After months of anticipation, I was recently given a tour of the new Honors College at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, a towering structure overlooking the Raritan River that is the impressive new home for 530 of some of the most academically gifted first-year students from around the nation. The Honors College complements the honors programs already established at Rutgers–New Brunswick schools, such as those found at the School of Arts and Sciences or the School of Engineering, doubling the number of high-achieving students with access to an honors education.

The Honors College, aside from being the physical residence for these students, will also be a community as they work with, and live among, faculty members, academic advisers, and mentors in a setting that will emphasize interdisciplinary study. English and philosophy majors will share in the discovery of knowledge with students wishing to be tomorrow’s biomedical engineers, sculptors, environmental scientists, or pharmaceutical researchers. After a year of  living in the facility, the students will move on to live in  university or off-campus housing as a new group of stellar students fresh out of high school replace them. In four years, 2,000 of these particularly exceptional students will be  rubbing elbows with other students in lecture halls and laboratories, having an undeniable impact on student academics and research. Who knows, I thought as I left the Honors College: maybe the next great Rutgers researcher to receive international acclaim will come from these precincts.

No sooner had I returned to my office than I received word that Evelyn M. Witkin, a bacterial geneticist and  professor emerita at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology at Rutgers, was awarded the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, considered one of the top honors in  medicine, from the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation. Her 20-year career as a professor and researcher at Rutgers began in 1971 when she arrived at Douglass College and taught in the department of biology for 12 years. She then pursued her research, until her retirement in 1991, at the institute. Witkin shared the award with Stephen J. Elledge  for research, undertaken independently of each other, into “DNA-damage response,” a term to describe how bacteria, yeast, and human cells take a medley of actions to protect their genomes against ongoing threats from the environment as well as the body’s normal biochemical processes that go awry. Within a day of the announcement of the award, she made headlines around the world for her research of genetic mutations in bacteria, which began in the 1940s.

So, the research endeavor continues apace here at Rutgers, culminating in the kind of acclaim that comes with gratifying frequency, whether for yesterday’s discoveries or tomorrow’s.