AAVC Award for Distinguished Achievement

By Samantha Soper '91

Judge Pauline Newman ’47
United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

The Award for Distinguished Achievement is presented annually to an alumna or alumnus who has achieved the highest level of her or his field of endeavor. While demonstrating exceptional qualities of talent, application, creativity, and skill within a certain career, whether it be in the professions, the arts, or public affairs, this individual must at the same time exemplify the ideals of a liberal arts education and have used her or his position of visibility, power, or leadership to better the human community and to serve the wider goals of society.

Quite a big part to play; but Judge Pauline "Polly" Newman ’47 is just the woman to fill this role. AAVC is proud to present Newman with the first annual Award for Distinguished Achievement. Newman’s achievements started early as a double major in chemistry and philosophy at Vassar. From Vassar, Newman continued her education in pure science at Columbia and later earned her Ph.D. in physical organic chemistry from Yale. Newman started her career as a research chemist and then moved into patent work. While writing patent specifications as a scientist for FMC Corporation’s Chemical Group by day, Newman moonlighted as a law student at New York University.

By the late ’70s, Newman had become well known as a leader of the corporate patent bar. It was in this role that she was approached by the secretary of commerce for the Carter Administration to participate in a domestic policy review on industrial innovation. "One of the things we thought would help to enhance the growth of technology-based industry in the United States was to have a centralized court that would handle, among other things, patent cases," said Newman.

In 1982 the U.S. Court of Claims and the U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals merged to form the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Newman was appointed to the first vacancy in the new court. Twelve judges hear over 1,500 cases annually and rule on about 3,000 motions.

It was these two very different careers that stood out and influenced the Selection Committee. "By excelling in two different areas [science and law], we feel that Pauline can relate to the students of today by sending a very special message that you can combine seemingly opposite careers," explained Yolanda Sabio ’73, chair of AAVC’s awards committee. "We were very happy when she accepted the award."