UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State Atherton Professor and Evan Pugh University Professor of Anthropology Emerita Nina Jablonski recently notched another career highlight when she was named a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania.

Jablonski was among 10 women statewide to be inducted during the Distinguished Daughters of Pennsylvania annual luncheon, which was hosted by Gov. Josh Shapiro at the Governor’s Residence in Harrisburg. Her fellow 2023 inductees include Kendra Aucker, Debra Caplan, Julia Haller, Nancy Kukovich, Virginia McGregor, Rashida Ng, Marsha Perelman, Kim Phipps and Debra McCloskey Todd.

Distinguished Daughters of Pennsylvania honors women for their exemplary service to their communities, the commonwealth and the nation. All told, 555 women have been recognized for their professional and volunteer accomplishments since the award was established in 1949.

“For 75 years, the Distinguished Daughters have recognized the achievements of Pennsylvania women — leaders who make a difference in our communities every day,” Shapiro said. “This new class of inductees builds upon that long tradition, and Lori and I are pleased to welcome an incredible group of women — leaders in public service, health care, business and education — into the ranks of Pennsylvania’s Distinguished Daughters. Your hard work showcases what we can accomplish for the good people of Pennsylvania when we all come together.”

Jablonski grew up in a small town outside Buffalo before attending Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia. After living and working in California for many years, she returned to Pennsylvania in 2006 upon being hired by Penn State.

Bryn Mawr President Kim Cassidy nominated Jablonski for Distinguished Daughters. The news that she was being inducted came one day in July as “a complete and wonderful bolt out of the blue,” Jablonski said.

“I assumed it was a solicitation for a donation,” Jablonski said. “Thank goodness I didn’t immediately recycle it because it was a ‘real letter’ from the governor, congratulating me for being named a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania for 2023. Prior to that time, I had never heard of the organization or the award. I immediately looked up the DDPA and list of previous awardees and was quite blown away at receiving such an honor.”

“I cannot imagine an educator-scholar in Pennsylvania more deserving of recognition as a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania,” Cassidy wrote in her nomination letter. “Traveling across the globe, the nation, and the state as a senior scholar at the commonwealth’s flagship university and as a graduate of one of its most distinguished liberal arts colleges, Dr. Jablonski has had a major impact on public and academic understanding of an issue critical to understanding human evolution and human identity.”

Jablonski said the ceremony at the Governor’s Residence was “incredibly meaningful.”

“Gov. Shapiro is a busy person, and the fact that he took time to meet the awardees and address the luncheon was exceptional,” she said. “He gave an impactful and compassionate speech from the heart about the importance of continuing to be positive people of action at a time of widespread fear and anxiety about the future of our nation and the world.”

As it happens, that wasn’t Jablonski’s only recent accolade. A few weeks ago, she learned she was the recipient of the California Academy of Sciences’ 2023 Fellows Medal.

“The Fellows Medal is a major honor for anyone working in the sciences, and the list of previous awardees reads like a Who’s Who of the natural sciences,” Jablonski said. “I worked at the California Academy of Sciences for 12 years prior to moving to Penn State and will always be grateful to the institution for giving me the intellectual space and latitude to pursue a wide-ranging research program involving paleontological field work, museum work, and the foundational research for our work on the evolution of human skin and skin pigmentation.”

A biological anthropologist and paleobiologist, Jablonski studies primate and human evolution, particularly adaptations to the environment. Her research has focused on four major areas: the evolution of Old World monkeys; human adaptations to the environment, including the evolution of human skin and skin pigmentation; the history and social consequences of skin color-based race concepts; and youth science education, especially human evolution and human physical diversity. She’s a former Guggenheim Fellow, and in 2010 she received an honorary doctorate from South Africa’s Stellenbosch University in recognition of her contributions to the worldwide fight against racism.

In 2000, Jablonski and her husband and frequent collaborator George Chaplin, a former faculty member in Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, put forward the dual cline theory (vitamin D-folate theory) for the evolution of human skin pigmentation, which explains why dark skin evolved under conditions of high ultraviolet radiation (UVR) in the tropics, while lighter skin developed under conditions of lower UVR nearer the poles.

From 2013 to 2018, Jablonski collaborated with renowned Harvard University faculty member Henry Louis Gates Jr. and other scholars and educators on the Finding Your Roots Curriculum Project, which aimed to get students excited about science and careers in STEM through the study of genetics and genealogy. The project was spotlighted in the PBS program, “Finding Your Roots: The Seedlings,” which received two Mid-Atlantic Emmy Awards.

For all her accomplishments, Jablonski still abides by a wise piece of advice she received from a mentor at the beginning of her career: “Don’t work for recognition. Do the work you love with all your heart and to the best of your ability and recognition will flow to you naturally.”

“I pass along this same piece of advice freely to my students and others,” she said. “I have never aspired to recognition. I just keep my sneakers on and keep doing things that I think are interesting and important.”