Dr. Rita Colwell is Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland and on the faculty at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at The Johns Hopkins University. She also serves as Senior Advisor and Honorary Chair of Canon US Life Sciences, Inc. and President and CEO of CosmosID, Inc. She is currently working to develop an international network to research and address infectious diseases, water, and health. Dr. Colwell served as the 11th Director of the National Science Foundation from 1998–2004. In this role, she was also Co-chair of the Committee on Science of the National Science and Technology Council. Under Dr. Colwell's leadership, the National Science Foundation budget grew by over 68 percent, surpassing $5 billion for the first time in 2003, and it was recognized for excellence in both science and management. Dr. Colwell oversaw a major increase in the Foundation's support for environmental research and education through such initiatives as the interdisciplinary priority area on Biocomplexity and the Environment.
Prior to joining NSF, Dr. Colwell was President of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute from 1991–1998 and before that, Professor of Microbiology and Biotechnology at the University of Maryland. She was also a member of the National Science Board from 1984–1990. Dr. Colwell has co-authored 16 books and over 600 scientific publications, and has been the recipient of many awards including the 2011 Stockholm Water Prize, the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star bestowed by the Emperor of Japan, and the 2006 National Medal of Science awarded by the President of the United States. Dr. Colwell has held many advisory positions. Currently, she serves on the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Research Board, and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of Canada, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. Previously, she served as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the American Academy of Microbiology and also as President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Washington Academy of Sciences, the American Society for Microbiology, the Sigma Xi National Science Honorary Society, the International Union of Microbiological Societies and the American Institute of Biological Sciences.
Dr. Colwell holds a B.S. in Bacteriology and an M.S. in Genetics from Purdue University, and a Ph.D. in Oceanography from the University of Washington. She has been awarded 54 honorary degrees by universities in the U.S. and abroad.