University professorships for Konrad Kording, George Demiris

Kording, a data scientist who studies the brain, will become the Nathan Francis Mossell University Professor. Demiris, a gerontologist who studies IT to support older adults, will become the Mary Alice Bennett University Professor.

Konrad Kording (left) and George Demiris
Penn Integrates Knowledge professors Konrad Kording (left), who has appointments in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Perelman School of Medicine and George Demiris, who has appointments in the School of Nursing and the Perelman School of Medicine.

Two Penn Integrates Knowledge Professors, Konrad Kording and George Demiris, have received named University Professorships. The announcement was made today by President Amy Gutmann.

“Konrad Kording and George Demiris are innovative, cross-disciplinary Penn scholars whose outstanding teaching and research reflect the inspiring legacies of Nathan Francis Mossell and Mary Alice Bennett,” said Gutmann. “I am delighted to name these University Professorships, and I am proud to ensure Mossell and Bennett’s memory lives on far into the future. It is because of these two pioneers’ determination, and their greatness, that Penn endures as a leader in education and medicine.”

Kording, who holds joint appointments in the Department of Neuroscience in the Perelman School of Medicine and the Department of Bioengineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, will become the Nathan Francis Mossell University Professor.

When Nathan Francis Mossell graduated in 1882, he became the first African American to earn a medical degree from Penn. He soon became a prominent African American physician, the first to be elected to the Philadelphia County Medical Society. He helped found the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School, which treated Black patients and helped train the next generation of Black doctors and nurses. 

Mossell was part of a family which included his niece Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, who earned her Ph.D. from Penn in 1921 and became the first Black person to obtain a Ph.D. in economics in the United States. She was also the first African American woman to graduate from Penn’s Law School. She was married to Raymond Pace Alexander, the first African American judge appointed to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. 

“Dr. Mossell was truly inspiring. He had to fight for everything, yet never reneged on his principles. He pretty much started a hospital and was a major champion for the advancement of equality for African Americans,” Kording said. “In my research, where I study how intelligence works, I am inspired by scholars like him who combine many different insights. He was a wonderful man, and I will be proud to carry his name.”

Demiris, who holds joint faculty appointments in the Department of Biobehavioral Health Sciences in the School of Nursing and the Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Informatics in the Perelman School of Medicine, will become the Mary Alice Bennett University Professor. 

Mary Alice Bennett was a physician and the first woman to obtain a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. In addition, she was the first female superintendent in the women’s section of the state mental hospital in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and the first woman president of the Montgomery County Medical Society. 

Bennett argued strongly for the ethical treatment of the mentally ill and introduced occupational therapy such as music, painting, and crafts to the Norristown hospital. Bennett’s then-revolutionary policy of humane and respectful care for patients became widely adopted and won her broad professional recognition. 

“It’s an immense honor to receive a professorship in the name of Dr. Bennett, who was a trailblazer, leader, and innovator. Her work highlighted the importance of respecting patients’ privacy and dignity and demonstrated her passion and commitment to improving people’s lives,” Demiris said. “In my own work, I aim to pursue a patient- and family-centered approach to designing and evaluating health information systems for older adults. I could not think of a greater inspiration than Dr. Bennett, and I hope my research and teaching will honor her remarkable legacy.”