Dr. Barbara Mahon '78 has been named the recipient of the Alumni Award, The Hotchkiss School’s highest honor. Mahon is an infectious disease epidemiologist and pediatrician with broad experience in public health surveillance, outbreak response, epidemiological study design, and vaccines. She has worked extensively on respiratory, vaccine-preventable, and enteric infectious diseases, both domestically and internationally. She will be honored during a ceremony in Lakeville in January 2024.
Mahon trained in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Epidemic Intelligence Service from 1994-96. She has worked in academic pediatrics, academic epidemiology, the vaccine industry, and at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as at the CDC. Mahon had just started working at the Gates Foundation when COVID-19 emerged. She returned to the CDC to help with the organization’s response to the pandemic.
She led the CDC’s emergency response as incident manager during the emergence of the Omicron variant. She then worked for more than a year to help establish a new permanent CDC division—the Coronavirus and Other Respiratory Viruses Division—with more than 200 staff members focused on laboratory, epidemiology, surveillance, and global issues across four branches. Before COVID-19, she worked extensively on other respiratory, vaccine-preventable, and enteric infectious diseases.
At the CDC, Mahon has also served as director of the Division of Bacterial Diseases/National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases; CDC lead for the Sierra Leone Trial to Introduce a Vaccine Against Ebola (STRIVE); associate director for antimicrobial resistance/Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases; and deputy chief of the Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch. She has played leadership roles in the CDC’s response to multiple public health emergencies, including the 2014-16 West Africa Ebola epidemic and the 2010 introduction of cholera to Haiti.
Mahon was named Alum of the Month in August 2014. In her profile, she explained how a one-year fellowship to study women’s sports in Africa proved to be pivotal to her career path. “I was struck by all of the health problems and the huge challenges to public health. I had the chance to travel to Southern Sudan, which had recently opened to visitors after 17 years of civil war and isolation. It was a time of relative peace there, but it was tough and remote. While I was there, a family brought their veiled 8-year-old daughter to see me, thinking maybe I was a doctor and could help. When they lifted the veil, the child’s eye was in terrible shape—swollen, red, and weeping. I could do nothing to help. I wanted to learn medicine so that I could do something to make a difference.”
As for Hotchkiss, Mahon said in her Alum of the Month profile, “My class is very close. When I look at what my classmates have done and are doing out in the world, I see an amazing range of interesting and valuable contributions. Personally, I learned how to apply myself to an intellectual challenge at Hotchkiss, and that it feels good to work hard. I spent a lot of time writing, which has definitely been useful in everything I have done in my career. When I took Biology 350 with Jim Morrill, it clicked—he was a very important teacher for me. I think when I was at Hotchkiss, there was a bit of a bias toward careers in business and law, but that seems to be changing, and that’s good. I’d like to see more people involved in science.”
Since 1931, the Hotchkiss Alumni Association has honored notable alumni with the Alumni Award. Selected by the nominating committee of the Board of Governors of the Alumni Association, recipients have brought honor and distinction to themselves and Hotchkiss through their achievements.