Six will receive honorary degrees at Winter Commencement exercises


A National Public Radio journalist, a nonprofits expert and former university president, a pioneer who helped create and shape the field of pharmaceutics, a former U.S. surgeon general, a current university president, and a prominent supporter of a University of Michigan writing program are to receive honorary degrees at Winter Commencement 2013 exercises at the Ann Arbor and Flint campuses.

Michele Norris-Johnson, NPR correspondent and host, will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree and deliver the Winter Commencement address for the Ann Arbor campus at 2 p.m. Dec. 15 at Crisler Center.

Also receiving honorary degrees are Willard L. “Sandy” Boyd, Doctor of Laws; William I. Higuchi, Doctor of Science; Dr. David Satcher, Doctor of Science; Lou Anna K. Simon, Doctor of Laws; and Helen Zell, Doctor of Humane Letters.

Satcher also will deliver the address for UM-Flint Winter Commencement 2013 exercises at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 15 in the Perani Arena and Events Center.

The Board of Regents approved the honorary degrees at its Oct. 18 meeting.

Boyd, Rawlings-Miller Professor of Law and president emeritus of The University of Iowa, and president emeritus of The Field Museum in Chicago, is an expert on the role of nonprofits and has exemplified the value of a U-M education.

Willard L. “Sandy” Boyd

A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Boyd holds a Bachelor of Science in Law degree and a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Minnesota, and Master of Laws and Doctor of Juridical Science degrees, both from U-M. Boyd practiced law before joining the College of Law faculty at the University of Iowa in 1954. He served as university president from 1969-81 and interim president in 2002-03.

A champion of diversity and access to higher education for all, Boyd is known for listening to others and balancing firmness with humor. He enjoyed a constructive dialogue with students protesting the Vietnam War at Iowa and other college campuses. He was president of the Field Museum from 1981-96, and made the museum a centerpiece of Chicago’s urban renovation.

He received the Thomas and Eleanor Wright Award given by the Chicago Commission on Human Relations for making the Field Museum a place where people of different backgrounds come together for a common reason. Among other honors, Boyd has received the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Charles Frankel Prize, Humanities Iowa’s Award for Lifetime Services to the Public Humanities, and the Iowa City Human Rights Commission Lifetime Achievement Award.

After retiring from the Field Museum, he returned to the Iowa faculty, where he teaches nonprofit law and management and chairs the Lamed A. Waterman Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center.

Higuchi, professor emeritus of pharmaceutics and pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of Utah, and former U-M faculty member, is internationally recognized for his pioneering contributions to the science of drug formulation and delivery.

William I. Higuchi

Born in San Jose, Calif., Higuchi earned two degrees in chemistry, a bachelor’s degree from San Jose State College and a doctorate degree from the University of California, Berkeley. He worked as a researcher and faculty member at the University of Wisconsin before serving on the U-M faculty from 1962-82, where he fostered a collaborative relationship between U-M and Japan’s pharmaceutical industry that thrives today.

Higuchi led the University of Utah Department of Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and continued as a distinguished professor at Utah until he retired in 2007. His contributions include an understanding of how drug molecules are transported, which led to seminal advances in transdermal and gastrointestinal drug delivery. He also clarified the physical chemical process involved in dental caries and fluoride’s role in cavity prevention, and the physical chemistry of cholesterol gallstone formation and dissolution.

Higuchi co-founded or founded several pharmaceutical companies, including Theratech Inc., and is co-founder and chair of Lipocine Inc. He serves as a consultant and thought leader for governments, nonprofit organizations and pharmaceutical companies. His honors include Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun for his outstanding work in pharmaceutical sciences and his role in promoting Japan-U.S. cooperation.

As an adviser to the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, he and his late wife, Setsuko Higuchi, played key roles in preserving the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming, where both were interned as children during World War II.

Norris-Johnson, a highly regarded journalist and host of National Public Radio’s newsmagazine “All Things Considered” from 2002-11, is now an NPR guest host and special correspondent, and founder of The Race Card Project, an initiative to foster a wider conversation about race in America.

Michele Norris-Johnson

Born in Minneapolis, she studied engineering at the University of Wisconsin and journalism at the University of Minnesota, where she wrote for the student newspaper and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. She worked at major daily newspapers before joining ABC News in 1993. She was part of the ABC team that won an Emmy and a Peabody Award for coverage of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. At NPR, Norris-Johnson covered the 2008 presidential campaign, moderated a series of conversations with voters about race and politics, and co-anchored election night coverage.

In 2011, she took a leave of absence from NPR when her husband, Broderick Johnson, joined President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. She devoted herself to The Race Card Project, which invites participants to share thoughts about race in six-word stories. It has received more than 30,000 contributions. U-M was the first university to partner with Norris-Johnson on the project, and she spent hours interacting with students and faculty during the LSA Understanding Race theme semester.

As keynote speaker at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium in 2012, she spoke of the power of quiet activism, sharing lessons about her own family’s experience while researching her book “The Grace of Silence: A Memoir” (2010). Norris-Johnson shared an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award with NPR host Steve Inskeep for their 2008 election coverage. The National Association of Black Journalists honored her as Journalist of the Year in 2009 for her body of work.

Satcher, the 16th surgeon general of the United States and a four-star admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, has devoted his life to improving the nation’s health.

Dr. David Satcher

Born in Anniston, Ala., Satcher received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Morehouse College in 1963. At Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, he earned Doctor of Medicine and doctorate degrees in 1970. He worked at the King/Drew Sickle Cell Center in Los Angeles, served as interim dean at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, directed a free clinic in Watts, and taught epidemiology at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine.

In 1979, Satcher moved to Atlanta to chair the Morehouse School of Medicine Department of Community Medicine and Family Practice, and prepared doctors to practice in poor, underserved rural and urban areas. In 1982, he was appointed president of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., and chief executive officer of its hospital, launched innovative programs and founded the Journal on Health Care for the Poor and Underserved. In 1993, Satcher was appointed director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he expanded the focus to preventive care. He was instrumental in launching the Detroit Community-Academic Research Center, a partnership between U-M, the city of Detroit, and community organizations.

Appointed surgeon general and assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services in 1998, Satcher issued the first-ever surgeon general’s report on mental, oral, sexual health and obesity. Since stepping down in 2002, he has directed the National Center for Primary Care and the Center of Excellence on Health Disparities at Morehouse School of Medicine. His honors include the Public Health Service Distinguished Service Medal.

Simon, a promoter of the role of universities to benefit society and advance the global common good, is inspiring other universities to be catalysts for change and social development.

Lou Anna K. Simon

Born in Sullivan, Ind., and the first in her family to attend college, Simon earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics in 1969 and a Master of Arts degree in student personnel and counseling in 1970, both from Indiana State University. After earning a doctorate in administration and higher education from MSU in 1974, she began her career as assistant director of the university’s Office of Institutional Research.

An outstanding teacher and administrator, she also served as MSU’s associate provost, provost, vice president for academic affairs, and interim president. Simon was named the university’s 20th president in 2005. Her leadership is guided by her core values of quality, inclusion and connectivity. Simon works to create a fair and hospitable campus that welcomes and respects a wide range of people. She is committed to expanding MSU’s research to protect and enhance quality of life, including clean and affordable energy, access to education, safe and plentiful food and water, and health care.

Simon’s accomplishments include MSU’s selection as the site of the national Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, scheduled for completion in 2022. In partnership with U-M and Wayne State University, Simon launched the state’s University Research Corridor and has collaborated with U-M on other issues related to economic development and higher education policy.

Her insistence on evidence-based decision making has altered discussions within Michigan and nationally, particularly at the National Collegiate Athletic Association, where she chairs the executive committee. She also is a member of the executive committee of the Council on Competitiveness, and serves on several other committees and boards.

Zell, U-M alumna and executive director of the Zell Family Foundation, has profoundly influenced the university through her support of the Helen Zell Writers’ Program, one of the top Master of Fine Arts programs in creative writing in the country. She also supports the City of Chicago’s educational and cultural institutions through involvement and major gifts.

Helen Zell

Born in Baton Rouge, La., Zell earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature from LSA in 1964. Her Michigan involvement includes serving in the President’s Advisory Group and as honorary co-chair of the National Campaign Leadership Cabinet for the Michigan Difference Campaign.

With gifts of $10 million in 2004 and more than  $50 million in 2013, the largest donation in LSA history, Zell has helped the MFA program evolve into one of the nation’s top writing programs. In addition to creating the first endowed professorship in English, she started the Helen Zell Graduate Student Support Fund, and multiplied the number of graduate student fellowships for MFA students.

Thanks to the Zell Visiting Writers Series, students and members of the community interact with today’s most influential emerging and established writers. Through her co-curricular program support, the Helen Zell Writers’ Program offers students internship opportunities in editing, publishing, community arts organizations and symposia. The university has recognized Zell for philanthropy with a Burton Society Award.

In Chicago, Zell serves on the board of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, a nonprofit that invests in the healthy development of at-risk children and their families and educational support. As vice chair of the Chicago Public Education Fund board, Zell participated in efforts to raise and invest more than $25 million in the Chicago Public School system to improve student achievement and teacher accountability. 


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