Four recommended for Winter Commencement honorary degrees


Update: The Board of Regents approved honorary degrees for these Winter Commencement recipients at its Dec. 9 meeting.

Four leaders in the fields of higher education, theater, mathematics and community research are being recommended for honorary degrees at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor campus’ 2021 Winter Commencement.

Ruth Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University and president emerita of Brown University and Smith College, will be the main speaker at the Dec. 19 ceremony at the Crisler Center. She has been recommended for an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Others recommended for honorary degrees are:

  • E Hill De Loney, a nationally recognized pioneer and expert in community-based participatory research, Doctor of Humane Letters.
  • Cleve Moler,amathematical software pioneer, Doctor of Engineering.
  • Kathy Anne Perkins, a renowned theater scholar and lighting designer, Doctor of Fine Arts.

The degrees are pending approval by the Board of Regents at its Dec. 9 meeting.

The information below about each recommended recipient was provided by the Office of University Development and Events.

Ruth Simmons 

Ruth Simmons
Ruth Simmons

Simmons is known for being a dynamic, outspoken and courageous leader in higher education. She is the first African American president of an Ivy League institution and a strong advocate of the transforming power of education and social justice.

Simmons, the great-granddaughter of slaves and youngest of 12 children, was born in rural Texas and grew up in Houston. She graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in French in 1967 from Dillard University in New Orleans and studied for a year in France through the Fulbright Scholars Program. She earned a Master of Arts degree in 1970 and a Ph.D. in 1973 in romance languages and literatures from Harvard University.

Simmons served in faculty and administrative roles at the University of Southern California, Spelman College and Princeton University, where, as vice provost, she prepared an influential report on race relations at the university. During her tenure as president of Smith College from 1995 to 2000, she launched the first engineering program at an American women’s college.

Sworn in as the 18th president of Brown University in 2001, Simmons conceived of and advanced an ambitious program that expanded and strengthened the faculty and increased financial support and resources for students. She also commissioned a panel of Brown faculty, administrators and students to study the school’s historic ties to slavery.

A longtime U-M supporter, Simmons delivered the keynote address at President Mark Schlissel’s inauguration. In 2017, she came out of retirement to head Prairie View, a historically Black university in the Houston area.

Simmons is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the American Philosophical Society and the Council on Foreign Relations. She serves on the boards of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and The Holdsworth Center.

Among other honors, Simmons has received the United Negro College Fund President’s Award, the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal, the Foreign Policy Association Medal, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, Harvard University’s Centennial Medal and numerous honorary degrees. She was named a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in 2012.

E Hill De Loney 

E Hill De Loney
E Hill De Loney

De Loney has devoted her life to improving the lives of African Americans, especially young people. As director of the Flint Odyssey House Inc. Health Awareness Center, she works to meet the health and human service needs of residents in the community.

De Loney, who grew up in the Jim Crow South and holds master’s degrees in guidance counseling and psychology, is a legend in her adopted city of Flint. She has collaborated extensively with research teams from U-M’s School of Public Health, Medical School and Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research, as well as UM-Flint, to promote safe and healthy futures for young people, families and communities.

De Loney has played a leadership role in several local, state and national programs, including the Detroit-Genesee County Community-Based Public Health Consortium. As a founding member of the CBPH initiative in Flint, she helped develop guidelines and relationships that reframed how research is conducted to ensure community members are respected as research partners and active participants.

De Loney also played a key role in developing and implementing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health project, or REACH, to enhance understanding of health disparities, causes and prevention strategies.

De Loney has convened discussions of the causes and characteristics of racism, resulting in a deeper understanding of racism and its impact on public health among Flint-area health providers, residents and U-M faculty and students.

Through her work at Flint’s Freedom School, which she founded and where she has taught for five decades, she has helped hundreds of African American youth learn about their historical and cultural heritage and gain appreciation of their own gifts and talents.

De Loney is president emeritus of the Flint Branch of the NAACP and a pioneering founder of the National Association of Black Social Workers, with which she worked to launch Genesee County’s annual Juneteenth celebration almost 50 years before Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021.

De Loney is a past chair and past president of the National Community-Based Organization Network and the Community-Based Public Health Caucus of the American Public Health Association, which has recognized her contributions with multiple accolades.

Cleve Moler 

Cleve Moler
Cleve Moler

Moler is the founder, chair and chief mathematician of the computer software company MathWorks. He has revolutionized numerical analysis and scientific computing with his high performance computing software, including MATrix LABoratory (MATLAB), LINPACK and EISPACK. His programming innovations have dramatically increased the productivity of scientists and engineers in multiple fields.

As a youth growing up in Salt Lake City, Utah, Moler was intrigued by prime factors in street addresses and license plate numbers and built a ham radio. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics in 1961 from the California Institute of Technology, and a Master of Science degree in 1963 and a Ph.D. in 1965, also in mathematics, from Stanford University. He continued to explore matrices as a postdoctoral fellow at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

 Moler taught at U-M from 1966-72 and at the University of New Mexico for 13 years before joining the private sector. At U-M, he created mathematical software to help students perform simple calculations on the university’s mainframe computer. He also organized nationally recognized summer sessions on numerical analysis that the university hosted annually.

Moler chaired the computer science department at New Mexico from 1980-85 and developed MATLAB as a quick calculator for students doing basic matrix operations. In 1979, while on sabbatical and teaching at Stanford, Moler and his students realized MATLAB could be useful in applications beyond teaching math.

Moler and electrical engineer Jack Little, MathWorks president, founded the firm in 1984. Today, the Natick, Massachusetts-based MathWorks is a $1 billion company with more than 5,000 employees worldwide.

Moler has co-authored several textbooks, including “Computer Solutions of Linear Algebraic Systems,” considered one of the most influential textbooks in the history of computing, and two online books, “Numerical Computing with MATLAB” and “Experiments with MATLAB.”

A member of the National Academy of Engineering and a past-president of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, Moler has been recognized with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society Computer Pioneer Award and the IEEE John von Neumann Medal and Sidney Fernbach Award. 

Kathy Anne Perkins 

Kathy Anne Perkins

Perkins is a nationally recognized theatre scholar and lighting designer, U-M alumna and professor emerita at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Starting at Smith College, Perkins has devoted much of her academic career to researching African Americans’ contributions to theater, and has mentored generations of young artists and scholars. 

Perkins grew up in Mobile, Alabama, participated in church and community theater as a youth and developed a passion for lighting design at Howard University. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Howard in 1976 and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in lighting design in 1978 from U-M.

After heading the University of Illinois lighting design program for more than 20 years, Perkins served as a professor of African/African Diaspora theatre, non-Western theater and lighting design at the University of North Carolina from 2012-18.

She has received research and design awards from the Ford Foundation, Fulbright Program, United States Information Agency, The New York Times Company and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Perkins’ lighting design career has taken her everywhere from Broadway to America’s most respected regional theaters. Since retiring from academia, she has continued to freelance, lecture and conduct workshops nationally and internationally.

Perkins has edited or co-edited seven anthologies focusing on women, including “Black Female Playwrights: An Anthology of Plays before 1950,” “Selected Plays: Alice Childress,” and “Telling Our Stories of Home: International Performance Pieces By and About Women.”

She is senior editor of “The Routledge Companion to African American Theatre and Performance” and co-curated the “ONSTAGE: A Century of African American Stage Design at New York’s Lincoln Center.” She also served as theater consultant for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture inaugural exhibition, “Taking the Stage.”

Perkins has served on numerous advisory and other boards, including the United States Institute for Theatre Technology, University Resident Theatre Association, Congo Square and History Makers of Chicago. She was inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Theatre in 2007, received the NAACP Image Award, the Association for Theatre in Higher Education Career Achievement in Academic Theatre Award, and USITT’s Distinguished Achievement Awards for Education and Lighting Design.


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