Alumnae Achievement Awards

Eva Coifman Sommaripa ’63 and C. Tracy Schornagel Orleans ’70

An environmentalist and pioneer of the organic and local food movements. A behavioral scientist and public-health advocate. The recipients of the 2014 Alumnae Achievement Awards, Wellesley’s highest honor, share insights and discuss the twists and turns of their lives.

Alumnae Achievement Awards

In the Garden of Eva

In the Garden of Eva

Eva Coifman Sommaripa ’63

Richard Howard

Eva Coifman Sommaripa ’63

Richard Howard

My mother was a very good cook and loved fresh-from-the-garden things, so as a kid I had the opportunity to have really good cooking from scratch. In the 1960s, like Julie & Julia, I went through the second edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The ideas of taste, flavor, and all the subtleties and variations that are possible in that world began to evolve for me. It was like discovering something that you really love, discovering that there’s some internal attraction. Then it snowballed. So this all developed from the point of view that I loved good food, and what good food meant to me was becoming more established.

When I was living in Cambridge in the 1970s, coming out here [to South Dartmouth, Mass.] on the weekends and in the summer, I decided I might as well pay for my gas by bringing my extra rosemary, which you always have if you have any. They couldn’t get enough fresh herbs in Cambridge in those days. And some of the chefs I am still supplying now were my customers in those early days.

Soon on, I had two little children who, as toddlers, loved to go into the garden and put things in their mouths. Having that be a danger area for them was simply not acceptable. Those were also the years of Rachel Carson and her heroic struggles. And I’d always had an interest in natural history, so the idea that you would kill all these wonderful insects that were helping in the garden if you put poison out there was completely anathema.

I was also aware of the inequalities of this world and how some people really don’t have enough to eat. I became aware of the enormous amounts of waste, especially in this country, and got interested in how to diminish that. Eating all parts of a plant was part of that. Something like 40 percent of the food produced on farms is actually wasted. Garbage. And at the same time people are going hungry. I find that just appalling. So I’ve made it a mission in my life to reduce waste and educate other people in how to do that.

You’ll read recipe books that say, “discard the stem,” often about kale or collards. But once you start growing these things, you see them in all different stages of their lives and seasons and weather conditions. And there’s infinite variation, even within a single plant. Part of the year they might not be palatable, but part of the year they’re great. Plus, most of the weight is in the stem, so whatever you pay per pound at the grocery store, half of that cost and all of those nutrients are now in the garbage. And you have to pay to have the trash hauled away. I used to do the deliveries to the restaurants myself and was appalled at the perfectly good food I would find in the dumpsters. Since then, a lot has been done in that world, with Food for Free pickups, and there’s a lot more composting going on.

And composting is fascinating. That you can make fabulous soil out of trash is just amazing. One of my favorite expressions is: “Throw it away. So where’s ‘away’?” Really, everything should be reused or recycled in some way or another, and it might as well be in a way that benefits human populations.

I consider this a constant discovery journey. And it’s part of my being—growing edible plants. The lovely thing is that you get constant rewards: It looks beautiful out there, it smells marvelous, and you get to eat it every day. And it’s fun to turn people on to these delights. My favorite example is how I’d never had arugula until I was living down here, and a neighbor who spent a lot of time in Greece and Italy said, “You have to try this stuff!” And I thought it was horrible. It tasted like skunk smells. But I soon got over that, and now I hardly find anyone who doesn’t like it anymore. The way tastes change is a really interesting phenomenon.

To me, one of the revelations of studying anthropology at Wellesley was learning that nothing is the way it’s got to be. My wonderful teacher, Anne-Marie Shimony, would draw a half circle, a dial that could represent any aspect of human behavior. What is celebrated at one end will be taboo at the other end, and there’s everything in between. Any problem that seems to be limiting or insolvable, you can always find another way of doing it. It’s a real breakthrough, to do things differently. In the natural world, there are infinite ways of solving problems, of communicating, delivering nutrients, or dealing with weather extremes. And the closer you watch plants, the more you learn from them, which you can’t help doing when you’re growing them. And that to me is the bottom-line thrill of what used to be called gardening.

In Short

  • Owner of Eva’s Garden in Dartmouth, Mass., which grows more than 200 varieties of culinary herbs, specialty greens, and edible flowers 
  • Since the 1970s, an ambassador and educator for many of New England’s most renowned chefs on the virtues of foraged foods, delicious weeds, and the wisdom of using the whole plant
  • A pioneer of the organic and the locavore movements, whose life and business reflect her values of community and conservation
  • Subject of Wild Flavors: One Chef’s Transformative Year Cooking From Eva’s Farm, by Didi Emmons

Jennifer McFarland Flint is the editor of Concord Academy Magazine and a former farmhand.


The Power of Prevention

The Power of Prevention

C. Tracy Schornagel Orleans ’70

Richard Howard

C. Tracy Schornagel Orleans ’70

Richard Howard

I came to Wellesley with the lifelong dream of becoming a doctor. I was motivated partly by knowing how my mother’s life and education were limited by a positive tuberculosis skin test soon after she enrolled as a scholarship student at the University of Chicago. She was diagnosed as noncontagious. But TB was then the nation’s leading cause of death, and antibiotic treatments hadn’t yet been developed. So she was barred from returning to college. Two years later, she was married, and then my brother and I arrived. Working many jobs throughout our childhood as a self-taught engineer, she was determined that her children would get a college education—not at all the norm in our South Side Chicago neighborhood. And she assured me that I could accomplish whatever I dreamed, even becoming a doctor, if I worked hard and did well in school.

When it came time for college, I applied to 14 schools, describing my dream of a career in medicine and seeking scholarship support because my family couldn’t help with college costs. I hadn’t heard of Wellesley, but my principal recommended it, and the catalog was amazing, with a strong premed curriculum. So Wellesley was my first choice. I’ll never forget the joy of opening the letter telling me I’d been admitted and with a full scholarship! It was at Wellesley, with vital support from faculty and friends, that I gained the skills, passion, and confidence needed for the work I’ve done throughout my career.

I’d completed half of my premed requirements before I took an intro psychology course that swept me off my feet—and made me wonder whether psychology was more my destiny than medicine. But I worried that I might be letting Wellesley down. After months of soul-searching, I met with our dean, Joan Melvin, who explained that Wellesley’s goal was exactly to help me find my passion—whatever it was. So I became a psychology major—with clinical psychology as my goal—and never looked back. This first act of reinvention paved the way for the many others that would follow.

After a traditional Ph.D. program, I did my internship at Duke Medical Center, where, again, I fell in love with something outside the mold of what I thought I would be. I went on to join the medical psychology faculty there, where I had the lucky task, with three distinguished colleagues, of reviewing the literature on behavioral health risks—tobacco, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, alcohol use—for a high-profile national Institute of Medicine report. I found tons of evidence on tobacco harms, but none on proven quitting methods. And I was a smoker! I promptly quit—with great difficulty—and turned to developing effective treatments.

I started with a bedside quit-smoking consultation service at Duke, which included post-discharge counseling calls. A study of this service and a large follow-up study found that these follow-up calls significantly improved quit rates. The result was the Free & Clear “quit-line,” now available at no cost to smokers in 25 states who dial 1-800-QUIT NOW. It’s reached more than 2.5 million smokers.

I was lucky, too, to join the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation team working to identify and spread policy changes that would prevent youth smoking and help addicted users quit—including tobacco taxes, cigarette ad bans, wider treatment access, clean indoor air laws, antismoking media campaigns. Much of this work was led by psychologists—reinventing ourselves as public-health leaders. This past January, we celebrated the Surgeon General’s Report that smoking rates had dropped from 42 percent to 18 percent since 1964, with teen rates at the lowest levels ever.

Now we’re applying what we learned from tobacco about the power of policy solutions to the problem of childhood obesity. Our goals are to give every child access to healthy, affordable food and safe places to walk, bike, and play, and to shift the practices of food manufacturers, restaurants, and grocery chains in healthier directions. We’re excited about signs of progress in reducing childhood obesity rates in cities and states across the country and by promising food industry changes.

In Short

  • Founding member and president of the Society of Behavioral Medicine; recipient of its Distinguished Scientist and Distinguished Service awards
  • First behavioral medicine researcher appointed to the US Preventive Services Task Force and Community Preventive Services Task Force
  • Developed the first “proactive” telephone “quit line” for smoking cessation
  • Contributed to the creation of the Chronic Care Model, a method of connecting clinical and community resources in the prevention, treatment, and management of chronic diseases
  • Recipient of the Secretary of Health and Human Services Innovation Award
  • First Distinguished Fellow of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
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