University of Rochester

Rochester Review
November-December 2009
Vol. 72, No. 2

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In Memoriam

Tribute Annie Le ’07: ‘A Whirlwind of Energy and Engagement’
le SCHOLAR: Le received several academic accolades at Rochester for her work as a biology major. (Photo: Department of Biology)

The September death of Annie Le ’07 at Yale University, which attracted national media attention, evoked widespread sorrow at Rochester, where faculty, staff, and students who encountered her almost uniformly describe her as an unusually engaging woman who had a bright future as a scholar. Le was a doctoral student in pharmacology at Yale when she was killed. Le was engaged to Jonathan Widawsky ’07, whom she met at Rochester.

Le graduated with a bachelor of science in cell and developmental biology with a distinction in research. She won a prestigious National Institutes of Health undergraduate summer research scholarship with which she spent two summers at the NIH conducting research on bone tissue engineering. Michael Zuscik, an associate professor of orthopaedics at the School of Medicine and Dentistry, hired Le in her senior year to work in his lab, describing her enthusiasm as “gangbusters” and her talent superior to that of many of the graduate and postgraduate students he has taught in the past.

At the same time, teachers and friends alike say that what was unique about Le was her personality. Jack Werren, a professor of biology, described Le as “a whirlwind of energy and engagement.” Le’s senior year roommate, Amanda Avery ’07, says that as busy and focused as Le was, she “still found time to be a good friend. Whether I needed her to help me pick out an outfit for a big date or just needed someone to listen and give advice, she was there. Annie could have been conceited and arrogant because of her intellect and accomplishments, however, she seemed more humbled and determined with every success that came her way. She always seemed grateful to just have the opportunity to do everything she did.”

Lab manager Beverly Mihalenko says Le seamlessly combined a sharp scientific mind with broader interests. “I would jokingly refer to Annie as ‘my girlie girl.’ She tried her best to convert me, convincing me to wear dangly earrings, and even dying my hair red.” Almost everyone recalls Le’s ubiquitous high heels: “Among my favorite recollections is the sound of Annie approaching,” says Cheeptip Benyajati, an associate professor of biology and Le’s faculty advisor. “We always knew when Annie was coming down the hall in her four-inch high heels.”

“My deepest regret is that the world of science has lost a fine mind,” says Linn Sajdak, a retired lecturer in the biology department. “But she also had her feet firmly in the real world. There is a term in biology called the ‘emergent property,’ in which the outcome is greater than the sum of the parts. Annie was an emergent property.”

—Karen McCally ’02 (PhD)

Karen McCally is an associate editor of Rochester Review.