Photo Credit: Martin Rowe
Wangari Maathai was a global leader on environmental and anti-poverty issues who received the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.
Born in Nyeri, rural Kenya, she studied in Kansas before earning a master's degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh in 1966. She went on to become the first woman in east and central Africa to earned a Ph.D. (from the University of Nairobi, where she later was chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy). Through her work with the National Council of Women of Kenya, she introduced the idea of community-based tree planting to both conserve the environment and improve quality of life. She went on to found the Green Belt Movement, which helps women to work together to grow seedlings and plant trees to bind the soil, store rainwater and provide food and firewood.
A frequent speaker at the United Nations who served on many international committees to fight poverty and enhance democracy, human rights and conservation, she received the Noble Peace Prize in 2004. Two years later she founded the Nobel Women's Initiative with sister laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan.
Maathai was to return to Pittsburgh in autumn 2011 to keynote the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education's national conference, but died a few weeks earlier of ovarian cancer at age 71. In 2013, the Wangari Maathai Trees and Garden was planted on the lawn of the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning near Fifth Avenue.