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Honorary degrees, medals, and teaching awards

University to present awards and honors during spring 2022 commencement ceremonies

The University of Rochester will recognize the outstanding contributions of several distinguished individuals and educators by presenting the institution’s highest honors for achievement and service, as well as awards for scholarship and teaching during University commencement ceremonies, Friday, May 13-Sunday, May 15.

Honorary Degrees

Two individuals, Robert Shannon ’54, ’57 (MA), and James Wyant ’67 (MS), ’69 (PhD), will be presented with honorary degrees from 2020 and 2021, respectively. Shannon and Wyant were not able to receive their honorary degrees in-person until now, due to the COVID pandemic. Shannon has been awarded an honorary doctorate of engineering and Wyant an honorary doctorate of science.


The George Eastman Medal recognizes outstanding achievement and dedicated service in honor of the University’s benefactor and the founder of Eastman Kodak Company

Brenda D. Lee is a pioneer in understanding the impact of racial inequities and developing solutions to combat them, especially for people who have been historically excluded from educational opportunities such as medical school. Lee served the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry (SMD) for nearly 30 years, retiring in 2016 from the position of assistant dean for medical education and student affairs.

Long before universities and other organizations were embarking upon ambitious initiatives to address systemic racism, Lee applied her lived experience and insight to conquer some of the uncharted barriers that contributed to a dearth of diversity in health care professions. She became a national advocate for inclusion and diversity, working to replicate New York’s successful initiatives in other states. In 1990, she convened with deans from other medical schools in New York to write a federal grant that launched the first-of-its-kind postbaccalaureate program to help prepare promising, historically excluded students for success in medical school. SMD has since become one of nine medical schools in the state to participate by recommending qualifying students for the free, 12-month enrichment program that, upon completion, leads to acceptance into that medical school. Since 1991, 94 percent of those who have completed the program have gone on to medical school, creating some 600 practicing physicians. It is one stellar example of how her ideas, energy and insight have brought institutions and individuals together to devise practical, real-world strategies for increasing diversity in medicine.

She also was a leader in the Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP), a University program that supports historically underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students in preparing to enter college, launching them toward careers in health-related and other STEM fields.

Lee’s determination and foresight opened the doors of medical and health professions to hundreds who would have never imagined such a career could be within their reach. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin and a master’s degree in education from Antioch University.

The Charles Force Hutchison and Marjorie Smith Hutchison Medal recognizes alumni for outstanding achievement and notable service

Kenneth R. French ’78S (MBA), ’81S (MS), ’83S (PhD) is one of the Simon Business School’s most distinguished graduates. French is the Roth Family Distinguished Professor of Finance at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, an expert on the behavior of security prices and investment strategies, and a prolific researcher whose work has transformed the field of finance. His academic accomplishments are equally matched by his philanthropic service and leadership in his local community, for students at Rochester and Lehigh University, and at global organizations focused on health and humanitarian aid.

Throughout his career, French has produced a long series of cutting-edge research. In the early nineties, he and his coauthor, Nobel laureate Eugene Fama, published seminal papers in finance. One showed that value stocks with high book-to-market, earnings-price, and dividend-to-price ratios tended to experience higher returns than growth stocks, which had low ratios of fundamentals to price. Another, which developed a model to capture the size, value, and market risk of an asset for the purpose of pricing it, became known as the Fama-French Three-Factor Model. The groundbreaking work became the industry standard. French’s most recent research focuses on tests of asset pricing and the tradeoff between factor exposures and expected returns in US and international financial markets.

French has provided notable service to his community. At the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, he and his wife, Vickie, support the hospital’s Child Advocacy and Protection Program, which provides treatment to hundreds of children each year who may be victims of abuse or neglect. They also established and continue to support the Professor G. William Schwert Scholarship at Simon, and in 2018, they endowed the KRFrench Family Scholars Program with a $5 million gift to support low-income, first-generation undergraduate students. In 2001, French established the JAM Account at the University of Rochester to support student emergency needs, which he continues to fund.

He received his PhD in finance from Simon, where he also earned an MS and an MBA. He received his BS from Lehigh University in 1975.

Deborah C. German ’79M (RES) is a nationally recognized physician, educator, and administrator. She serves as the vice president for health affairs for the University of Central Florida (UCF) and is the founding dean of the UCF College of Medicine, positions she has held since 2010 and 2006, respectively. In those roles, she leads both a research-based medical school and a patient-centered clinical enterprise that anchors the UCF Academic Health Sciences Center.

Under her leadership, the UCF College of Medicine achieved full accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education and raised $6.4 million to provide full four-year scholarships, for the entire 40-member charter class. German also led efforts to build a team of more than 500 faculty and staff, appoint more than 2,000 volunteer and affiliated faculty, and complete construction of a 375,000-square-foot medical campus in Orlando.

She earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry at Boston University and her MD degree from Harvard Medical School. After her completing her residency training in internal medicine at Rochester, she completed a fellowship in Rheumatic and Genetic Diseases at Duke University. She was appointed to the faculty at Duke University Medical School and worked in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, studying adenosine metabolism. During her time at Duke, she also served as director of the Duke Gout Clinics and associate dean of medical education while maintaining her own private practice of Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

In 1988, German joined Vanderbilt University as associate dean for students and later senior associate dean of medical education. After 13 years at Vanderbilt, German was appointed president and CEO at Saint Thomas Hospital in Nashville, where she led a successful hospital turnaround that garnered her national recognition.

She has generously given her time and support to the University of Rochester Medical Center, most specifically the William L. Morgan Chair in Medicine Fund and F.F. Thompson Hospital’s Pulmonary Division. She has returned to campus as a guest lecturer, most recently in 2020 when she gave the Tana Grady-Weliky MD lecture.

University Teaching Awards for Excellence

Edward Peck Curtis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching

Christopher Azzara is a professor of music teaching and learning at the Eastman School of Music. A pianist, arranger, author, and educator, Azzara has made important contributions to advancing the understanding of creativity and improvisation in the music-learning process. He is also an affiliate faculty member in Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media at Eastman.

His students recognize him for his dedication to student growth, scholarship, musicianship, mentoring, and professionalism. Azzara has teaching responsibilities for undergraduate students, as well as for graduate students. A significant undergraduate teaching assignment is Introduction to Music Teaching and Learning, a course Azzara has taught for 17 years. All first-year students who are admitted into the music education major must take this course in their very first semester.

In addition to the impact has had on the undergraduates in his own department at Eastman, Azzara has been broadly involved in helping other faculty at the Eastman School address important topics of creativity, pedagogy, and artistry in their teaching in multiple departments.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in music from George Mason University, and a master of music degree and a PhD in music education from Eastman.

Joel Burges is associate professor of English and visual and cultural studies. He is also a faculty member in Film and Media Studies and Digital Media Studies programs.

He is recognized for being an exemplary teacher and mentor: caring, observant, dedicated, and energetic. His teaching strengths and innovation can be epitomized in Mediate, an open-source digital tool that he has been developing over the past 10 years and that has opened up a new pathways for teaching media literacy. Mediate is a platform for the digital annotation of audiovisual and time-based media with cross-disciplinary applications. The platform immerses students in the foundations of humanistic inquiry: close description, interpretation, explication, and judgment. Mediate allows students to mark up different types of audiovisual material—from film to television to music to advertising—breaking down the material into individual sequences and analyzing their component parts.

He earned a PhD from the Stanford University.

Roy Jones is clinical associate professor of computer and information systems at the Simon Business School, where he has taught since 1998. During his time at Simon, he has taught business fundamentals to students through his continuously evolving information systems course, and is an essential member of the Florescue Undergraduate Business program.

Jones works closely with students and Simon administrative staff to ensure his courses are relevant and enriching. He is viewed by his peers as dedicated to excellence and student learning. He regularly polls his students to ensure his understanding of their learning needs. He also recently developed and championed the new information systems track of the BS business major. These efforts reflect his commitment to students and his understanding of the growing demand for students with both business and computer science backgrounds.

He earned bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD degrees from Stanford University.

Stefanie Sydelnik is associate professor (instructional track) in the Writing, Speaking, and Argument Program (WSAP); the program’s associate director; and the director of the Writing and Speaking Center. Sydelnik began teaching in the WSAP program in 2004 as part of her PhD program in English. Her deep belief in the value of education and exceptional teaching performance quickly led her to new roles as a writing tutor, writing placement reviewer and adviser, assessment reader, Early Connection Opportunity Program writing instructor, and Writing Center coordinator.

She is noted for her exceptional ability to motivate, support, and challenge writers at all levels and from a range of backgrounds. She has taught important writing courses, coordinated and taught the Early Connection Opportunity Program’s writing course and a small writing workshop for those needing additional assistance, and she has successfully guided many undergraduates in completing the primary writing Requirement. Additionally, she teaches some of the College’s most successful writers, and she mentors undergraduates through the process of developing, presenting, and publishing writing-related research.

She earned her PhD Rochester.

Graydon Curtis ’58 and Jane W. Curtis Award for Nontenured Faculty Teaching Excellence

Thomas Weber is assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences. He joined the University in July 2016 with a specialization in the computational modeling of ocean biogeochemical processes with relevance to climate change. This concentration enables him to teach and research beyond the geosciences and also explore topics relevant to computer science and big data science.

Weber does an outstanding job at integrating his research with his teaching. This allows the most up-to-date scientific discoveries to be integrated into his classroom learning activities, but it also enables his students to learn how to conduct world-class scientific research. His educational approach has led to numerous students being accepted into top-tier PhD programs and graduate studies programs, as well as undergraduate students becoming published authors.

Since arriving at the University, Weber has taught four different classes, three of which he developed and are cross-listed with graduate sections. His courses cover topics from introductions to climate change to physical oceanography to ocean modeling. Students in the classes note the clarity that he brings to complex and abstract topics, the enthusiasm and passion he brings to the subject material, and the willingness and time he devotes to help students one-on-one.

He earned his PhD from UCLA.

Stephen Wu is assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and assistant professor of physicsWu teaches Electronic Circuits and Devices, a junior-level introductory course on analog electronics taken by students majoring in either electrical and computer engineering or audio and music engineering, and also teaches graduate courses in nanoelectronic devices and quantum electronic devices and materials.

He is a passionate teacher who strives to ensure that his teaching material is relevant, challenging, and engaging, and his students note that he is very approachable and cares a lot about them and their understanding of the material. During the pandemic, Wu mastered the “flipped” teaching model that several faculty within the ECE department are now exploring. He makes short, high-quality recordings that the students view on their own and then uses the allotted classroom time to solve questions. He supplements his video lectures with in-person classes during standard course lecture time, where he focuses more on solving problems. He also supplemented his laboratory-based instruction with video-based tutorials to limit the amount of time spent in person during the hands-on portion of the laboratory assignments. Labs were modified to be more streamlined and supplemented with a considerable simulation component so students could learn the significance of pen-and-paper analysis, simulation-based analysis, and experimental confirmation of their calculations.

His cochaired the undergraduate committee of the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, an unusual honor for a junior faculty member. As part of this, he has suggested several ways to improve the undergraduate experience.

He received his PhD from University of California, Berkeley.

William H. Riker University Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching

Thomas Slaughter is the Arthur R. Miller Professor of History, and director of the Seward Family Archive Project. Joining the University in 2008 after distinguished tenures at Rutgers and Notre Dame, he has done much to transform the study of early America into the thriving and innovative field it is today. His scholarship has greatly expanded the understanding of the roots of the American Revolution, antebellum society, and historical understanding of familial relations. Above all, he is a superb teacher of history and mentor who has inspired his graduate students through his enthusiasm, dedication, deep intelligence, and love of history. Two qualities dominate these discussions of Slaughter’s work with graduate students: the rigor of his expectations and his willingness to devote much of his time to ensuring that his students are well prepared to blossom as independent scholars and teachers.

By approaching historical questions with an eye towards illuminating the inherent complexities in human ideas and ideals, Slaughter has worked to untangle the various threads holding together cultural constructs such as slavery, revolution, nature, democracy, and family. At Rochester, much of his work has centered on the Seward Family Archive project, in which he has pioneered new methods in digital humanities scholarship and community engagement in order to bring a trove of historical documents into a form accessible to the general public.

He received his PhD from Princeton University. 

Lifetime Achievement in Graduate Education Award

William Thomson is the Elmer B. Milliman Professor of Economics. His students say that in the classroom, he approaches economic theory as both an art and a discipline. He teaches his students how to ask questions, how to look for relevant ones, how to approach them, and how to explain them in academic and layman terms. The topics that he discusses in his graduate-level classes are not easy to explain, but it is well known that his lectures are easily understandable. Although most original proofs are quite technical his explanation is very simple to follow since he presents the proofs in his own way by using geometric arguments.

Generous with his time, Thomson works closely with each of his students to convey cleary what are often complicated economic ideas. As a result, his students find success in publishing their dissertation work in respected journals. His students note how grateful they are to have the opportunity to learn from him and highly value his mentorship.

He has advised more than 50 doctoral students since joining the Rochester faculty in 1983, and many of the have found faculty position at top institutions around the world. He has attracted a large cadre of serious and talented students because he is is widely recognized among economists and graduate education leaders as a devoted advisor.

He earned his PhD from Stanford University.

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