2019 Commencement Speakers and Honorary Degree Recipients

Editor’s Note: The University of Connecticut will begin to use walk-through metal detectors at Gampel Pavilion this month as part of an ongoing commitment to safety and security. The new technology will be in place for the commencement exercises held in Gampel on Saturday and Sunday, May 11 and 12.  Whether arguing a case before […]

Kimberly Bryant, founder and executive director of Black Girls Code, gives the address at the School of Engineering Commencement ceremony at Gampel Pavilion on May 5, 2018. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Kimberly Bryant, founder and executive director of Black Girls Code, addressed 2018 graduates of the School of Engineering as 'architects of the future.' (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Editor’s Note: The University of Connecticut will begin to use walk-through metal detectors at Gampel Pavilion this month as part of an ongoing commitment to safety and security. The new technology will be in place for the commencement exercises held in Gampel on Saturday and Sunday, May 11 and 12. 

Whether arguing a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, leading the national dialogue on race and immigration, heading Pratt & Whitney, or representing Connecticut taxpayers, the honored guests of UConn’s commencement ceremonies are leaders in their fields.

Speakers charged with the task of imparting life wisdom to graduates include:

College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources (CAHNR), May 11, 6 p.m., Gampel Pavilion
Speaker: Indrajeet Chaubey, dean of CAHNR

Indrajeet Chaubey joined UConn on March 1, coming from Purdue University where he enjoyed a distinguished career in teaching, research, and administration for more than 12 years. At Purdue, he held a number of positions, including head and professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, and professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. As the associate dean and director of the international programs in agriculture at Purdue, Chaubey was responsible for leading and coordinating international programs that encompassed activities throughout the entire food, agriculture, and natural resources systems. He worked closely with faculty, national and international agencies, and private foundations to obtain funding to facilitate the projects.

Chaubey’s research is focused on improving water quality and watershed management by integrating field data collection and mathematical modeling, and developing simulation models and tools that will guide policymakers, watershed managers, conservation specialists, and farmers. His specialty is the integration of simulation modeling and field research to improve understanding of various rainfall runoff and pollutant transport processes. Chaubey has led efforts to quantify how land-use changes, agricultural intensification, and urbanization will impact water availability, water quality, and ecosystem services. His research informs watershed management decisions so that resource allocations and resulting water quality improvements can be made.

A prolific author, Chaubey has published more than 475 research articles, including more than 140 peer-reviewed journal articles and 190 technical papers, and has given more than 60 invited presentations at conferences around the world. He has received numerous honors, including the New Holland Young Researcher Award, ADS/Hancor Soil and Water Conservation Award, Purdue Agricultural Research Award, Purdue University Faculty Scholar, Seed for Success Award, and Outstanding Research Award. He is a fellow of both the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, and the Indian Society of Agricultural Engineers.

During his career, Chaubey has served as the principal investigator or co-investigator on 55 research projects totaling more than $40 million, and has directed the work of 30 graduate students. At UConn, Chaubey also serves as the director of the Connecticut Cooperative Extension System and the Storrs Experiment Station.

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, May 12, 12:30 p.m. and 5 p.m., Gampel Pavilion
Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipient: William Julius Wilson, Harvard University professor

William Julius Wilson is the Lewis P. and Linda Geyer University Professor of Sociology at Harvard University. He has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Education, and the Institute of Medicine. A past president of the American Sociological Association and a MacArthur Prize Fellow, Wilson was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1998.

Wilson has dedicated his research to issues of inequality; race, ethnicity, and immigration; and urban poverty. His books are provocative and frequently spark public debate. They include “The Declining Significance of Race,” “The Truly Disadvantaged,” “When Work Disappears,” “The Bridge Over the Racial Divide,” “There Goes the Neighborhood, Good Kids from Bad Neighborhoods,” and most recently, “More Than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City.”

During his career, Wilson has received 46 honorary degrees, as well as the Talcott Parsons Prize in the Social Sciences by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize by the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science; the Robert and Helen Lynd Award for Distinguished Career Achievement by the Community and Urban Section of the American Sociological Association; and the W.E.B. Du Bois Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award by the American Sociological Association.

Graduate School
Master’s Ceremony, May 11, 1:30 p.m., Gampel Pavilion
Honorary Degree Recipient: Joseph Schwantner, Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer

American composer Joseph Schwantner will be awarded a Doctor of Fine Arts, honoris causa, in a special ceremony that includes the world premiere performance of a piece commissioned for this occasion. One of Schwanter’s students, Roger Briggs, wrote the piece.

Schwantner, known for his dramatic and unique style and as a gifted orchestral colorist, holds degrees from the Chicago Conservatory and Northwestern University and previously served on the Juilliard, Eastman and Yale faculties. Schwantner is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Schwantner’s compositional career has been marked by many awards, grants, and fellowships, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for his orchestral composition Aftertones of Infinity and several Grammy nominations. Among his many commissions is his Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra, commissioned for the 150th anniversary season of the New York Philharmonic, is one of the most performed concert works of the past several decades. Christopher Lamb, soloist in the recent Naxos recording of Schwantner’s music by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra received a 2012 Grammy Award for “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” with Schwantner’s Percussion Concerto.

Schwantner’s music is published by Schott Helicon, Edition-Peters, Atherton Hill Press and recorded on a variety of labels including: Hyperion, BMG\RCA Red Label, Hyperion, Naxos, Innova, Koch International Classics, Boston Records, Albany Records, EMI/Virgin Records, New World Records, Klavier Records, Summit Records, Nonesuch, Mercury, CRI, GM Recordings, Delos, Laurel, Crest, DAD Records, Artworks Records, the Smithsonian Collection of Recordings and Sony Classical CD.

Graduate School
Doctoral Ceremony, May 13, 6 p.m., Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts

Speaker: Sandra Chafouleas, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor

Sandra Chafouleas is a UConn professor of educational psychology and Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor. At UConn, she has served in associate dean positions in The Graduate School and the Neag School of Education. She is well known in her field as a mentor to graduate students and has actively sought to include them in professional activities that guide their research. Chafouleas has mentored six postdoctoral scholars and 19 doctoral students, many of whom moved on to hold tenure track positions across the country.  Advisees say Chafouleas introduced them to a life in academia and research they didn’t realize they wanted. Her mentorship of graduate students is purposeful, direct, and provides “scaffolding” to future endeavors. Chafouleas received her doctorate in school psychology from Syracuse University in 1997.

Neag School of Education, May 12, 9 a.m., Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts
Speaker: Karissa Niehoff  ’10 (ED), executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations


Karissa Niehoff is the first female executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, the nation’s leading organization for high school sports and performing arts activities. The organization’s work encompasses more than 19,000 high schools and 12 million participants.

After launching her career as a physical education instructor in Connecticut at Greenwich High School, Niehoff went on to serve as a personal wellness teacher, athletic director, assistant principal, and principal at the middle and high school levels, in addition to coaching a championship high school field hockey team. Most recently, she led the Connecticut Association of Schools-Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference as executive director, from 2010 to 2018.

Niehoff earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts, a master’s degree from Southern Connecticut State University, and a sixth-year degree in educational leadership from Central Connecticut State University. She received her doctorate in educational leadership from UConn’s Neag School of Education in 2010. A 2016 recipient of the Neag School Alumni Board’s Distinguished Alumna Award, Niehoff has received numerous leadership and educator excellence awards. She is a member of the board of directors for USA Football, and a past member of the board of directors for the National Federation of State High School Associations.

An accomplished athlete, Niehoff competed during high school in basketball, track and field, and in the Junior Olympics for field hockey. She played Division I field hockey in college, and was inducted  into the New Agenda Northeast Women’s Hall of Fame. She also served on the Education Committee of the United States Olympic Committee, including acting as U.S. delegate to International Olympic Academies in Greece and Canada, and as co-founder of the national Passing The Torch Academy for Youth Sport Leadership.

School of Business, May 12, 9 a.m., Gampel Pavilion
Speaker: John R. Fodor ’85 (CLAS), investor and entrepreneur

A longtime leader in the investment world, John Fodor is currently serving as interim president and CEO of the UConn Foundation.

While at Capital Group, Fodor worked both domestically and internationally to build the company into one of the world’s largest investment managers. He was a founding member of the group’s institutional retirement plan efforts, eventually leading the group from start-up to one of the most successful retirement plan efforts in the financial services industry. He went on to lead North American Distribution to record sales in excess of $200 billion per year. After logging more than 5 million travel miles over 22 years as an investor, he decided to retire from the firm in July 2014.

Since then, Fodor has helped finance several start-ups, including Latitude Beverages, named to the Boston Business Journal’s “Fast 50” fastest-growing businesses list. In his most recent venture, he and a longtime UConn friend co-founded NextGen Dental Management, an innovative investment holding and management company for the dental industry.

After earning his degree in economics from UConn, Fodor graduated from the Harvard Business School’s executive leadership in financial services program, Northwestern University’s executive leadership immersion program, and the Talent Management Institute at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

He has served on the UConn School of Business Advisory Cabinet, as well as the Southborough Community Foundation, and is president of his own foundation, the John and Sally Fodor Family Foundation.

School of Engineering, May 11, 9 a.m., Gampel Pavilion
Speaker: Robert F. Leduc, Pratt & Whitney president

Robert “Bob” Leduc, president of Pratt & Whitney since January 2016, has deep knowledge of aerospace engineering, and experience in program execution, systems integration, long-cycle investments, and customer value creation.

He began his career in aerospace engineering at Pratt & Whitney, holding roles of increasing leadership responsibility in program management, strategy, and customer support, before being named senior vice president, engine programs & customer support in 1995. He has held numerous senior executive roles over 38 years at United Technologies Corp., most recently as president of Sikorsky in 2015.

Leduc joined Hamilton Sundstrand in 2004, serving as president of flight systems and classified programs. He was appointed president of Boeing 787, Space Systems & U.S. Government Classified Programs in 2010. He continued as president of Boeing Programs & Space with the establishment of UTC Aerospace Systems in 2012.

Leduc holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Southeastern Massachusetts University, and an honorary doctorate in business from the University of Massachusetts.

School of Fine Arts, May 11, 5 p.m., Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts
Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipient: Richard Lublin, television and film actor

After a successful career as a trial attorney, Richard Lublin pursued his passion for the arts and built an impressive second career in television and film. Today, in addition to being a philanthropist, Lublin is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Lublin started acting in 1998, after a 32-year tenure in law practice in Connecticut. He landed roles playing an attorney in two television series – “The Practice” and “Ally McBeal” – and later a judge on “Law & Order.” Supporting roles followed in other top television series: “Chicago Hope,” “Married with Children,” “Frasier,” “Rescue Me,” and HBO’s “Luck.”

In 2007, Lublin acted alongside Oscar winners Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marissa Tomei and Oscar nominees Ethan Hawke and Albert Finney in the acclaimed film “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” directed by Sidney Lumet. Later this year, Lublin will be seen in the film “The Land of Steady Habits,” starring Connie Britton and Edie Falco, and written and directed by Nicole Holofcener.

After earning his bachelor’s degree from Duke University in 1961, and a law degree from Cornell Law School in 1964, Lublin served two terms on the state Board of Pardons. During his tenure as a member of the Hartford County Bar Association, he served as chair of the ethics committee.

Throughout his career, Lublin’s philanthropy has supported UConn Health and cancer reseach. For their contributions, Lublin and his wife, Jane, were awarded the Carole and Ray Neag Medal of Honor in 2014.

School of Law, May 19, 10:30 a.m., Commencement Tent
Speaker: Former U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. 

Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. served as Solicitor General of the United States from June 2011 to June 2016. During that time, he argued dozens of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and was responsible for representing the government in all appellate matters before the high court and in the courts of appeals.

Verrilli’s landmark victories include his successful advocacy in defense of the Affordable Care Act in National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius and King v. Burwell; his successful advocacy for marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges and United States v. Windsor; and his vindication of federal immigration authority in Arizona v. United States. He also achieved important victories in patent cases, and in numerous cases involving civil rights and women’s rights.

Before serving as Solicitor General, Verrilli served as deputy White House counsel, and previously as associate deputy attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice. In those positions, he counseled President Obama, cabinet secretaries, and other senior government officials on a wide range of legal issues involving national security, economic regulation, domestic policy, and the scope of executive and administrative authority.

Before joining the government, Verrilli spent two decades in private practice representing companies in their most high stakes matters, particularly in the areas of media and entertainment, telecommunications, and First Amendment law, which he has taught at Georgetown Law School. Verrilli is now a partner with Munger, Tolles & Olson, and the founder of its Washington, D.C., office. In addition to handling matters before the U.S. Supreme Court and the courts of appeals, Verrilli’s practice focuses on representing and counseling clients on multi-dimensional problems, where litigation, regulation, and public policy intersect to shape markets and industries in our evolving economy.

Schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine, May 13, 1 p.m., Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts
Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipient: David C. Page, director and president of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research

Dr. David C. Page is the director and president of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, professor of biology at MIT, and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. A graduate of Swarthmore College, Page earned his medical degree from Harvard Medical School and the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program. He joined the Whitehead Institute as its first fellow, in 1984. Page will receive a Doctor of Sciences degree honoris causa.

Page’s laboratory explores fundamental differences between males and females in health and disease, both within and beyond the reproductive tract. The Page lab recently discovered that XY and XX sex chromosomes account for subtle differences in the molecular biology of male and female cells throughout the body.

Page’s honors include a MacArthur Fellowship, the Francis Amory Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology. Recognized twice by Science magazine for “Top Ten Scientific Advances of the Year,” Page is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

School of Nursing, May 11, 9 a.m., Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts
Renae Martin ’95 (NUR), recipient of the Josephine A. Dolan Distinguished Service Award.
Judith Hahn ’14 (NUR), recipient of the Carolyn Ladd Widmer Outstanding Alumni Award for Leadership in Nursing.

Renae Martin currently works as the project coordinator at the Narragansett Prevention Partnership in Rhode Island and is a certified prevention specialist. In that role, Martin works with students in grades 5 to 12, their parents, teachers, coaches, and the community to prevent youth drug and alcohol use. She is an active volunteer, and teaches CPR and first aid to Little League coaches. Martin began her career at Yale New Haven Hospital, later joining Temple Cardiac Rehabilitation as a cardiovascular specialist. She has co-authored several research studies at the Yale School of Medicine, looking at physician referral patterns, patient outcomes in minority populations, changes in referral patterns following educational initiatives, as well as endothelial function. Martin is member of the Mu Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing.

Judith Hahn is director of nursing professional practice at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut. She is board certified as an advanced nurse executive and a health care quality professional. Hahn’s scholarly work includes study of the “dedicated education unit” model for nurses. Hahn is a member of the Yale University School of Nursing faculty, where she teaches about leadership in the doctorate program. She is an appraiser for the American Nurses Credentialing Center magnet program for nursing excellence, and has volunteered internationally with the Vietnam Nurse Improvement Project, supporting nurses in that nation.

School of Pharmacy Graduate Ceremony, Saturday, May 11, 9 a.m., Rome Ballroom
Speaker: Rick Carbray ’75 (PHR), operator of two Connecticut pharmacies

Richard T. Carbray Jr. is a cum laude graduate of the UConn School of Pharmacy, and a member of the Rho Chi and Mortar and Pestle Societies. He is co-owner of two pharmacies in Hamden, Connecticut, which specialize in assisted living and long-term care: Apex Pharmacy and Home Care Center; and Annex Pharmacy.

Carbray currently serves on the UConn Board of Trustees and the UConn Club Board of Directors. He is a member of the UConn Alumni Association and the School of Pharmacy Alumni Association, and a former president of the UConn Alumni Association and the UConn Pharmacy Alumni Association. He has received the UConn Alumni Association Service Award, and the UConn Pharmacy Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus in Pharmacy Practice Award.

Cabray serves as an adjunct lecturer for pharmacy practice at UConn. He also served on the Newington Town Council for eight years, and as legislative chairman of the Connecticut Pharmacists Association. He is also a pharmacy commissioner for the state of Connecticut. He has received numerous awards, including the U.S. Pharmacist Service to the Community National Award for Independent Pharmacy, the A.H. Robbins Bowl of Hygeia National Award for Community Service, the Connecticut Pharmacists Association Pharmacist of the Year Award, and the National Community Pharmacists Association Leadership Award.

School of Pharmacy Undergraduate Ceremony, May 11, 4 p.m., Rome Ballroom
Speaker: Congressman Joe Courtney ’78 (LAW)

Joe Courtney was elected in 2006 to represent the Second Congressional District of Connecticut in the House of Representatives. He serves on the House Armed Services Committee, and House Education & Labor Committee.

As a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, Courtney led the call for increased submarine production. Because of funding secured by Courtney through his committee work, Electric Boat has been building two submarines per year since 2011. In addition, Courtney secured resources for new design and engineering work on the replacement for the OHIO-class submarine, which has added thousands of jobs in southeastern Connecticut. This design and engineering work prompted Electric Boat to expand into the former Pfizer building in New London to accommodate its growing workforce. And Courtney secured more than $100 million in federal funding beyond the president’s budget for SUBASE New London. In recognition of his work, Courtney was awarded “The Distinguished Public Service Award,” the highest civilian honor the Navy confers.

In addition to serving as chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, he co-chairs the bipartisan Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus along with Rep. Rob Wittman of Virginia. As a member of the House Education & Labor Committee, he serves on the Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions subcommittee, as well as the Higher Education and Workforce Training subcommittee.

Since his swearing-in, Courtney has advocated for both veterans and men and women in uniform. Among his accomplishments, he successfully fought to expand the Montgomery GI Bill for post-9/11 veterans and their families, and led the fight to extend TRICARE benefits to dependents under age 26. In recognition of those efforts, he was awarded the Connecticut National Guard’s highest honor, the Meritorious Service Award.

Before serving in the House of Representatives, Courtney represented the citizens of Vernon in the Connecticut General Assembly from 1987 to 1994. A 1975 graduate of Tufts University, Courtney earned a law degree from the UConn School of Law in 1978.

School of Social Work Recognition Ceremony, May 8, 6:30 p.m., the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts
Speaker: Vannessa Dorantes ’98 (SSW), commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families

Earlier this year, Vannessa Dorantes was named commissioner of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the state’s $800 million-a-year child protection agency with about 3,200 employees. A 27-year veteran of the department, most recently Dorantes was the administrator of a 44-town DCF region that includes Danbury, Waterbury, and Torrington. An alumna of UConn’s School of Social Work, she is also a longtime lecturer in social work at Central Connecticut State University.

Dorantes has been active in the department’s efforts to address the disproportionately high number of minority children in the department’s care. Most of the children are black or Latino, yet those groups make up a minority of the state’s population, and child protection issues cut across racial and economic lines. She recently led training sessions for senior DCF executives about themes and commonalities in child fatality cases and other critical incidents statewide.