U. announces honorary degree recipients

<p>University Board of Governors Chairman Ralph Izzo will receive a Doctorate of Human Letters at the University Commencement in May.</p>

University Board of Governors Chairman Ralph Izzo will receive a Doctorate of Human Letters at the University Commencement in May.


The University will award Ralph Izzo a Doctorate of Humane Letters, Lonnie Bunch a Doctorate of Letters, and Jane Lubchenco a Doctorate of Science, at the University Commencement May 19.

The University gives the awards to a people of distinguished service, according to the University’s guidelines on honorary degrees and commencement speakers.

Docotorate of Humane Letters

Izzo, an outgoing chairman on the University Board of Governors, began his career as a research physicist at Princeton University before working as an environmental policy adviser for the governor, he said.

He began working at PSE&G 20 years ago, was promoted to overall operations of the utility division and eventually became CEO of the company, he said.

After Izzo earned his masters from the University in 2001, a University board member suggested he join the board because of his work experience and student affiliation, he said.

“In the end I thought that it was too important to say no,” Izzo said.

Izzo said he worked on the Board of Governors as the University prepared for restructuring, joined the Big Ten and recruited University President Robert L. Barchi.

The work was sometimes contentious, he said, such as when the medical restructuring initially raised questions about the fates of the Camden and Newark campuses.

“It’s been a privilege to do it because of the important role that Rutgers plays in New Jersey … and, to an increasing extent, the world,” he said.

Izzo said a university at its simplest should create an enlightened citizenry. The University is more than a technical training institute because of its higher social responsibility.

“A university as broad as Rutgers has an equally broad-based mission,” he said.

One of the University’s most important roles is providing an expansive and well-rounded education, because he believes the world is too complicated for one-dimensional education.

“Engineers need to be able to write, and physicists need to be able to communicate,” he said.

Cooperative research programs funded by government and industry are still important, and students need to leave the University equipped with skills to become leaders in their profession, he said.

“Not too many people would want to invest in a college education and not be employable,” he said.  

Izzo said graduating seniors should be confident in the preparation they received but also recognize that their learning does not end with graduation. Every decision and outcome provides another opportunity to grow.

“Put tools acquired to good use, [and] never forget who you are as distinct from what it is you do,” he said.

Doctorate of Letters

The University will award Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the Smithsonian Institution’s

National Museum of African American History and Culture, a Doctorate of Letters.  

He believes the honorary degree recognizes the importance of history, museums and African American history, he said.

“By honoring me, they honor the field I care so much about,” he said. “They honor history.”

Bunch grew up in Belleville, N.J. in a predominantly white neighborhood where some people treated him differently because of his skin color. Looking to figure out why certain people treated him differently, he turned to history.

Bunch said he used to go to the Rutgers-Newark library to read extra history books when he was in high school.  The University, he thought, was a place that inspired people to learn.

“Rutgers was always a beacon of possibility for me,” he said.

Throughout his career, Bunch sought to make the people forgotten in history more visible by giving them a voice, he said. The Smithsonian offered him the position for this vision.

“People were talking about creating the best black museum in the world, and I thought that was a limiting idea,” he said.

Bunch oversees the construction of the museum building as well as designing the collections at the center of Smithsonian exhibitions, he said.

So far the museum has collected over 20,000 artifacts, including Harriet Tubman’s personal hymnal, an airplane used to train the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II and one of Michael Jackson’s fedoras, he said.

“In some ways, I’m inspired every day by history” he said

A variety of students attend the University, many of whom are the first generation of their family going to college.

“Universities like Rutgers are crucial to the future of America,” he said.

Bunch said life in New Jersey shaped him and continues to affect him.

“There is no greater honor than to be remembered and appreciated by the place you grew up,” he said.

Doctorate of Science

The University will award former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Director Jane Lubchenco a Doctorate of Science at  Commencement as well.

Lubchenco said she headed the NOAA during a period of intense weather, both in terms of disasters and the number of extreme weather events.

At the same time, the organization dealt with the Deep Water Horizon disaster, arriving within hours of the rig explosion to provide scientific support and weather analysis and track where the oil would go based on currents and weather.

Lubchenco said she grew up hiking and camping in the Rocky Mountains.  She enjoyed being outside looking for patterns in nature and questioning why plants and animals lived where they did.

She spent a summer in a marine biology lab in Massachusetts and discovered a new world that fascinated her and turned her scientific interest toward the ocean, she said.

“I really liked being in and around the ocean,” she said. “I have five sisters, and I think we were all part fish.”

While she focused on ecological patterns in nature, such as the correlation between tidal height and the location of species on shore, Lubchenco said she noticed many places where she conducted research were rapidly changing because of human action.

Human impact on marine ecosystems resulted in the degradation of the ecosystem, meaning humans could no longer use many of the areas for commercial or recreational use, she said.

Lubchenco began working to improve communication among scientists, the public and policymakers, initiating several programs to teach academics how to share their knowledge.

Lubchenco said the University has a spectacular reputation among scientists because of its programs and research.  She was excited to receive a phone call from the University offering to present her with an honorary degree.

Public universities have a special mission to create leaders of tomorrow, she said.

Lubchenco said the foundation of a democracy is a well-informed citizenry.  Regardless of a student’s major, anyone who graduates from a university needs to be environmentally literate and to have an appreciation for the role that science plays in the world.  

Public universities have a special obligation to provide an excellent education in a way that relates back to the real world issues of the present and future, she said.

They focus on understanding the challenges the world faces and help provide critical thinking and communication skills to the leadership of tomorrow, she said.

“That’s a huge obligation,” Lubchenco said.


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