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Alumna talks of empathy and heroism

Alumna Colleen Kraft provides an inspiring talk of empathy, heroism

Expanded and updated edition

After Colleen Kraft – a leading authority of pediatrics and 1981 Virginia Tech alumna – gave the spring 2019 commencement address for the Department of Chemistry, she made her way to the War Memorial for some portraits by a Virginia Tech photographer.

A woman who attended the graduation ceremony approached Kraft and asked if she could seek advice about her grandson, born with multiple health problems. Sensing desperation in the woman’s story, Kraft spoke of future medical breakthroughs. “There is always hope,” she said.

Kraft has been bringing hope to scores of people, mostly children, during her decades-long storied career. She made headlines in 2018 as president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for bringing public attention to the toxic stress experienced by migrant children separated from their families in U.S.-Mexico border detention facilities – a policy reversed by the administration a week later.

She also emerged as a powerful voice against the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes to youth – taking the FDA to task for its failures. As president of the Virginia Chapter of the AAP from 2006-08, she was best known for lobbying the legislature to improve Medicaid payment rates for pediatric services.

“The greatest reward is seeing progress made in the general public recognizing the inherent value of children,” Kraft said. “Virginia Tech was my foundation for science, problem-solving, innovation, and service. My career has been remarkable because I have had the privilege to work in a profession that uses science to promote innovation through service and solutions.”

Kraft moved to Blacksburg as a teenager when her father, James McGrath, was hired as a professor in the Department of Chemistry. Kraft herself earned a degree in chemistry in 1981 from Virginia Tech, and went on to the Medical College of Virginia (now Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine) in 1982.

After years in private practice, she returned to Virginia Tech in 2009 as founding director of the pediatric residency training program for the then-new Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.

“My Virginia Tech chemistry education taught me to critically think through problems and work collaboratively -- and not competitively -- with others to find solutions,” Kraft said.

In 2014, she joined the faculty at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, serving as medical director of a pediatric population health initiative. She was elected president of AAP in 2018. At the May commencement, Kraft said she was honored to see so many young scientists ready to begin their futures. “

Science provides that North Star of truth in an age where scientific information is challenged by oceans of misinformation,” she told the students. “You will have the privilege to work in a profession that uses science to promote innovation through service and solutions.”

For further reading, visit Children’s Champion, from Virginia Tech Magazine.