UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Peter Hudson was in South Africa the day that Nelson Mandela was released from prison in February 1990, and the now-Penn State Willaman Professor of Biology in the Eberly College of Science listened to the broadcast on the radio and wept.
Today, Mandela’s words — “Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world” — still resonate with Hudson, who shared his thoughts on the importance and the necessity of that weapon with an audience of 150 at the Annual Mark Luchinsky Memorial Lecture Series in Palmer Lipcon Auditorium on Jan. 28.
Hudson, the former director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, continues to research ways to battle emerging diseases around the world. He shared a story of how a shortage of food for bats led to the spreading of the dangerous Hendra virus among horses, then humans, as an example of how the relationship between people, animals and their surroundings affects the health of all three.
“If we’re going to look after ourselves, we must look after our environment and our livestock,” Hudson said.
Hudson said the fundamental issue facing our future is the rapidly growing global population, which is at 7.7 billion and approaching 10 billion, and that he believes the primary solution is to educate women in lower-income countries.
“If you educate women, you reduce the birth rate, you reduce the maternal age at first birth,” Hudson said. “That reduces child mortality, improves child nutrition, reduces infectious diseases, and increases resilience to climate change.”
An adjunct professor at the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology in Tanzania, Hudson has helped to educate women working to become doctoral scientists in East Africa. At Penn State, he has taught a massive open online course (MOOC), helping reach more than 100,000 people.
Hudson is also a gifted photographer who used images he has taken, as well as famous images such as “Afghan Girl” by Steve McCurry, as examples of the powerful effect photography can have on social change. By introducing Muslim girls to basic photography skills, contributing to an international wildlife photography magazine, and embracing the power and popularity — particularly in the East — of social media, Hudson seeks to “change the way people think about the world.”
Ultimately, he hoped that Monday’s talk would inspire an audience of mostly Schreyer Scholars to take on the challenges he addressed.
“You’re the people I’m really wanting to try to influence,” he said.
The audience asked several questions of Hudson following the lecture, and many left inspired.
“I really enjoyed his perspective on the world, because I’ve always been interested in traveling myself,” said first-year Schreyer Scholar Blake Greenspan, a student in the Eberly College of Science. “I learned how I can apply what I love to make a difference in the world, just like he is.”
The Luchinsky Memorial Lecture Series was endowed by family and friends to honor the memory of Mark Luchinsky through the support of a speaker who exemplifies intellectual honesty, personal integrity and joy in learning. Luchinsky, a Schreyer Scholar and biochemistry major, graduated first in his class in 1992 from Thomas Jefferson High School and was a member of the Penn State Golden Key Society and the Alpha Epsilon Delta Premedical Honor Society. Known for his intellectual honesty and integrity, Luchinsky enjoyed the study of all subjects and loved the classics, sports, poetry, history and geography.
The 2019 Mark Luchinsky Memorial Lecture was co-sponsored by the Presidential Leadership Academy and the Schreyer Honors College Student Council.