Two Alumnae Honored with the “Karen Poniachik Woman of the Year” Award
In the context of International Women's Day, Columbia Global Centers | Santiago has recognized two noteworthy Columbia alumnae – one Chilean and one Peruvian - for their professional development and contribution to society.
The Santiago Center has acknowledged alumnae for the past two years under the concept of “Women Who Inspire.” This year, the acknowledgement has been renamed the “Karen Poniachik Woman of the Year” Award in remembrance of the Santiago Center’s recently deceased founding director and advocate for women’s rights, and the recognition goes to Claudia Heiss, head of the Political Science Program and Assistant Professor at the School of Government at Universidad de Chile, and to Delia Ackerman, award-winning documentary filmmaker.
Santiago, Chile-based Heiss earned her master’s degree in Political Science from Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) in 2003. Previous to that she studied journalism at Universidad de Chile, and after her studies at Columbia she went on to earn her PhD in Political Science from The New School in New York.
Heiss is a quintessential academic, participating in various research projects with Núcleo Milenio para el Estudio de la Política, the Fund for Financing Research in Priority Areas (Fondap), Universidad de Chile’s Vice-Rectory for Research and Development, and the National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development (Fondecyt). She has penned numerous publications on political participation with a particular focus on Chile’s constitution, enacted in 1980 during the country’s dictatorship, and how it has disaffected citizens from the political process.
It is in this latter area where Heiss has shone, bringing academia to the public in providing numerous interviews with national and international press, writing papers and participating in seminars and webinars to dissect the reason behind Chile’s social upheaval that erupted in 2019. A fervent believer in the need for Chile to adopt a new national charter, she wholly supported the idea behind the 2020 plebiscite and resulting constitutional convention, and she participated in a technical commission for the constituent process.
“Chile needs a new constitution because the one in place obstructs democracy and in so doing, alienates citizen support for representation and institutions,” she said in a foretelling way in 2017, calling attention to the “enormous opinion gap” between economic, political and social elites and everyday citizens.
Besides being president of the Chilean Association of Political Science in 2012-2014, she has been a member of the Network of Women Political Scientists, the Latin American Association of Political Science (ALACIP), the Law and Society Association (LSA), the International Political Science Association (IPSA), the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) and the Chilean Association of Political Science (ACCP). She also currently serves as a member of the Santiago Center’s Advisory Board.
Based in Lima, Peru, Ackerman earned her master’s degree from Columbia's Journalism School in 1987, previous to which she studied Communication Sciences at Universidad de Lima. She has worked as a reporter for media including Caretas and América Televisión, and has collaborated on projects with Time Magazine, National Geographic and Discovery Channel.
As an independent filmmaker, her productions include "Lord of Pachacamac" (1993), about the connection between pre-Hispanic gods and modern Christian rituals, which was named the best short documentary at the VI National Short Film Festival, Lima; “Medicine of Forgiveness” (2001), exploring the world of Don Benito, an ayahuasca healer from the Amazon, awarded as “The best folk film” in Romania; “Returning to the Light” (2008), about Holocaust survivors who began their lives anew in Peru, which garnered the Special Jury Award at the IV Buenos Aires Latino Film & Video Festival; “The King of the Desert is Dying” (2008), featuring the Guarango, an endangered tree in the Peruvian desert used for making charcoal, which won the Environment Award at the V Cusco International Short Film Festival, and "Mother Ocean" (2011), covering ecological threats to the Peruvian Sea.
Her last documentary, “Hatun Phaqcha, The Healing Land” explores the ancestral nutritional culture that still survives in Peru, and how the country’s extraordinary biodiversity can be the source of health and healing for its population.
The film has garnered numerous honors, such as the Peruvian Ministry of Culture’s Award for Outstanding Trajectory in the Audiovisual Field of the Stimulation of Culture (2021). Other accolades include the environmental award at the Toronto International Women Film Festival, finalist at the Vancouver International Film Festival and selected for the Latino and Iberian Film Festival at Yale (LIFFY) and the Princeton Environmental Film Festival, the Green Rose Award at the Jaipur International Film Festival (JIFF), the Directing Award at the International Agrofilm Festival, and official selection for the food section at the 26th Malaga Film Festival.
Peru is part of the Andean-Amazonian region, the traditional cultures of which selected and domesticated 182 different food crops. “We are in the midst of a boom of Peruvian native foods and cuisine, yet we know little of the cultural and nutritional history of many of the nutritious foods that make up this rich biodiversity,” Ackerman said. In some populations, that lack of access and knowledge has led to anemia, under nourishment, chronic malnutrition, childhood obesity, high blood pressure and agricultural unsustainability.
As such, in “Hatun Phaqcha,” in order to call attention to the genetic diversity of food resources throughout the world, Ackerman set out “to create a documentary that serves to preserve and promote the ancient knowledge that has survived through the oral tradition of our peoples for over 5000 years” she noted. “The loss of this priceless treasure would be irreversible and tragic, because in it lies the secret of our health.”
In 2022, she participated in a Santiago Center webinar entitled “Peru's Superfoods, Agrobiodiversity & Food Security.”