Judith Rodin - American Psychologist and philanthropist

Judith Rodin - American Psychologist and philanthropist

Judith Rodin is an American psychologist and philanthropist, president of the Rockefeller Foundation from 2005 to 2017. She was also, from 1994 to 2004, the 7th permanent president of the University of Pennsylvania, making her the first permanent female president of an Ivy League university.


Rodin was born in 1944 to a Jewish family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She attended Philadelphia High School for Girls, graduating with honors, and earned an undergraduate scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania where she majored in psychology.

She became president of the Women's Student Government of Pennsylvania and led the groundwork for the merger with the Men's Student Government, thus becoming the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education (SCUE) in 1965, allowing the College of Arts and Sciences to be dual gender. She earned her PhD at Columbia University in 1970 and the following year did postdoctoral research at the University of California, Irvine.

After briefly teaching at New York University as an assistant professor of psychology, Rodin became an associate professor at Yale University in 1972, where she became known to students as a popular lecturer and gained an international reputation as a pioneer in the women's health movement and as one of the first psychologists to master the biological and psychological factors of obesity.

She was subsequently promoted to associate professor in 1975, appointed full professor of psychology in 1979, and was awarded the title of professor of medicine and psychiatry in the medical school in 1985. She also held several positions from 1972 to 1994, including Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences for one year, Chair of the Department of Psychology for two years and University Dean.

In 1994, she was named president of the University of Pennsylvania, becoming the first permanent female president of an Ivy League institution and the first University graduate to hold the highest executive position.

As such, she has "guided the university through a period of unprecedented growth and development that transformed Penn's academic core and dramatically enhanced the quality of life on campus and in the surrounding community. She encouraged revitalization in University City and West Philadelphia through public safety; the establishment of Wharton School alliances for small businesses; the development of buildings and streetscapes that turned outward to the community; and the establishment of a university-led partnership school, the Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander University of Pennsylvania Partnership School". (Wikipedia)

From 1983 to 1993, Rodin was the chair of an international research network for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which studies health-promoting and health-damaging behaviors. Her research has contributed to the understanding of aging by demonstrating that older people who have control over their environment are more active, healthier and live longer than those who are powerless. Her scientific accomplishments have earned her a seat on President Clinton's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, as well as several leading academic societies, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

In 2005, Rodin became president of the Rockefeller Foundation, an American private foundation as well as a philanthropic funding organization for medical research and the arts. It is the second oldest major U.S. philanthropic institution, ranked the 39th largest U.S. foundation in terms of total giving in 2015. At the end of 2016, its assets totaled $4.1 billion, with annual grants of $173 million. According to the OECD, the foundation gave $107.2 million for development in 2018, and $103.8 million in 2019.

"Dr. Rodin’s leadership ushered The Rockefeller Foundation into a new era of strategic philanthropy that emphasized partnerships with business, government, and the philanthropic community to address and solve for the complex challenges of the 21st century. As president, Rodin recognized that the Foundation’s funding alone was unable to spur the kind of systemic change necessary to solve the key challenges facing the world. Responding to that dynamic, Rodin led the Foundation in a sweeping transformation that modernized all operational and programmatic aspects of The Rockefeller Foundation." (RockefellerFoundation.Org)

She also served on the boards of Trilogy Education Services, Citigroup, Aetna, AMR Corporation, Electronic Data Systems, Laureate Education and BlackRock. Until 2006, she held the position of President of Comcast Corporation, the largest U.S. multinational telecommunications conglomerate. To this day, she remains on the Board of Directors of the Brookings Institution.

Widely recognized as an international leader in academia, science and development issues, Rodin co-chaired, in 2014, the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. She is also a member of the African Development Bank's high-level panel, and a founding board member of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, US Artists and ArtPlace.

In 2012, following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, Rodin was appointed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to co-chair the NYS 2100 Commission to find ways to improve the resilience and strength of the state's infrastructure in the face of natural disasters and other emergencies.

She has also served on numerous other nonprofit boards, including Carnegie Hall, the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation and the Global Impact Investing Network.

Rodin has also authored more than 250 academic articles and chapters, and has written and co-authored 15 literary works. Recent books include "The Power of Impact Investing: Putting Markets to Work for Profit and Global Good" and "The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong (2014).

Referenced in numerous publications throughout her career, she has been honored several times and has received no less than 19 honorary doctorates. She is notably the first person to receive all three of Pennsylvania's major honors: the Philadelphia Award, the William Penn Award and the Pennsylvania Society's Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement.

The first two awards were presented to her in 2004 for her "commitment to elevating the economy of West Philadelphia and the quality of life for its residents; for her leadership roles in galvanizing Philadelphia’s higher education institutions in order to keep the region’s brightest graduates there; and for promoting the region as a high-tech business location". She was awarded the Pennsylvania Society's Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement in 2006, an honor given to "a prominent person in recognition of leadership, citizenship and contributions to the arts, science, education and industry".

In 1990, she was also elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Four years later, she received the Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement and, in 1995, was elected to the American Philosophical Society.

In 2003, she was named to PoliticsPA's list of "Pennsylvania's most politically powerful women. In 2005, Newsweek named her one of the twelve most powerful women in America. She was also named one of the 50 most powerful women on Crain's list in New York for three consecutive years. She was named to Forbes magazine's list of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the World, and to the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) 100 list in 2011, in recognition of her work in promoting the highest standards of corporate governance.


"Judith Rodin is a pioneer, innovator, change-maker and global thought-leader. For over two decades Rodin led and transformed two global institutions: The Rockefeller Foundation and the University of Pennsylvania. A ground-breaking executive throughout her career, Dr. Rodin was the first woman named to lead an Ivy League Institution and was the first woman to serve as The Rockefeller Foundation’s president. A research psychologist by training, she was one of the pioneers of the behavioral medicine and health psychology movements." (RockefellerFoundation.Org)



© Photo: Rockefeller Foundation CC-BY-SA-3.0

Article by Julie Henry Poutrel for Adama Toulon