On the left, color photo of a man smiling. On the right, a black-and-white yearbook photo of a woman from 1954.
Nobel laureate William G. Kaelin Jr., MD, established an award in honor of his mother, Nancy (Horn) Kaelin ’54

Nobel laureate William G. Kaelin Jr., MD, credits his mother, math major Nancy (Horn) Kaelin ’54, for her love and support. Now an award in her honor shines a light on this “hidden figure” and ensures her memory and legacy will continue.

Growing up, William G. Kaelin Jr., MD, remembers how devoted his mother, Nancy (Horn) Kaelin, ’54, was to him and his four younger siblings—how she would load them into the family’s Oldsmobile station wagon and chauffeur them to their various childhood activities, prepare meals, get them off to school, check their homework, and encourage them to do their best.

“She did it all with grace,” Dr. Kaelin said. “She was kind and intelligent—a wonderfully devoted mother. She had such a positive early impact on my education, my career and my life.”

But before becoming an at-home mother, Nancy was a student at Adelphi who majored in math and then worked as an actuary at the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.

Dr. Kaelin gives his mother credit for his “math genes and math brain.” It is quite a gift. Dr. Kaelin is currently the Sidney Farber Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, a position held by a distinguished physician-scientist who has made significant contributions to the field of medicine and demonstrates leadership and excellence in research, teaching and clinical care. He’s also a top researcher at the world-renowned Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. And in 2019 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contributions to research that advances the understanding of how to treat diseases such as cancer.

Nancy Kaelin gave her son more than good genes—she gave him the kind of support and confidence the best mothers are known for. Dr. Kaelin describes how, during his junior year in high school, “I found a pamphlet that described an eight-week National Science Foundation Student Science Training Program in Mathematics and Computer Science held at Florida Atlantic University for 32 ‘gifted’ high school students. I applied and was accepted. My father was skeptical about my attending the program, but my mother stood up for me and said I should go. I did go, and I found that I could hold my own in college-level courses with the brightest students I had ever met. It was the single most important turning point in my academic life.”

Sharing a Mother’s Gifts With Tomorrow’s Mathematicians

Dr. Kaelin said his mother “was very proud of her Adelphi affiliation.” An idea came to him when he was looking over her yearbook photos: to commemorate her—and her love for math and Adelphi—by creating a cash prize that would be awarded each year to Adelphi’s top graduating math student. His endowment of $100,000 has been doubled by the Adelphi University Board of Trustees M2 Endowment Match campaign.

Dr. Kaelin hopes to meet the recipient and their family when the first prize is given in 2025. He remembers how much the awards he received as a student meant to him.

“I received one when graduating from high school and another—for the best math student—when I received my undergraduate degree from Duke University,” he said. “The money was nominal, but even a little means a lot, so I decided to pay it forward. I hope the prize I am funding at Adelphi will be a similar gift for many students in the years to come.”

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