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2020 honorary degrees, medals, and teaching awards announced

(University of Rochester photo)

The University of Rochester is recognizing the outstanding contributions of distinguished leaders, educators, and humanitarians by bestowing honorary degrees, Eastman Medals, Hutchison Medals, and awards for scholarship and teaching. These honors will be presented at future events over the course of the year when it is safe to do so, or may be delivered at a future in-person Commencement celebration.

On Friday, May 15, the University will confer degrees on graduating students in a video message from President Sarah C. Mangelsdorf on the Class of 2020 degree conferral website.

University Honorary Degrees

Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906)—Doctor of Laws (posthumous)

Social reformer and activist Susan B. Anthony worked to secure citizenship and the fundamental right to vote for all people.

Susan Brownell Anthony helped to found the National Woman Suffrage Association, the American Equal Rights Association, and the International Council of Women, among countless efforts to secure citizenship and the fundamental right to vote for all people. In addition to her nationally and internationally recognized work, Anthony had a profound impact on the University of Rochester by taking up the cause of admitting women to the school. By pledging her life insurance money, she met the University’s financial demands to allow the admittance of women, thereby altering the structure of the University and advancing inclusivity at the institution.

Born to a Quaker family in Adams, Massachusetts, Anthony inherited a keen sense of social justice from her parents and community. At the age of 17, she began petitioning for the abolitionist movement. She later founded the Women’s National Loyal League with Elizabeth Cady Stanton to rally support for the 13th Amendment and an end to slavery.

When the 14th and 15th Amendments failed to include women, Anthony’s lifelong passion for equality and human rights was compounded. In support of the women’s suffrage movement, she traveled to deliver as many as 75 to 100 speeches a year. Anthony also led the Working Women’s Association in advocating for labor rights and reforms, equal pay for women, opening male-dominated professions to women, and the eight-hour workday.

Anthony did not live to see the day that women finally achieved the vote on August 18, 1920. This centennial anniversary is set to be celebrated this summer.

Robert Shannon ’54, ’57 (MA)Honorary Doctor of Engineering

Robert Shannon has served as president of the Optical Society of America and SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.

Robert Shannon received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University’s Institute of Optics. He began his career at Itek Corporation in Massachusetts, which was a leading builder of early satellite reconnaissance systems. While there, he was involved in the design of several of the optical systems to be used in space observation systems.

After a decade at Itek, Shannon joined the faculty of the Optical Sciences Center at the University of Arizona, ultimately serving as director of the center. He taught optical design, was the adviser to many MS and PhD students, and was responsible for several different research and engineering projects.

Shannon has served as president of the Optical Society of America (OSA) and SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics. He also received the Gold Medal from SPIE. He has been a member of many government advisory committees and was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He has also been a member of the Aerospace Corporation Board of Trustees, was a participant in NASA’s Hubble Telescope Mirror Recovery Panel, a member of the Technical Advisory Group at the NRO, and a member of the US Air Force Scientific Advisory Board.

Shannon is especially proud of his large extended family, which includes six children and several grand­children and great-grandchildren.

Robert Witmer Jr. ’59 (1937–2019)—Honorary Doctor of Laws (posthumous)

Known affectionately as “Mr. Rochester,” Robert Witmer was a longtime servant of the University and the greater Rochester community.

Known affectionately as “Mr. Rochester,” Robert Witmer was a noted jurist, distinguished alumnus, and longtime servant of the University and the greater Rochester community.

A 1959 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University with honors in history, Witmer graduated from Harvard Law School. He was an accomplished lawyer, serving as senior counsel for Nixon Peabody and representing clients in high-profile matters of real estate and environmental law in New York and at the federal level.

Throughout his life, Witmer was a deeply engaged alumnus and assumed important advisory roles for the College, Alumni Affairs, the Medical Center, the Eastman School of Music, and the Board of Trustees. Elected to the board in 1979, Witmer served as chair from 2003 until 2008, which was a pivotal tenure that included the selection of the University’s 10th president and laying the groundwork for the 2011 launch of The Meliora Challenge campaign.

Witmer served as president of the New York State Bar Association and as a member of the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates. He received the Adolf J. Rodenbeck Award, presented by the Monroe County Bar Association to a legal professional who exemplifies professionalism and community service. In 2013, he received the Rochester Rotary Award, given for those who personify “Service Above Self.”

He shared a love of music with his wife, Nancy; together they played in the New Horizons Band.

The Eastman Medal

Recognizing outstanding achievement and dedicated service in honor of the University’s great benefactor and the founder of Eastman Kodak Company

Kathleen Hochul

Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Hochul has worked in all levels of government, from town board to Congress.

The Hon. Kathleen Hochul is lieutenant governor of New York State, president of the New York State Senate, and chair of the state’s Women’s Suffrage 100th Anniversary Commemoration Commission. She graciously accepted the University’s invitation to be the College’s 2020 Commencement speaker before the New York State on PAUSE executive order went into effect.

Hochul was elected lieutenant governor in 2014 and re-elected for a second term in 2018. She has worked in all levels of government, from town board to Congress, where she represented New York’s 26th Congressional District.

She chairs the statewide Regional Economic Development Councils, which have reinvented economic development in local communities She also co-chairs the state’s Heroin and Opioid Task Force working to combat the epidemic. She additionally spearheads the administration’s efforts to advance equality, championing campaigns for fair wages, paid family leave, “Enough is Enough” to combat sexual assault on college campuses, and eliminating the gender wage gap. She continues to be a champion for women and families across the state, serving as co-chair of the state’s Child Care Availability Task Force and chair of the New York State Women’s Suffrage Commission. She makes it a point to travel to all 62 New York State counties every year—traveling enough miles to circle the globe more than 10 times.

Hochul received a BA from Syracuse University and a law degree from Catholic University in Washington, DC, serving as legal counsel and legislative assistant to Congressman John LaFalce and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan before starting her career in public service.

Nancy Robbins

Nancy Robbins led a comprehensive effort to bring a Ronald McDonald House to Rochester’s Medical Center.

For more than 50 years, Nancy Robbins has embodied volunteerism, service, and support. She served as a teacher for several years before starting a career as a department store buyer at Gimbel’s in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; La Salle’s in Toledo, Ohio; and Sibley’s in Rochester, New York. After retiring from Sibley’s in 1966, Robbins dedicated her life to serving the greater Rochester community.

In 1970, her 3-year-old daughter was treated as a cancer patient at the Strong Memorial Hospital. In 1986, remembering those awful days without a support system, Robbins led a comprehensive effort to bring a Ronald McDonald House to Rochester’s Medical Center, which had a transformative effect on the hospital’s ability to serve the region, offering families with critically ill children emotional support and affordable lodging. She created a volunteer grassroots fundraising organization, and her support bolstered a $2 million campaign that enabled the hospital to significantly enhance facilities, services, and staff. After four years as president of the board, Robbins devoted another 28 years as a volunteer for the Ronald McDonald House. In 2003, she and her husband, Dan, pledged $1 million to help fund construction of a new, 22-bed Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Golisano Children’s Hospital.

Robbins served many years in leadership positions with the Woman’s Educational and Industrial Union, the Women’s Coalition for Downtown Rochester, the Rochester Philharmonic League, WXXI Public Broadcasting, and numerous projects with the City of Rochester. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Westminster College in 1945.

The Charles Force Hutchison and Marjorie Smith Hutchison Medal

Recognizing alumni for outstanding achievement and notable service

Jude Sauer 81, 84M (MD), ’88M (Res)

Jude Sauer has been awarded 190 US and international patents—with 116 more pending.

Jude Sauer is a clinical assistant professor of surgery in the University’s School of Medicine and Dentistry. After graduating from the University and the School of Medicine and Dentistry, and completing general surgery residency training and a surgical research fellowship at URMC, he began a career in surgical innovation.

Sauer founded LSI SOLUTIONS in 1986 during his surgical internship. The company now has more than 400 employees based in Victor, New York. Sauer has been awarded 190 US and international patents (116 more are pending) for minimally invasive surgical products in the fields of general, gynecologic, bariatric, and cardiac surgery. LSI’s inventions have been used in 64 countries and have treated nearly 800,000 surgical patients. The team is now producing a new barrier product for health care workers, the HEROVIEW Shield, optimized to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the past three decades, Sauer’s travels have taken him to hospitals throughout the United States and beyond. He has participated in surgery across the globe 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 more than 100 scientific presentations, posters, and publications.

Sauer and his wife, Eva P. Sauer, have four adult children, Jude, Viny, Martin, and Ava.

University Teaching Awards for Excellence

Patrick Hopkins ’99N (MS) ’10N (DNP)—Edward Peck Curtis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching

It’s not unusual to see students crowded around Patrick Hopkins as he conducts an impromptu teaching session.

Patrick Hopkins is co-director of the Accelerated Program for Non-Nurses, an intensive program in the University’s School of Nursing that prepares students who already have a bachelor’s degree for a career in nursing. He teaches pathophysiology in the accelerated bachelor’s program and content on the care of children and families in the pediatric nurse and family nurse practitioner programs.

His students comment on his passion for teaching, his commitment to their success, and his creativity with methodologies, bringing his clinical experience into the classroom. Hopkins spends an incredible number of hours with students outside of class working with those who are having difficulties to ensure their understanding of the content. It’s not unusual to walk through the School of Nursing’s atrium and see students crowded around him as he conducts an impromptu teaching session.

Hopkins has been recognized with the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Mary Dombeck Diversity Enhancement Faculty Award, and the Outstanding Scholarly Practitioner Award in the School of Nursing. A native of England, he has worked in the NICU at Strong Memorial Hospital since relocating to Rochester in 1994, rising from staff nurse to nurse leader to neonatal nurse practitioner. He serves as specialty director of the Neonatal NP Program. He earned his master’s degree from the pediatric nurse practitioner program, his post-master’s certification as a neonatal nurse practitioner, and his doctor of nursing practice degree from the School of Nursing. He earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Hull and his registered general nurse degree at St. James University Hospital in Great Britain.

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

Llerena Searle is a talented and creative teacher who shows a deep commitment to innovation and collaboration across disciplines.

Llerena Guiu Searle is an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology and her research focuses on the ways in which capitalist practices shape urban space in globalizing India. She teaches courses on cities, material culture, expertise, language, personhood, and domesticity.

Searle is a talented and creative teacher who shows a deep commitment to innovation and collaboration across disciplines. She pays a great deal of attention to the craft of teaching and works constantly to improve and refine her classes. In her courses, she manages to combine rigor and high expectations with a sensitive and caring approach that appeals to students of all abilities and backgrounds.

Her first book, Landscapes of Accumulation: Real Estate and the Neoliberal Imagination in Contemporary India (University of Chicago Press, 2016) explains the rapid growth of Indian cities by examining the practices of the international financiers and real estate developers who fund real estate projects. Her current book project, Home, Inc.: Producing Domesticity in Contemporary India, examines the economic visions, labor practices, and class strategies that are changing the physical contours of domestic space in India today.

Searle received her BA in art history from Williams College in 1999 and her PhD in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2010.

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

Brianna Theobald builds hands-on learning experiences thoughtfully into every course, from field trips to engagement with primary sources.

Brianna Theobald is an assistant professor of history and affiliate faculty in the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. She teaches courses in US women’s history, the history of Native America, the history of reproduction, US and the world, and sports history.

Her students comment on her enthusiasm for the course material and how she makes them feel comfortable and empowered in the classroom. Students appreciate the hands-on learning experiences that Theobald thoughtfully builds into every course, whether it’s field trips, visits to rare books libraries, or simple engagement with thought-provoking primary sources in the classroom.

Theobald’s first book, Reproduction on the Reservation: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Colonialism in the Long Twentieth Century, was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2019. She has published several articles and book chapters in the fields of Native American women’s history and the history of reproduction.

She holds a PhD in history from Arizona State University, as well as a master’s degree in history and a BA in history and English from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Michael Scott—William H. Riker University Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching

Michael Scott has advised 18 former and six current PhD students and served on the thesis committees of 51 others.

Michael Scott is the Arthur Gould Yates Professor of Engineering and a past and incoming chair of the Department of Computer Science. His research interests and expertise span most of the “systems stack,” from high-level hardware design through operating systems, run-time systems, compilers, and programming languages, with a particular emphasis on parallel computing.

He teaches courses in computer organization, programming language design and implementation, parallel and distributed computing, and the social implications of computing. He has advised 18 former and six current PhD students and served on the thesis committees of 51 others. In 2001, he received the Robert and Pamela Goergen Award for Distinguished Achievement and Artistry in Undergraduate Teaching and in 2018 he received the Hajim School’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

In recognition of his work on synchronization algorithms and concurrent data structures, he shared the 2006 Edsger W. Dijkstra Prize of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). He was named a fellow of the ACM in 2006 and of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in 2010.

Scott earned BA, MS, and PhD degrees from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and has been a faculty member at the University of Rochester ever since. During the 2014–15 academic year he was a visiting scientist at Google.

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