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Class of 2023

Honorary degrees

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 Commencement Weekend.

University Honorary Degrees and Medals

Honorary Doctor of Science

Michelle A. Albert ’94M (MD)

Michelle A. Albert ’94M (MD) is the Walter A. Haas-Lucie Stern Endowed Chair in Cardiology and a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), admissions dean for UCSF Medical School, and director of its CeNter for the StUdy of AdveRsiTy and CardiovascUlaR DiseasE (NURTURE Center). She is also president of the American Heart Association for 2022–23.

Albert’s clinical expertise involves preventive cardiology and caring for the most critically ill heart disease patients. She is engaged in cutting-edge research that seeks to incorporate biology with social determinants of health to transform cardiovascular disease (CVD) science and health care of the global population. Her current work focuses on developing strategies to curb adversity-related CVD risk, particularly in women and racial/ethnic minorities. She is the recipient of multiple research awards, including the 2018 AHA Merit Award for visionary research—the first woman and person from a background under-represented in medicine to receive this award.

Albert is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and the American Society of Clinical Investigation (ASCI). She is the immediate past president of the Association of Black Cardiologists and the 60th president of the Association of University Cardiologists.

Albert is a graduate of Haverford College, the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry (SMD), and Harvard University School of Public Health. She completed her internal medicine and chief residency at Columbia University Medical Center and cardiology clinical and research training at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston. She will deliver the keynote address at SMD’s graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 13

Claudia Goldin

Claudia Goldin is an American economist and the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University. A nationally respected labor economist, her research covers a wide range of topics, including gender and family in the labor market, income inequality, technological change, education, and immigration. She is best known for her highly influential work on women in the US economy, most notably on the gender wage gap, which shows that it varies by job and industry and is smaller in fields with more flexible work arrangements.

Goldin has authored numerous books, including Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women (Oxford University Press, 1990); The Race between Education and Technology (with Lawrence F. Katz) (Belknap Press, 2010); and Career & Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey toward Equity (Princeton University Press, 2021). Her forthcoming book is An Evolving Force: A History of Women in the Economy (Oxford University Press).

Her honors include membership in the National Academy of Sciences and fellowships in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Econometric Society, and Society of Labor Economists. In addition to her scholarly contributions, Goldin has been an advocate for policies that promote gender equality in the workplace and has been involved in various initiatives aimed at increasing the representation of women in economics. In 2022, the Council for Economics Education presented her with its Visionary Award.

Goldin earned her undergraduate degree in economics from Cornell University and a master’s degree and PhD in economics from the University of Chicago.

Honorary Doctor of Letters

Joshua D. Shapiro ’95

Joshua D. Shapiro ’95, first-term governor of Pennsylvania, is the 2023 speaker at the University-wide Commencement ceremony on Friday, May 12.

As an undergraduate political science major, Gov. Shapiro was elected to some of his first leadership roles, starting as a Students’ Association senator and then becoming president—notably as a first-year student. During his time on campus, he emerged as a respected student government leader, advocating for student issues.

He grew up in Pennsylvania watching his parents serve their community. Their example inspired him to enter public service and, from an early age, recognize that standing up for others was how he wanted to spend his career. After marrying his high-school sweetheart, Lori, and welcoming their first child, he returned to his hometown of Upper Dublin Township, Pennsylvania, and successfully won state representative of the 153rd district. In this role, he helped write and pass some of the toughest ethics laws in Pennsylvania state history. Then, as chairman of the Board of Commissioners in Montgomery County, he led a fiscal and ethical turnaround and put the county back on solid financial footing. In 2017, he was elected Pennsylvania’s attorney general and went on to serve two terms.

In November 2022, he made history as the highest vote getter in Pennsylvania gubernatorial history. He is the first Rochester alumnus elected to a state’s top executive position. In addition to his Rochester undergraduate degree, Gov. Shapiro earned his law degree from Georgetown University.


Jude S. Sauer ’81, ’84M (MD), ’88M (Res): The Charles Force Hutchison and Marjorie Smith Hutchison Medal

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

Jude S. Sauer ’81, ’84M (MD), ’88M (Res) is president and CEO of LSI Solutions based in Victor, New York, a surgical research and manufacturing company providing innovation for minimally invasive surgery. He is also a clinical assistant professor of surgery in the School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Sauer founded LSI Solutions in 1986 during his surgical internship, and by the time he completed his residency, Sauer had received his first patent for a laser-suturing device. LSI’s inventions have been used in 64 countries and have treated nearly 800,000 surgical patients. The company now has more than 400 employees, and Sauer has been awarded 190 US and international patents for minimally invasive surgical products in the fields of general, gynecologic, bariatric, and cardiac surgery.

Over the past three decades, he has participated in surgery across the world, including in Rio de Janeiro, Salzburg, Prague, Sibiu, and Vienna, and has been an invited lecturer at numerous surgical conferences. He has been the principal investigator in many government-sponsored research grants and the primary author of over a hundred scientific presentations, posters, and publications.

After graduating from the University of Rochester and the School of Medicine and Dentistry, Sauer completed his general surgery residency training and a surgical research fellowship at URMC. In 2017, he and his family established a distinguished professorship to be held by the chief of cardiac surgery at URMC.

Harriet A. Washington ’76: The Frederick Douglass Medal

The Frederick Douglass Medal is given to distinguished individuals whose scholarship and civic engagement honor the abolitionist’s legacy

Harriet A. Washington ’76 is a fellow at the New York Academy of Medicine, an award-winning author, and a sought-after lecturer. Her influential research and outreach as a medical ethicist honor Frederick Douglass’s legacy and have shifted the global narrative about race and medical research.

Washington is recognized for her research on the intersections of medical ethics and racism, including medical experimentation and bioethics. Her critically acclaimed and best-selling book, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present (Anchor, 2008) unearthed exploitative and abusive experiments on African Americans from the 18th century to the present and won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN Oakland Award, and the American Library Association Black Caucus Nonfiction Award.

She began her research at Rush Rhees Library and Edward G. Miner Library, and from this she sowed a path that would raise awareness for equality and human rights in medical research and medicine. As a visiting scholar at Tuskegee University’s National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care, she often presented her research at conferences on the history and ethics of medicine in the United States and Europe. A former editor at USA Today, Washington received a two-year fellowship in the early 1990s from the Harvard School of Public Health, where she studied epidemiology and national health care policy. She is a bioethics lecturer at Columbia University.

She received her bachelor’s degree in English from Rochester and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

University Teaching Awards for Excellence

Edward Peck Curtis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching

George Ferguson ’91 (MS), ’95 (PhD)

George Ferguson ’91 (MS), ’95 (PhD) is a professor of computer science (instruction) and codirector of the computer science undergraduate program in the Hajim School of Engineering & Applied Sciences. He has rebuilt and significantly improved three of the largest and most critical computer science courses, two of which he routinely teaches every semester. He is noted for being exceptionally dedicated, meticulously prepared, enthusiastic, and inspiring in his teaching. He is invariably responsive and respectful to students, staff, and colleagues, and his students see him as genuine, principled, and committed to their success.

He is constantly searching for ways to make his courses and the larger undergraduate program more effective. Over the past six years, Ferguson has taught several courses a dozen times with an average of 99 students per course. He rebuilt the system of undergraduate advising, supervises intake advising and advising fairs, and has exceptional commitment to mentoring junior colleagues.

Ferguson received a bachelor’s degree in math and computer science from McGill University, a master’s degree in computing science from the University of Alberta, and a master’s degree and PhD in computer science from Rochester.

Dragony Fu

Dragony Fu is an associate professor of biology in the School of Arts & Sciences who is an accomplished instructor with a superb record in teaching challenging classes. He is a mentor for undergraduate and graduate students in his research laboratory, including in how to effectively communicate their science. As a new assistant professor, Fu took on a very large introductory biochemistry course in 2015, at a time when the department was in need of an instructor for the course. He had to manage a sizeable group of teaching assistants as well as run a large lecture course—300 students per semester. Despite the challenge for a new faculty member, he enjoyed teaching this course and was very successful.

Fu also contributed to the development of BIOL 278, another course that has become a requirement for biochemistry majors. Because of his efforts, the biochemistry curriculum at Rochester has been greatly enhanced and modernized. He is also very active in undergraduate education outside of the classroom and has provided research opportunities for students in his lab through volunteer and independent study positions.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from the University of Chicago and his PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology from UC Berkeley.

Paul Shanahan

Paul Shanahan is an executive professor at the Simon Business School. For nearly 40 years, he has designed and taught business law fundamental courses and brought a wealth of legal knowledge as a licensed attorney. As an executive professor, Shanahan has fostered a passion for business law in Simon School undergraduates with his courses featuring real-world applications. Students also build valuable skills that lead to networking and job opportunities. His service in the classroom has been routinely recognized: he has been honored with the Simon faculty honor roll for his work in undergraduate and graduate teaching each year in 2012 through 2014 and 2017 through 2019.

Shanahan is also a member of the school’s academic integrity and professional standards committees, and he has supervised numerous internships and independent study courses to further Simon students’ interest in business law.

He received his bachelor’s degree in accelerated management law from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a juris doctor from Albany Law School.

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

Matthew Omelsky

Matthew Omelsky is an assistant professor in the Department of English specializing in global African literatures in English, including works by African American, Caribbean, and Anglophone African writers and artists. Given this area of specialty, he faces a particular set of challenges when teaching undergraduates: the field is inherently multicontinental and multidisciplinary in scope—extending to film and media in addition to novels and poems—and the subject matter is usually quite new to most students. He is also a core faculty member at the Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African American Studies and serves as a faculty affiliate for the visual and cultural studies and film and media studies programs.

He has engendered a classroom environment that exemplifies open exchange, collaboration, humanity, curiosity, and wonder. As his students testify, Omelsky has worked repeatedly to foster discussions in which participants are empowered to speak their minds and to address their own experiences, contributing to an inclusive, respectful dynamic between students and teacher.

He received a bachelor’s degree in Africana studies and politics from New York University, a master’s degree in Africana studies from Cornell University, and a PhD in English from Duke University.

Andrea Pickel

Andrea Pickel is an assistant professor in the Hajim School’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and a scientist in the Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE). As a junior faculty member, she has demonstrated superb teaching skills and has made exceptional contributions to the mechanical engineering department’s teaching program. Her teaching accomplishments are even more impressive given that she began her faculty career shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, necessitating a continual shift between in-person, online, and hybrid teaching modalities.

She is dedicated to developing creative example problems and assignments, and this approach yields marked benefits in terms of student engagement and course understanding. At the undergraduate level, Pickel has taught Heat Transfer, a required junior-level course with a typical class size of about 60 students. At the graduate level, she has taught Nanoscale Energy Transport and Conversion, an entirely new graduate course that she developed. Across multiple offerings of both courses, she has received outstanding ratings on her course evaluations, and, at the graduate level, feedback is extremely positive and emphasizes her clarity and organization. She has also made major contributions to undergraduate research advising, supervising 12 undergraduate researchers thus far, with several going on to matriculate in top graduate programs.

Pickel received her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.

William H. Riker University Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching

Melina Esse

Melina Esse is an associate professor of musicology at the Eastman School of Music and a scholar of 19th- and 20th-century opera. Since joining the faculty in 2004, Esse has distinguished herself as a versatile instructor and advisor. She teaches courses for graduate students that span 18th-century to 20th-century topics, with the subject matter ranging from opera, film, and instrumental music to gender and mass media. She has designed numerous courses for Eastman’s musicology PhD students as well as for students earning master’s degrees and doctorates in performance. Not satisfied to offer just a few courses over and over again, she continues to devise new seminar topics that reflect the shifting terrain in musicology, student needs, her current research interests, and evolving understanding of pedagogy.

In addition to a valuable survey of 18th-century music for master’s students, Esse offers Eastman’s musicology PhD students seminars such as Classicism, Romanticism, Opera; 19th-Century Opera: Texts and Acts; Staging Italy in 19th-Century Opera; and the required course Introduction to Musicology.

Esse received a bachelor’s degree in music from Macalester College, a master’s degree in music history and criticism from the University of Virginia, and a PhD in music history and literature from the University of California Berkeley.

Sheree L. Toth

Sheree L. Toth is a professor of psychology and of psychiatry and the executive director of Mt. Hope Family Center, which combines scientific research, clinical services, and hands-on mentoring and training in one facility that serves more than 900 at-risk children and families annually in the greater Rochester community.

Toth has made highly significant contributions to research on the consequences of child maltreatment to the development of psychopathology as well as on effects of parental depression on child development. Toth is a critically influential professional and mentor who is committed to bridging research and clinical practice. Across her various appointments at the Mt. Hope Family Center and in the psychology and psychiatry departments, Toth has shown an unceasing commitment to fostering community and supporting the personal and professional development of her trainees. Importantly, given her incredible commitment to teaching and mentoring graduate students, her reach is significantly greater than her individual research portfolio.

Toth received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Allegheny College and a master’s degree and PhD in clinical psychology from Case Western Reserve University.

Lifetime Achievement Award in Graduate Education

Michael K. Tanenhaus

Michael K. Tanenhaus is the Emeritus Beverly Petterson Bishop and Charles W. Bishop Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences in the School of Arts & Sciences, after stepping down from full-time faculty activities in 2021. Tanenhaus joined the University as an associate professor of psychology in 1983 and has brought great distinction to the University over a career spanning almost 40 years.

His work on language processing and comprehension completely transformed that field and built bridges to other domains of cognitive science that have been lasting and transformative. He is perhaps most renowned for his development of the “visual world” paradigm, in which he used careful measurements of eye movements for monitoring spoken language comprehension in real time without the complications of using language production as a means of behavioral response. When recognized for his impact on cognitive science, Tanenhaus reflexively attributes his successes to his students, with many of his trainees now leading figures in the field of cognitive science. Tanenhaus’s mentorship routinely extended well beyond the time that trainees spent in his lab, and he has continued to impact the lives of his trainees decades later. He is recognized for his passion, dedication, and influence on multiple graduate programs and on the lives of his students.

Tanenhaus received a bachelor’s degree in speech and hearing science from the University of Iowa and a master’s degree and PhD in psychology from Columbia University.

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