney’s research focuses on the neurobiology of learning and memory. She has helped to advance understanding of normal memory and cognitive processes and how these processes malfunction in neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Rett syndrome and Alzheimer's disease. She is a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and has served on numerous national and professional boards and committees. Berger-Sweeney has been a member of the Behavioral Neuroscience Review Panel of the National Science Foundation, a member of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Study Section panel, and a member of the editorial board of Behavioral Neuroscience. She was also treasurer for the Society for Neuroscience.

Her honors include being named a Fellow by the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience, receiving a Lifetime Mentoring Achievement Award from the Society for Neuroscience, and a National Science Foundation Young Investigator award. In 2012, she was elected as a Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Joanne Berger-Sweeney was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 23, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.008

Sex

Female

Interview Date

4/23/2013

Last Name

Berger-Sweeney

Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Eileen

Schools

Morningside High School

Wellesley College

University of California, Berkeley

John Hopkins University Bloomberg School

National Institute of Health (France)

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Joanne

Birth City, State, Country

Los Angeles

HM ID

BER01

Favorite Season

Fall

State

California

Favorite Vacation Destination

Istanbul, Galapagos Islands

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Massachusetts

Interview Description
Birth Date

9/21/1958

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Boston

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Fish

Short Description

Neurobiologist and academic administrator Joanne Berger-Sweeney (1958 - ) is Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University and a Fellow of in the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Employment

California Department of Health

Engineering Science, Inc. (Parsons)

Wellesley College

Tufts University

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Joanne Berger-Sweeney's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her mother's growing up in Atlanta, Georgia and her educational background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her father's educational background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about why her father moved to California

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her family's move to Los Angeles, California

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her parents and her likeness to them

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her brothers

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about growing up in Baldwin Hills and Inglewood, California

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney describes her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in Los Angeles

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her elementary school experience

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about Disneyland's exclusion policy and her participation in the grape protest on behalf of the United Farm Workers

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her the role of her church during the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her mother's advocacy for her education and her emerging interest in science during her middle school years

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her mother's influence and her intellectual development and her early interest in biology and psychology

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about growing up near the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California and her love for the Los Angeles Dodgers

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her experience in Malaysia

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her interest in reading during her high school years

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney reflects on her experience in Malaysia

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her decision to attend Wellesley College

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her mother's influence on her decision to major in psychobiology and her mother's dying of a brain aneurysm

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her experience at Wellesley College

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her experience at the University of California, Berkeley

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her research on wastewater management and toxicology at the University of California, Berkeley

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her disinterest in becoming a doctor and her decision to pursue her graduate studies in neurotoxicology

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her post-graduate jobs

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her decision to pursue her doctoral studies at Johns Hopkins University

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her experience and her research interests at Johns Hopkins University

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her experience in Joseph Coyle's research lab at Johns Hopkins University

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about the mentorship of Joseph Coyle

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her dissertation research, part 1

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her dissertation research, part 2

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her experience in France at the National Institute for Health and Medical Research

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about the distinction between degenerative and developmental disorders, such as Rett Syndrome and Schizophrenia

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about Rett Syndrome

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about the prognosis of Rett Syndrome

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her decision to join the faculty at Wellesley College

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about receiving the Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her research at Wellesley College

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her professional awards and activities

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her transition into academic administration and becoming dean at Tufts University

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her responsibilities as dean and goals for the future of Tufts University

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about balancing her administrative responsibilities with her research duties

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about the Center on Race and Democracy at Tufts University

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her continuing research on developmental disorders and her future administrative aspirations

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her appointment as fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about encouraging young people to pursue careers in science

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about society's value of women

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney reflects on her life choices

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney reflects on her legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 11 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her children

Tape: 7 Story: 12 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney reflects on how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Joanne Berger-Sweeney describes her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$6

DAStory

3$3

DATitle
Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her mother's advocacy for her education and her emerging interest in science during her middle school years
Joanne Berger-Sweeney talks about her decision to join the faculty at Wellesley College
Transcript
Well, where did you go to middle school?$$I went to middle school--by that time, we had moved to Inglewood [California], and I went to Monroe Junior High School. It was a two-year junior high school. That was the system in Inglewood at the time. And when I moved to Inglewood, and the fact that I was so--that I was younger than the average student there, when we moved to Inglewood, they wanted to hold me back a year. And my mother [Arminta Odessa Parks] said, "You must be kidding." So she went and she met with the counselors and they said, "Oh, she's going to have so much trouble, you know, coming from the L.A. School District to Inglewood. That's such a strong school district and she's a young--a year younger." And she said, "Put her in this class. She will not be held back for a year." My mother was--she told me--a relatively mild-mannered person until she had children, until she had to go stand up for her children. And she--it felt like she was in school, you know, almost weekly, kind of telling them, you know, what we needed. She was very, very much an activist, you know, parent. So, they let me in to seventh grade, and I remember, you know, doing well. I was a "B" to, you know, "A, B" student. And it's in middle school that I remember liking science, starting to take science classes and enjoying it. That's when I remember science, around middle school. And I remember people saying, "Oh, you're smart. You're going to be a doctor." You know, in the black neighborhoods that I was growing up in, the smartest people became doctors.$$Right.$$And so, if I was smart, and if I had any kind of talent or ability in math--and I remember kind of enjoying math--everyone just told me from my earliest days, "Oh, obviously, you're going to be a doctor," even though I came from a family of lawyers, and there were many more lawyers in our family; but they just said from the earliest time, "You're going to be a doctor." And I also remember in--at some point in junior high school, I was a part of Drill Team, and Monroe Junior High School is very well known for having very good, you know, Drill Team. And also Inglewood is now known for having very good basketball players. So, you know, some people refer to the fact that in Inglewood you were doing one or two things: balling or banging. So, by the time I was in high school, you were either a member of a gang or probably playing basketball. And back to junior school, I remember, my last name was S, Sweeney, and I sat next to Reggie Theus, who ended up being a Chicago Bull, if I'm not mistaken.$$Yes, he did. I used to watch him every week.$$Yes. And Reggie Theus was very handsome and tall, and I remember sitting next to him in science class, and he would look over at my paper because I was the smart one in the class, and he knew I'd have the right answers. And can you imagine telling Reggie Theus he couldn't look at your paper? I remember I was not willing to do that, and I, you know. So that was--sitting next to me, to my right, alphabetically in junior high school, was Reggie Theus.$$Yeah. Reggie Theus. He played many years for the Bulls.$$Yep.$$I think he's an assistant coach out in Sacramento [California].$$Oh, maybe. And he was like a male model. I mean, he was gorgeous. And he was, you know, he probably doesn't remember me, but I remember him because he became quite famous. And so I remember very specifically being good at science, and people would want to look at, you know, my papers, because I was--I enjoyed it. I was good at it. I thought it was fun.$Alright. Now, in 1991--$$Yes.$$--you joined the faculty at Wellesley--$$At Wellesley College.$$--where you got your bachelor's of science (simultaneous)--$$Correct. Bachelor of Arts. All of the bachelors at Wellesley are bachelor of arts.$$Okay. Alright.$$So they don't have bachelor of sciences. They figure everyone needs broad liberal arts training for life.$$Now, how do you feel about that?$$I completely agree. I am such a strong proponent of liberal arts education. It's not just about getting your first job. It's about a lifetime and the breadth that a liberal arts education brings, there's just nothing like it; nothing comparable.$$Okay. Okay. So, Wellesley (simultaneous)--$$So Wellesley College--$$--faculty. Who's the president (simultaneous)--$$Exactly. Currently it's Kim Bottomly, is the president. She came from Yale University. She's a immunobiologist-immunologist. Before that was Diana Chapman-Walsh, who was a sociologist, had come from Harvard [University] School of Public Health, and before that was Nan [Nannerl Overholser] Keohane, and Nan Keohane is actually the president that hired me. She had been at Stanford University, and after she left Wellesley College, she became the president of Duke University and retired from that position. But Nan Keohane actually called me when I was in Paris [France], so I had come and I'd had an interview, and Wellesley decided that I was their top candidate and I was--I went back to Paris, which is where I was living and doing my post-doc, and the president of Wellesley College called me in Paris and said, "Joanne, I think you would love coming to Wellesley College. I would like to encourage you in any way to come." And, you know, to get the president to the college to call you when you're, you know, kind of a postdoctoral fellow looking for your first job, was pretty exciting. So, thank you, Nan Keohane. (laughs). It was a terrific move. I would have never guessed that I would go back to my undergraduate institution. But I do remember one day when I was riding on an elevator at Johns Hopkins University, and I had worked with someone, a physician, the day before. He'd been on our floor asking questions, and he got on the elevator the next day as if he didn't know me, he'd never seen me before; and I thought, "I don't want to spend my career in a place like this. I want to be someplace where the people know me, I know the people." That as much as I love science, I thought I would probably be happiest in a broader liberal arts setting where I'd have friends in the French department, and the philosophy department, and not just sciences. And while I was at Hopkins [Johns Hopkins University], as much as I enjoyed being there, all of my friends were scientists and science-related. And I didn't want my life to be that way. So I think while I was in graduate school, I said to myself, I think my choice is to go back to a liberal arts institution and not necessarily--as much as I love science, I chose to do my science in a broader college/university setting.