Three with local ties named MacArthur Fellows

Jeffrey Brenner, 44, founder of Camden Coalition of Health Care Providers.
Jeffrey Brenner, 44, founder of Camden Coalition of Health Care Providers.
Posted: September 26, 2013

One is a Camden doctor who is pioneering new ways to deliver health care to the inner city poor. Another is a University of Pennsylvania psychologist who identified strengths and traits that lead to educational achievement. And a third is a former Center City writer whose prose marries the fantastical to psychological realism.

Three people with local ties have been inducted into the storied MacArthur Fellows program, one of the nation's most prestigious accolades recognizing significant creativity and accomplishment.

The 24 winners being announced Wednesday include writers, scientists, researchers, practitioners of the arts, and more. Each will receive $625,000 over five years. The "no strings" funding is intended to enable recipients to "exercise their own creative instincts for the benefit of human society," according to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's website.

One local winner is Jeffrey Brenner, 44, a Camden primary care physician who turned to advocacy and organizing to create a health care delivery model designed to meet the medical and social service needs of some of Camden's most vulnerable residents.

Brenner said being named a fellow was "very surprising and humbling" and "a vote of confidence" for the efforts that are ongoing in Camden.

Through his own research, Brenner was able to establish that half of Camden's residents used emergency rooms each year, often for minor health problems, and that 13 percent of the patients were generating 80 percent of the costs. One patient alone racked up nearly $5 million in charges over five years. Yet Brenner found he had to give up his own private practice because Medicaid reimbursements for primary care could not sustain it.

Brenner founded the Camden Coalition of Health Care Providers, a broad network of private practices, hospital staff, and social workers attempting to deliver strategic preventive and primary care.

Now a nationally known leader in health care, he said he is working with 10 other communities around the country to develop similar collaborative care delivery systems.

Brenner, who grew up in suburban South Jersey, lived in Camden for several years with his wife. They and their two children now live in West Philadelphia. Brenner is also medical director of Cooper University Hospital's Urban Health Institute and on the clinical faculty at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University. He is a graduate of Vassar College and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

A second local MacArthur fellow, Angela Duckworth, 43, a University of Pennsylvania associate professor of psychology, was recognized for her research that found grit - the ability to sustain interest in and effort toward longer-term goals - and self-control to be prime factors in predicting academic success.

"The overwhelming feeling is really gratitude," said Duckworth, both to the foundation and to the teachers and others who have helped and influenced her over the years. She heard about the fellowship about three weeks ago but had been barred from disclosing it. But she said she has been writing a lot of thank-you e-mails to people who will now understand why.

She hopes to use some of her funding to better communicate with teachers who want to use her project's research and to reach out to educators to learn more from their experiences.

Born in Philadelphia, Duckworth was raised in Cherry Hill, lived in Narberth, and now resides in Center City with her family, including two children. She is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Oxford, and earned her doctorate at Penn. She joined the faculty in 2007. She has taught in the New York City and San Francisco public schools and at Mastery Charter School in Philadelphia.

The writer Karen Russell, 32, another fellow, whose novel Swamplandia was a best-seller and critical success, lived near the Philadelphia Museum of Art for some of 2012.

Reached by e-mail, Russell called the MacArthur "an incredible, incredible gift." Of the grant, she said, "Let's see if I can be a force for the good with this help."

Russell grew up in Florida and graduated from Northwestern University and Columbia University. She has taught at several colleges, including Bryn Mawr and Rutgers-Camden.

Julie Livingston, 46, public health historian and anthropologist with Rutgers University in New Brunswick, is also a fellowship recipient. She is a graduate of Tufts University and Boston University, and earned her doctorate from Emory University.



Inquirer staff writer John Timpane contributed to this article.

The MacArthur Winners

The following 24 fellows will each receive $625,000 over the next five years from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation:

Kyle Abraham, 36, New York City. Dancer, choreographer.

Donald Antrim, 55, New York City. Writer and writing teacher at Columbia University.

Phil Baran, 36, La Jolla, Calif. Organic chemist, Scripps Research Institute.

C. Kevin Boyce, 39, Stanford, Calif. Paleobotanist at Stanford University.

Jeffrey Brenner, 44, Camden. Physician.

Colin Camerer, 53, Pasadena, Calif. Behavioral economist, California Institute of Technology.

Jeremy Denk, 43, New York City. Writer, concert pianist.

Angela Duckworth, 43, Philadelphia. Research psychologist, University of Pennsylvania.

Craig Fennie, 40, Ithaca, N.Y. Materials scientist, Cornell University.

Robin Fleming, 57, Chestnut Hill, Mass. Medieval historian, Boston College.

Carl Haber, 54, Berkeley, Calif. Experimental physicist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Vijay Iyer, 41, New York City. Jazz pianist, composer, and writer.

Dina Katabi, 42, Cambridge, Mass. Computer scientist, MIT.

Julie Livingston, 46, New Brunswick, N.J. Medical historian, Rutgers University.

David Lobell, 34, Stanford, Calif. Agricultural ecologist at Stanford University.

Tarell McCraney, 32, Chicago. Playwright, Steppenwolf Theater Company.

Susan Murphy, 55, Ann Arbor, Mich. Statistician, University of Michigan,

Sheila Nirenberg, New York City. Neuroscientist, Weill Cornell Medical College.

Alexei Ratmansky, 45, New York City. Choreographer and artist-in-residence, American Ballet Theatre.

Ana Maria Rey, 36, Boulder, Colo. Theoretical physicist, University of Colorado.

Karen Russell, 32, New York City. Fiction writer.

Sara Seager, 42, Cambridge, Mass. Astrophysicist, MIT.

Margaret Stock, 51, Anchorage, Alaska. Immigration attorney.

Carrie Mae Weems, 60, Syracuse, N.Y. Photographer, video artist.

- Associated Press

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