A Nobel Prize winner, National Education Association Foundation leader, and infant development expert are among UConn’s honorary degree recipients this year. Each year, the University bestows honorary degrees in recognition of extraordinary and lasting distinction that represents the highest intellectual and moral values.
This year, honorary degrees are awarded to Timothy Scott Case, doctor of science (engineering); Helen Hays, doctor of science (biology); Barbara Medoff-Cooper, doctor of science (nursing); Michael A. Melio, doctor of humane letters; Harriet Sanford, doctor of humane letters (education); Robert J. Shiller, doctor of science (business); Anne C.R. Tanner, doctor of science (medicine); Leslie Uggams, doctor of fine arts,; and Peter J. Werth Jr., doctor of science.
Timothy Scott Case, Doctor of Science, School of Engineering
Timothy “Scott” Case, an alumnus and Connecticut native, is an innovative entrepreneur, humanitarian, and technology pioneer. In 1996, he became the founding CTO of Priceline, popularly known as the “Name Your Own Price” company. It was one of only a handful of startups in U.S. history to reach a billion dollars in annual sales in less than 24 months. He was responsible for building the technology that drove Priceline’s incredibly fast growth as a business.
Case’s entrepreneur days began at UConn, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering in 1992. As a senior, he co-founded Precision Training Software, which launched the world’s first PC-based simulated flight instructor and photo-realistic flight simulator.
The focus of Case’s career has been on using the power of entrepreneurship for social change. In 2006, he joined Malaria No More, a nonprofit organization that has distributed malaria nets to more than 5 million people in 17 African countries. In 2011, Case was named founding CEO of the Startup America Partnership (now known as Up Global), which gives startup companies access to valuable relationships, opportunities, and information. Most recently, Case co-founded Main Street Genome, which aims to reduce failure rates for millions of business owners. Case also serves as the chairman of Network for Good, a national nonprofit that has distributed more than $475 million to 60,000 nonprofits and provides online fundraising and communications services to more than 5,000 nonprofit organizations.
Helen Hays, Doctor of Science, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Helen Hays received her B.A. in biology from Wellesley College in 1953. She did graduate work at Cornell University’s Delta Waterfowl field station in Manitoba, studying the intricacies of Ruddy Duck breeding biology. Both Cornell and Wellesley declined to grant her a master’s degree for her work; Wellesley based its decision on the grounds that the study was “not relevant.” Years later, her work on Ruddy Ducks was peer reviewed and published in The Auk, the premier North American ornithological journal, and in the Handbook of North American Birds.
But in 1956, without a graduate degree, Hays took up any work she could secure in biology, including cataloging avian specimens and blood, and secretarial work, primarily at the American Museum of Natural History. By 1969, she was chairperson of the Great Gull Island Committee in the Department of Ornithology.
From that time through the present, Hays has spent every field season, May to September, on Great Gull Island. She has recruited, trained, and managed hundreds of volunteers, many of whom return for years or decades. She has, through personal example and direct training, inspired and launched the careers of hundreds of students. Hays has been recognized with a President’s Volunteer Action Award from Ronald Reagan; a Conservation Service Award from the U.S. Department of the Interior; and an Alumni Achievement Award from Wellesley College.
Over her 45 years on Great Gull Island, Hays has amassed the longest continuous life history data set on any North American bird, which will serve in the future for understanding the effects of climate change on Long Island Sound. An internationally recognized expert on the biology of terns, she was among the first to discover the devastating effect of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on wild birds, work that contributed to the development of regulations protecting humans from this widespread pollutant.
She lists her 45 years of extraordinary scholarship with the Great Gull Island Project under the heading “Volunteer” on her CV. But under her leadership, Great Gull Island has become one of the largest colonies of terns in North America, containing within it the largest colony of the endangered Roseate Tern in the Western Hemisphere.
Barbara Medoff-Cooper, Doctor of Science, School of Nursing
Barbara Medoff-Cooper, the Ruth M. Colket Endowed Chair in Pediatric Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania, is also a board-certified pediatric nurse practitioner who has continued her clinical practice alongside her teaching and research.
Internationally recognized for her research on infant development, feeding behaviors in high-risk infants, and infant temperament, Medoff-Cooper holds four patents on the instruments she developed to measure infant nutritive sucking. She has received numerous awards for her contributions to nursing science, including the Outstanding Nurse Research Award in 2012 from the Council for the Advancement of Nursing Science, one of the highest honors a nurse researcher can receive from her peer scientists.
Medoff-Cooper has been a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania for more than 30 years, where she has held many different positions on the faculty and within the leadership team, including an endowed chair in Pediatrics, the associate dean for Nursing Research, Nursing Research Center director, and coordinator of the Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Program, among others.
A preeminent nursing researcher and clinician, Medoff-Cooper has published extensively, including book chapters, monographs, and peer-reviewed journal articles. Her current research funding exceeds $3.5 million. In 1989, she was inducted as a fellow into the American Academy of Nursing.
Michael A. Melio, Doctor of Humane Letters, Humanities, General Studies
Michael Melio is a Waterbury, Conn., native who grew up with modest means, but built two prosperous companies that provide jobs for people, and wealth that enables him to give back philanthropically to the institutions and communities he is connected to.
The two North Carolina-based companies, Western Piedmont Metal and United American Steel Company, were successful until, in 2008, the nation’s metal market dried up during the recession. In light of the circumstances, Melio reeducated himself, retooled his businesses, and then rebuilt their combined coffers to $50 million. Melio’s ambition wasn’t to accumulate wealth but to triumph over adversity, to ensure that was the experience his young son would witness, and to protect the livelihoods of the men and women who work for him.
When he had his first small business, Melio noticed a staff member struggling with drug addiction. Most small business owners would have fired her, but Melio’s instinct was to help. He connected her with a program run by his longtime mentor and friend, Tony Robbins, the internationally known motivational speaker. He didn’t know that this act of kindness would lead to another mentor and a new career in metal recycling. With awe and gratitude for helping his daughter find the strength and courage she needed to enter recovery, the woman’s father offered to take Melio under his wing to teach him the metal recycling business and offer financing for Melio to go out on his own.
Harriet Sanford, Doctor of Humane Letters, Humanities, Neag School of Education
Harriet Sanford has served as president and CEO of the National Education Association (NEA) Foundation since 2005. Based in Washington, D.C., the NEA Foundation is committed to supporting the collaborative efforts of public school educators, unions, school districts, and communities to focus on learning conditions that improve student performance, and help prepare each of America’s children to thrive in a rapidly changing world.
An alumna of UConn, having earned a master’s degree in public administration from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1979, Sanford stands out as a trailblazer in public education reform, devoted to the betterment of society through access to quality education, cultural competency, and the arts.
Sanford began her career as a public school teacher, which led to a senior executive career that spans more than 28 years, including 22 years spent leading such nonprofit, public organizations as the Arts and Science Council in Charlotte, N.C., and the Fulton County Arts Council in Georgia. She has also served as the architect behind innovative partnerships that are bridging the divides between constellations of education organizations. Here in Connecticut, Sanford was one of the earliest supporters and advocates for the Neag School of Education’s CommPACT program, supporting the school’s vision for partnership with urban communities and school systems and ultimately leading to reform initiatives in Hartford, New Haven, and other urban communities across Connecticut. The NEA Foundation has awarded more than $700,000 to support CommPACT.
Robert J. Shiller, Doctor of Science, School of Business
In 2013, Robert J. Shiller was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. As one of the foremost economists in the world, his publications have influenced the thinking of a generation, and will do so for years to come.
Shiller has written widely about financial markets, financial innovation, behavioral economics, macroeconomics, real estate, statistical methods, and on public attitudes, opinions, and moral judgments regarding markets. His column “Finance in the 21st Century” is published in newspapers around the world, and an “Economic View” in The New York Times. His repeat-sales home price indices, developed originally with Karl E. Case, are now published as the Standard & Poor’s/Case Shiller Home Price Indices; and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange maintains futures markets based on these indices.
He is Sterling Professor of Economics, Department of Economics and Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics at Yale University, and professor of finance and fellow at the International Center for Finance at the Yale School of Management. He has been a research associate for the National Bureau of Economic Research since 1980 and co-organizer of NBER workshops since 1991. He has served as vice president of the American Economic Association, and president of the Eastern Economic Association.
Anne C.R. Tanner, Doctor of Science, Medical School
Dr. Anne Tanner is a dentist, microbiologist, professor, and researcher whose contributions to clinical and basic microbiology have advanced our understanding of dental diseases.
Tanner has had two oral bacteria named for her and her work has been recognized by the award of a Medicine Hedersdoktor (M.D. Honorary) from Umeå University, Sweden, the international prize from Swedish dental society. In 1988, Tanner’s group named an anaerobic bacteria from aggressive adult periodontitis as Bacteroides forsythus. This species is recognized as a major pathogen in adult periodontitis. In 2002, B. forsythus was reclassified to a new genus as Tannerella forsythia, in recognition of Tanner’s contribution in its original description. Another species named for Tanner is Prevotella tannerae which, while detected infrequently, is also linked with periodontitis. Tanner named several periodontal Campylobacter species, most notably Campylobacter rectus.
Tanner’s more recent studies in early childhood caries revealed a newly named species, Scardovia wiggsiae, as highly disease-associated and a candidate pathogen for dental cavities.
Her research career has been based in the microbiology department at The Forsyth Institute, including postgraduate, and junior and senior faculty positions. The Forsyth Institute is affiliated with Harvard University, and Tanner holds an associate clinical professor position at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. Tanner has served on the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) grant review study sections, and is currently on the advisory board to the NIDCR. She has served as president of the Boston Chapter of the American Association of Dental Research (AADR), and is currently on the editorial board for this association’s journal, the Journal of Dental Research. Tanner is a founder member of the American Association of Anaerobes, and was a longstanding member of the Gram negative anaerobic taxonomy committee, which oversees bacterial taxonomy for human, veterinary, and environmental microbes.
Leslie Uggams, Doctor of Fine Arts, School of Fine Arts
Leslie Uggams has used her music and her acting career over the past 60 years to touch the hearts of men and women around the world, in an effort to move them from the ignorance of prejudice to a place of understanding and compassion. At a time when black performers had to use separate entrances, sleep in separate hotels, and eat at black-only restaurants, Leslie Uggams’ talent and celebrity broke down these barriers, desegregating audiences, stages, and studios.
Uggams is a Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress and singer whose career has brought her from Harlem to Broadway, the big screen to television. She is perhaps best known for her stirring portrayal of Kizzy in the landmark TV miniseries Alex Haley’s Roots, which won Critics’ Choice Award, Emmy, and Golden Globe nominations.
Uggams has performed to critical and popular acclaim ever since her first professional appearances at the age of nine at the famed Apollo Theater. There she opened for such musical legends as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dinah Washington. Now, after six decades on stage and screen, Uggams is a legend in her own right. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Apollo Theater, and was recently honored with the American Artist Award in a gala ceremony held at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.
Kerry Kennedy, Doctor of Humane Letters, Humanities, Graduate School
For more than thirty years, Kerry Kennedy has devoted herself to the pursuit of equal justice, the promotion and protection of basic rights, and the preservation of the rule of law. As is the president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, she has worked on a range of issues, including children’s rights, child labor, disappearances, indigenous land rights, judicial independence, freedom of expression, ethnic violence, impunity, and the environment. Kennedy has concentrated specifically on women’s rights, exposing injustices and educating audiences about women’s issues, particularly honor killings, sexual slavery, domestic violence, workplace discrimination, sexual assault, abuse of prisoners, and more. She has worked in over 60 countries and led hundreds of human rights delegations. At a time of diminished idealism and growing cynicism about public service, her life and lectures are testaments to the commitment to the basic values of human rights.
Under Kennedy’s leadership, RFK Human Rights has grown from a memorial organization dedicated to Robert F. Kennedy into a diverse human rights organization that seeks to actively continue his unfinished work. RFK Human Rights supports defenders in the field with advocacy, litigation, and training; brings human rights to students in the classroom with its innovative Speak Truth To Power curriculum; and engages the financial community about sustainable investing and the intersection between business and human rights.
Kennedy also plays a multitude of critical roles with other organizations. She chairs the Amnesty International USA Leadership Council. Nominated by President Bush and confirmed by the Senate, she serves on the board of directors of the United States Institute of Peace, Human Rights First, HealthEVillages and Inter-Press Service (Rome, Italy). She is a patron of the Bloody Sunday Trust (Northern Ireland) and serves on the Editorial Board of Advisors of the Buffalo Human Rights Law Review. She is on the Advisory Committee for the association of American Indian Affairs; International Campaign for Tibet, the Global Youth Action Network, and several other organizations. She also serves on the Advisory Board of the Albert Schweitzer Institute.
Peter J. Werth Jr., Doctor of Science, Graduate School
Peter Werth has channeled his considerable intellect and ambition to improve health and well being nationally through greater access to affordable medications.
In 1982, Werth founded ChemWerth Inc. to bring active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), the building blocks for generic drugs, to market.
After working in research and development in pharmaceutical giants including Upjohn Pharmaceuticals (now Pfizer) for 17 years, he traveled to China to lay the groundwork to bring Chinese APIs up to U.S. standards and into the country. His work helped forge strong ties with the Chinese pharmaceutical industry and increase imports of APIs, which has lowered the cost of medications in the United States. Generic drugs cost approximately 80 percent less than brand name drugs, saving Americans up to $10 billion a year, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That cost-savings can mean the difference between treatment and going without for millions of Americans.
In addition to being a successful chemist and entrepreneur, Werth is an avid philanthropist, UConn parent, and Huskies fan. The Werth Family Foundation, which he established in 2001 to support Connecticut communities, focuses on higher education, children’s services, human services, the arts, and the environment. These include a pledge for the Werth Center for Coastal and Marine Studies that will transform education and research at Southern Connecticut State University; a gift to the Housatonic Community College Foundation to support art conservation and a docent program that introduces middle and high school students in Bridgeport to art and art history. Then there is the Werth Family Basketball Champions Center at UConn – the largest single gift ever received by the Division of Athletics – a significant milestone in the campaign to fund the Center completely through private dollars.
Werth’s immeasurable contributions to health care have benefited scores of Americans, as well as created jobs in the Chinese pharmaceutical industry, and his philanthropy has touched the lives of thousands of citizens across Connecticut and around the globe.