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Four alumni will receive honorary degrees on May 15

May 14, 2009 By Gwen Evans

Four alumni have been selected to receive honorary degrees from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Kyung J. Kwon-Chung, head of the molecular microbiology section at the National Institutes of Health, will be awarded the honorary degree Doctor of Science; Sheldon B. Lubar, business and civic leader, will receive the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters; Joan Wallach Scott, Harold F. Linder Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., will receive the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters; and Oliver Smithies, Excellence professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, will be awarded the honorary degree Doctor of Science.

The university will bestow the honorary degrees during its Ph.D. and professional degrees ceremony on Friday, May 15, which begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Kohl Center. That ceremony is the first of five UW–Madison spring commencement ceremonies scheduled this weekend.

The process for awarding honorary degrees begins with nominations from UW–Madison academic departments to the institution’s 28-member Committee on Honorary Degrees. Nominees who receive the approval of that committee are then recommended to the UW–Madison chancellor, UW System Board of Regents and the UW–Madison Faculty Senate for approval. An honorary degree is awarded in recognition of extraordinary accomplishment and achievement.

Kwong-Chung’s leadership, vision and research genius has enabled her to build an exemplary scientific career by pioneering the field of medical mycology, the study of fungi. In work that spans some five decades, she has made seminal advances and improved the public’s health worldwide. Her advances are helping to save the lives of patients with AIDS and other immune-compromising disorders.

In addition, she has trained, taught and nurtured countless scientists and researchers who are now also leaders in the field. A gifted scientific investigator and community leader, her accomplishments in science and outside her profession have had a monumental impact on society. A woman creating a new field of research is hardly earth-shattering now, but in the 1960s, it was quite groundbreaking. She has been called the top researcher of all time in a very large field and the world’s pre-eminent molecular mycologist.

A Milwaukee native, Lubar’s career in business is distinguished for his success in leading companies to higher levels of excellence, earning him respect in the business world for his integrity and judgment. He is also known for his civic commitment, government service and support of education. He has served on some 100 civic boards, lending his business and fundraising skills. His dedication to public service can be seen in the Milwaukee arts scene in the museums, symphony and ballet, and the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, to name just a few. He has served under three U.S. presidents and was a leader in many Wisconsin initiatives, including the Commission on Education, the Commerce and Industry Task Force and the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, which he co-founded.

Lubar’s involvement in education is extensive. He served as president of the UW System Board of Regents; helped develop and grow UW-Milwaukee and has been engaged with the business school for decades; and established the Lubar Scholars Program. He has also been a positive force for UW–Madison, Marquette University, the University of Chicago and Beloit College, funding numerous scholarships, leading initiatives and lending his advice and expertise in countless ways.

Scott has a reputation as one of the most important thinkers of the modern era in the humanities and social sciences, receiving the prestigious Award for Distinguished Scholarly Achievement from the American Historical Association. Her interdisciplinary theorizing has transformed the fields of cultural and social history. She is also known as a defender of academic freedom and is committed to evaluating all ideas, no matter how radical. She has served on the faculties of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Northwestern University, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Princeton University and Brown University, where she founded the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women. Her many books and articles have received honors and prizes, and she serves on the advisory boards of several prestigious academic organizations and gives her time to editorial boards of many journals.

She has also made deep and lasting contributions to promoting women within the academy and beyond. She secured funding for conferences and workshops dealing with gender issues as well as advocating for scholarships for women.

Smithies’ career has been a series of visionary innovations that have impacted medical science. His work in genetics have earned him many major international awards and recognition. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1971, just 11 years after beginning his appointment as a Madison faculty member. He most recently was honored with a Nobel Prize in 2007. He donated the proceeds from that prize to the academic institutions that fostered his work, including UW–Madison.

His discovery of targeting specific mouse genes enabled the production of “designer mice” with genetic models of many human diseases. Scientists today can’t remember research before “knock-out” mouse strains were invented. This groundbreaking discovery advanced research in diseases such as cystic fibrosis, cancer, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, to name just a few. His research will benefit humanity for many years to come, paving the way for improving the human condition.