Three recommended for Winter Commencement honorary degrees


(Update: The Board of Regents approved these honorary degree recipients Feb. 8.)

Three leaders in the fields of international finance, higher education and medical research are being recommended for honorary degrees at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor campus’ 2022 Winter Commencement.

Vera L. Songwe, chair of the Liquidity and Sustainability Facility and co-chair of the High Level Panel on Climate Finance, will be the main speaker at the Dec. 18 ceremony at Crisler Center. She has been recommended for an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Others recommended for honorary degrees are:

  • Rebecca M. Blank, an internationally respected economist and educator, Doctor of Laws.
  • Melissa J. Moore, chief scientific officer emeritus of Moderna, Doctor of Science.

The degrees are pending approval by the Board of Regents at its Dec. 8 meeting.

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

Vera L. Songwe

Vera J. Songwe
Vera L. Songwe

Songwe has devoted her life to bringing greater prosperity to countries throughout Africa.

Currently the chair of the Liquidity and Sustainability Facility and co-chair of the High Level Panel on Climate Finance — two groups associated with the United Nations — she works to improve African sovereign debt sustainability, address climate change and assist with the challenges of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Songwe earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and a B.A. in political science from U-M, and a Ph.D. in mathematical economics from the Center for Operations Research & Econometrics at the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve in Belgium. She also is a visiting scholar at the University of Southern California and at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Her main areas of interest are fiscal and monetary policy, innovating financial mechanisms for development, agriculture, energy and economic governance. She has extensive experience working in Africa, Europe, and East, Central and South Asia.

After joining the World Bank through the Young Professional Program in 1998, Songwe worked her way up through several positions from 2005-15. In 2015, she joined the International Finance Corp. as a regional director covering West and Central Africa where she oversaw a multibillion-dollar portfolio of investments in energy, transportation, manufacturing and technology.

Songwe was undersecretary-general at the United Nations and executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa from 2017-22. She has spent the last three years championing the cause for additional liquidity for emerging markets and the need for a new global financial architecture fit for the 21st century development challenges.

She is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and, in 2020, was recognized as one of Africa’s 100 most influential people by the publication Jeune Afrique. She recently co-authored a book titled “Regional Integration in West Africa: Is There a Role for a Single Currency?” with Eswar Prasad.

Rebecca M. Blank

Rebecca M. Blank
Rebecca M. Blank

Blank is an internationally respected economist and educator. She recently retired as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison after serving from 2013-22.

A native Midwesterner, Blank earned an undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Minnesota and a doctoral degree in economics from MIT.

She was a member of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration, and served as deputy secretary and acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce under President Barack Obama from 2010-13.

Blank served as dean and professor of public policy and economics in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy from 1999-2008. Earlier in her career, she was a member of the faculty at Northwestern and Princeton universities.

She has authored and co-authored books including “Changing Inequality, Measuring Racial Discrimination” and “It Takes a Nation: A New Agenda for Fighting Poverty.”

Blank is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is one of four U.S. economists honored as 2021 Distinguished Fellows of the American Economic Association.

Other awards include the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize given by the American Academy of Political and Social Science to individuals who use social science research to inform public policy while also contributing to the public discourse on society’s most pressing issues.

Blank is a frequent speaker on the importance of public research universities. She has been part of a vital national conversation about how to keep these institutions financially stable and thriving.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison she presided over a major effort to expand access and improve educational outcomes, making sure that students are prepared to succeed in a rapidly changing economy.

Under her leadership, UW improved graduation rates, reduced student debt levels, created the School of Computer, Data, and Information Science, expanded online learning, and launched Bucky’s Tuition Promise to help low-income students in Wisconsin attend UW.

Melissa J. Moore

Melissa J. Moore
Melissa J. Moore

Moore’s contributions in medical research have been fundamental in the fight against COVID-19. From 2016-21 she led the early-stage research teams developing Moderna’s platform technologies in mRNA design and delivery. These technologies were foundational for Moderna’s ability to rapidly create a highly effective vaccine against SARS-CoV-2.

She is currently Moderna’s chief scientific officer emeritus.

Moore holds a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and biology from the College of William and Mary, and a Ph.D. in biological chemistry from MIT. She began working on RNA metabolism during her postdoctoral training at MIT.

During her 23 years as a faculty member, first at Brandeis University from 1994-2007 and then at the University of Massachusetts Medical School from 2007-16, her research encompassed topics related to the roles of RNA and RNA-protein complexes in gene expression, and touched on many human diseases including cancer, neurodegeneration and preeclampsia.

Moore joined Moderna in 2016 from UMMS, where she was a professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology. The Elanor Eustis Farrington Chair in Cancer Research, she is also a longtime investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

After leading platform research at Moderna prior to and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she recently shifted her focus to education and DEI initiatives. She now works with colleagues in the newly founded Moderna University to create content for both internal and external education regarding the science behind mRNA medicines. 

Moore is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and recipient of the RNA Society Lifetime Achievement Award.

Other accolades include being named one of the 100 Fiercest Women in Life Sciences by FiercePharma in 2018 and being listed in the PharmaVOICE publication’s annual PharmaVOICE 100 ranking in 2019.

Moore was a founding co-director of the UMMS RNA Therapeutics Institute and sits on the board of directors of Tessera Therapeutics, multiple Scientific Advisory Boards, and has co-founded two companies — Comanche Biopharma and Via Scientific.


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