2022 Commencement Speakers and Honorary Degree Recipients

From human rights to the global fight against HIV/AIDS, from the heights of science and the apex of the law, from Germany to Ellington, the honored guests of UConn’s commencement ceremonies bring a wealth of experience, insight, and wisdom to share with this year’s graduates.

Speakers at the ceremonies, which begin on May 7, include:

 

School of Social Work, May 7, 1:30 p.m., Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts
Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipient: Jody K. Olsen, Ph.D., 20th Director of the Peace Corps

Josephine (Jody) Olsen served as the 20th Director of the Peace Corps between March, 2018 – January, 2021.  With the beginning of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Olsen made the unprecedented decision to evacuate all 7,000 Peace Corps Volunteers from 61 countries safely back to the United States. Olsen also championed global women’s economic empowerment, opened Peace Corps in a new country, Viet Nam, and re-opened three countries in which Peace Corps had previously served.

Olsen began her career as a Peace Corps Volunteer, serving as an education Volunteer in Tunisia from 1966-1968.  She has also served the agency in five other senior level positions, including Deputy Director. She is currently completing a semester as Resident Fellow at the IOP Harvard Kennedy School.

Prior to returning to the Peace Corps in 2018, Olsen was Visiting Professor at the University of Maryland-Baltimore School of Social Work and Director of the University’s Center for Global Education for eight years where she  developed and directed inter-professional global health projects for health graduate students, and taught international social work, global social policy, and global health.

Olsen received a BS from the University of Utah, a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and a Ph.D. in Human Development from the University of Maryland, College Park. Among her awards, she has received the University of Maryland President’s Award, the University of Utah’s alumni of the year award, and honorary doctorates from Michigan Technological University and the Rochester Institute of Technology.

 

UConn Health (School of Medicine and School of Dental Medicine), May 9, 1:00 p.m., Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts, Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipient: Dr. William G. Nelson, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Nelson is the Marion I. Knott Professor of Oncology and Director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins. As Director, Dr. Nelson oversees an internationally renowned cancer center that sees more than 13,000 new cancer patients and garners more than $150 million in direct costs for research each year. He currently holds Professorships in Oncology, Medicine, Pharmacology, Pathology, Radiation Oncology, Urology, and Environmental Health Sciences – the most ever at Johns Hopkins. He also maintains a joint appointment at the Howard University College of Medicine.

His research focused on the molecular pathogenesis of prostate cancer. In 1941, Charles B. Huggins described beneficial responses of advanced prostate cancer to castration, a finding for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize. For more than half a century afterward, the origin of prostate cancer itself was attributed to an over-abundance of male hormones. Dr. Nelson, his colleagues, and his trainees discovered that prostate cancers arose not in response to androgen stimulation, but rather as a consequence of chronic or recurrent inflammation. They went on to describe the key pre-cancerous lesion in the prostate, proliferative inflammatory atrophy (PIA), and to report the most common acquired genome defect in prostate cancer, epigenetic ‘silencing’ of the carcinogen-detoxification gene GSTP1.

These research findings about the cause of human prostate cancer have had a number of practical applications. First, PIA lesions appear to arise upon exposure to repeated infections and to carcinogens present in over-cooked meats, providing a mechanistic basis for many population-scale associations of lifestyle and prostate cancer risk. Second, molecular diagnostic assays for GSTP1 epigenetic defects form the basis for US and European regulatory agency-approved tests for prostate cancer diagnosis. Finally, several of the molecular mechanisms identified have fueled a wave of new drug development for prostate cancer prevention and treatment.

Dr. Nelson is also highly sought after as a lay communicator for cancer medicine and cancer research, whether on network television, by way of a quarterly column in Cancer Today, in testimony to federal and state legislative bodies, or radio and social media outlets. His national leadership includes serving on the Board of the V Foundation, as a Scientific Co-Chair for Stand Up 2 Cancer, on the Scientific Advisory Board for the Prostate Cancer Foundation, and as Executive Editor of Cancer Today.

Owner of eleven issued patents, he is a co-founder of Digital Harmonics, providing algorithmic tools for both biomedicine and defense, and of Brahm Astra Therapeutics, creating new anti- cancer drugs.

 

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, May 8, 9:00 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 5:30 p.m., Gampel Pavilion, Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipient: Richard Robinson ’79, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Connecticut

Chief Justice Robinson grew up in Stamford and attended the University of Connecticut, earning his BA in 1979. He attended law school at the University of West Virginia, and began his career in the City of Stamford Law Department. He rose to Assistant Corporation Counsel until his appointment as a Judge of the Superior Court. He was then appointed a Judge of the Connecticut Appellate Court in 2007, then to the Supreme Court in 2013. He was nominated to be Chief Justice in 2018, and was unanimously confirmed by both the State Senate and the State House of Representatives.

Along the way he has engaged in a wide range of public service, including as President of the Stamford Branch of the NAACP, President of the Assistant Corporation Counsel’s Union, and Chair of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. He is also a 4th degree black belt in karate. He has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the Connecticut Bar Association’s Henry Naruk Judiciary award for Integrity, and the Ebony Magazine Power 100 Award.

Chief Justice Robinson is the leader of the Judiciary of the State of Connecticut but he is much more. His career represents the mission of the University of Connecticut and the UConn Law School at the highest level. He grew up in a time of racial tension, especially while visiting with relatives in the South, and persevered through early years of practice when clients and others doubted his abilities and colleagues would make inappropriate comments about his race. Through his experiences he developed a moral compass and human skills that have enabled him to be a principled leader both in the law and in social justice. And now, as our Chief Justice, both demonstrates and articulates high highest values of our country, while guiding our state forward under the rule of law.

 

School of Nursing, May 7, 9:00 a.m., Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts, Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipient: Shelia Tlou, Co-Chair, United Nations Global HIV Prevention Coalition and former Minister of Health for the Republic of Botswana

Sheila Tlou is the Co-Chair of the United Nations Global HIV Prevention Coalition and the Co-Chair of World Health Organization’s (WHO) Nursing Now Global Campaign. She is also the UN Eminent Person for Women, Girls, and HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa, and the International Council of Nurses Goodwill Ambassador for Girl Child Education.

From 2010 to 2017, Tlou was Director of the UNAIDS for Eastern and Southern Africa. In this role, she provided leadership and political advocacy for quality sustainable AIDS response in 21 African countries, from Eritrea to South Africa, including the Indian Ocean Islands of Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros. She has been instrumental in the formation of advocacy bodies such as The Pan-African Positive Women’s Coalition (PAPWC) and the High-Level Task Force on Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV in Africa; and she initiated and chaired a High-Level Task Force on Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Services for Young People in Eastern and Southern Africa.

She is a former Member of Parliament and Minister of Health of the Republic of Botswana (2004-2008). She is also former Professor of Nursing at the University of Botswana and Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Nursing and Midwifery Development in Primary Health Care for Anglophone Africa. She has conducted research and taught courses to nursing, pre- medical and social science students on gender issues relating to HIV/AIDS, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and aging and older persons. She has played a key role in the development of national nursing and medical education curricula, working to broaden the scope of Health Sciences education in sub-Saharan Africa.

Tlou has a great appreciation for fine and performing arts and has been involved in amateur theatre since her primary education. She has portrayed Precious Ramotswe, the heroine of Alexander McCall Smith’s Number One Ladies Detective Agency book series, in several amateur theatre productions in Botswana. She also starred in the Anthony Mingella BBC Movie, “The Number One Ladies Detective Agency” (2008).

 

School of Business, May 7, 1:30 p.m., Gampel Pavilion, Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipient: Richard Vogel ’87, Founding Partner, CFO and COO, Loeb Enterprises

A seasoned marketing executive, professional manager and startup advisor, Richard Vogel has spent a career shaping and translating ideas into successful marketing programs in the U.S. and abroad. He is a Founding Partner, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer of Loeb Enterprises, a New York-based private investor, focused on cultivating opportunities in emerging media and consumer marketing. He holds the same title at Loeb NYC, Loeb Enterprises’ startup lab and venture arm. Vogel is responsible for the development and execution of current projects, as well as the financial management and administration of the company and its holdings.

Prior to partnering with Michael Loeb to create Loeb Enterprises in 2005, Vogel was the President of MDSC Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of Synapse Group. In this role, he ran each of the company’s operating units and was responsible for its marketing partnerships with U.S. credit card issuers, major publishers, international airlines, and e-commerce companies. Before joining Synapse, Vogel held a number of positions in consumer marketing at Time Warner Inc. (1988-1994). Vogel began his career working for E.F. Hutton on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Vogel earned a Bachelor of Science degree in finance, Magna Cum Laude, and was an Honors Scholar from the School of Business at the University of Connecticut in 1987. In 1990, he earned an MBA in Finance from the Stern School of Business at New York University.

Vogel is a member of the Werth Institute Advisory Board (5/18-Present). As an undergraduate, Vogel was a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity and the John F. Kennedy Institute for International Relations. Vogel is a former board member and past President of the Stamford Jewish Community Center, where he also served as co-Chair of the Centennial Committee.

 

School of Engineering, May 7, 9:00 a.m., Gampel Pavilion, Speaker: Jeanine Gouin ’87, UConn Board of Trustees

Gouin, of Durham, is currently in her second term as an alumni representative on the UConn Board of Trustees. Elected directly by graduates of the school, her current term ends in 2025.

On the board, Gouin serves as the vice chair of the Academic Affairs Committee and is a member the following committees: Executive; Buildings, Grounds and Environment; Institutional Advancement; Joint Audit and Compliance; and Construction Management Oversight.

Gouin is the United States Operations Manager for SLR International Corporation, based in Cheshire, and oversees over 400 employees across the country in 23 different offices. She currently employs more than 50 UConn graduates at SLR.

In addition to her position on the Board of Trustees at UConn, she has been a member of the School of Engineering Civil and Environmental Engineering Advisory Board since 1995. Gouin was the alumni representative on the UConn Environmental Policy Advisory Committee from 2009 to 2012. She is an invited guest lecturer in the School of Engineering and has been a keynote speaker at UConn’s Open House.

Gouin was named as an Honoree of the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame in 2019 and was named to the Connecticut Technology Council’s Women of Innovation in 2017. She was inducted into the UConn Academy of Distinguished Engineers in 2014.

Gouin is a life-long Connecticut resident, a legacy UConn parent, and a passionate supporter of public education.

 

Neag School of Education, May 8, 9:00 a.m., Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts, Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipient: Theresia Bauer, member of the state parliament of Baden- Württemberg, Germany.

Theresia Bauer was born on 6 April 1965 in Zweibrücken. From 1985 to 1993 she studied political sciences, political economics and German in Heidelberg and Mannheim. During her degree she was active in university politics, representing students on the large and small senate and on the administrative board of the University of Heidelberg.

Between 1993 and 1995, Bauer was an advisor on political education at the “Gesellschaft für politische Ökologie” (Society for Political Ecology), and subsequently Managing Director of the Heinrich-Böll Foundation in Baden-Württemberg.

Since 2001 she has been part of the state parliament of Baden-Württemberg. There she has been a member of the committee for science, research and art, spokeswoman for higher education policy, deputy parliamentary party leader and parliamentary executive secretary of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen.

As the Minister for Science, Research and the Arts, Ms. Bauer was responsible for all universities in the State of Baden- Württemberg. In this role, she played a critical role to strengthen the exchange program between Connecticut and Baden- Württemberg. This program recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. Since 2015, UConn has been the administrator for this program on behalf of the State of Connecticut. During that time, 1,200 students from both states participated in this life changing experience. UConn’s successful signature Eurotech program would not have been a success without her strong support.

In the spring of 2018, she supported the launch of a new UConn Eurobiz program. In the Fall of 2018, Bauer secured new funding to award six UConn faculty across different disciplines to travel to the research universities in Baden-Wuerttemberg to initiate new collaborations. In May 2019, on behalf of the two states, Bauer and President Susan Herbst renewed the exchange relations. Bauer further expanded the program to include the Universities of Education so that Connecticut’s schools of education can also participate in the exchange. It is her belief that tearing down the walls of ignorance and narrow-mindedness must begin from K-12 education, and from global minded educators.

 

School of Pharmacy (BS in Pharmacy Studies), May 8, 6:00 p.m., Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts, Speaker: Amy Antipas ’84, Ph.D.

Amy Antipas, MA, Ph.D., Senior Director of Drug Product Design at Pfizer Worldwide Research, Development and Medicine, is a 1989 Honors graduate of the School of Pharmacy, a former chair of its Advisory Board, and current active member.

Antipas has pursued her passion for research and creating patient-centric medications over the last twenty-seven years at Pfizer in Groton. Her experience spans from influencing the drug delivery and molecular structure of new drug candidates and designing early clinical formulations, to filing new drug applications for breakthrough therapies. Her work enabled the development of Chantix®, Xeljanz® and Slentrol®. Antipas manages a group of drug development specialists across three research sites in the United States, and is championing a more patient-centric approach to drug product design.

In 2019 Antipas was named as a finalist for the Women of Innovation award given by the Connecticut Technology Council. She  is an American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education Fellow with a BS in Pharmacy from UConn (1989) and Masters (1991) and Ph.D. (1994) degrees in Pharmaceutical Chemistry from the University of Kansas. She is also a registered pharmacist in the state of Connecticut.

Antipas is a member of Rho Chi, Lambda Kappa Sigma and Alpha Phi Omega (service).

 

School of Pharmacy (PharmD), May 8, 1:30 p.m., Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts, Speaker: Dr. Deidre Gifford, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Social Services and Senior Advisor to the Governor for Health and Human Services

Deidre Gifford was appointed by Governor Ned Lamont to lead the Department of Social Services in June 2019, after executive service with the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and experience in medical practice, the nonprofit sector and government service in Rhode Island.

In May 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic intensified, Gov. Lamont appointed Gifford to also head the Department of Public Health, as Acting Commissioner. She has served as a leading member of the governor’s team in planning and implementing the state’s comprehensive response to the public health emergency until September of 2021.

In July 2021, Gov. Lamont appointed Gifford to the additional duty of serving as Senior Advisor to the Governor for Health and Human Services. In this role, she is tasked with coordinating a multi-agency approach among the state’s nine health and human services agencies to improve health and healthcare in Connecticut. The Senior Advisor is responsible for convening and leading coordination efforts between these agencies, working closely with the Office of Policy and Management, as well as providing the governor with policy input and recommendations that address issues of health, healthcare costs, quality, and disparities.

Prior to beginning service in Connecticut, Gifford was Deputy Director for the Center for Medicaid and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) Services at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) from 2016 to 2019. Before joining CMS, she served as the Director of State Policy and Programs at the National Association of Medicaid Directors, where she led that organization’s efforts with states to support and advance value-based purchasing in Medicaid.

From 2012 to 2015, Gifford served as Medicaid Director in the Rhode Island Executive Office of Health and Human Services, having previously served as the agency’s medical director. During her tenure, she advanced changes in the payment and delivery system to improve the quality of care and enhance the value of Medicaid services, including the development of numerous initiatives in care coordination, information technology, and provider payment innovations.

A graduate in Public Health of the University of California at Los Angeles, Gifford received her medical degree from Cornell University Medical College in New York. She specialized in obstetrics and gynecology and went on to receive a master of public health degree in epidemiology from UCLA.

 

School of Law, May 15, 10:30 a.m., UConn School of Law, Speaker: Joel Motley III, Managing Director at Public Capital Advisors LLC

Joel Motley served as the chairman of the board of Human Rights Watch, which investigates human rights abuses around the world, from 2013 to 2016. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and serves on its Finance and Budget Committee. Motley also serves on the boards of the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, Historic Hudson Valley and as secretary of the board of the Greenwall Foundation.  

A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Motley was inspired to join the legal profession by his mother, the civil rights leader Judge Constance Baker Motley. She was a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the first Black woman to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court and the first Black woman to become a federal judge. 

In 2016, Joel Motley co-produced a short film about his late mother, “The Trials of Constance Baker Motley,” to honor her impact on school desegregation. 

Motley began his legal career in corporate law at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in New York City. He subsequently served as an aide to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and as the senator’s chief of staff in New York City and surrounding counties before he entered investment banking. He co-founded Carmona Motley in 1992 and is currently an independent director of Invesco Mutual Funds and an independent director of the Office of Finance of the Federal Home Loan Bank System. 

 

College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, May 7, 6:00 p.m., Gampel Pavilion, Speaker: State Rep. Jaime Foster ‘12

Jaime S. Foster is serving her first term as State Representative in the Connecticut General Assembly, proudly serving the 57th District of Ellington and East Windsor. She currently serves on the Public Health, Energy and Technology, and Children’s Committee.

Prior to being elected to serve in the General Assembly, Rep. Foster served on the Ellington Human Services Commission, Board of Education, and the State’s Milk Promotion Board. She will continue to serve on the Ellington Farmers Market Board of Directors.

Rep. Foster is an alumnus of UConn’s College of Agriculture Health and Natural Resources; she received her B.S. in Dietetics and subsequently completed internship and testing requirements to be a Registered Dietitian. She has also obtained her MS and Doctorate in Nutritional Sciences.

Professionally, Rep. Foster works as a research scientist for the Yale- Griffin Prevention Research Center.

Rep. Foster is committed to advocating for meaningful change that will improve the lives of those in the community. Her background in health and nutrition policy will be vital as the legislature navigates the COVID-19 pandemic and prepares for future public health crises. She is committed to supporting local agriculture and rebuilding our economy.

 

School of Fine Arts, May 7, 6:00 p.m., Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts, Speaker: Juanita Austin ‘15

Juanita Austin is a curator and cultural producer, born and raised in New London, Connecticut. A graduate from the University of Connecticut, with a B.A. in Digital Media & Design, she has served as a leader on many grassroots community arts initiatives and now runs her own arts organization, Cultured AF.

Her work centers on supporting underrepresented artists and creating safe and equitable spaces for those artists to thrive. Cultured AF’s headquarters are located at her art lounge, Cultured Studios, in downtown New London which is a gallery, arts boutique, and community event space. She has worked in the New London Arts Community for over four years and in her experience, she has curated art exhibitions, organized festivals, and produced live arts & music events.

Juanita’s work has built bridges with arts communities across the state. She’s strongly passionate about building community and creating experiences that brings art into everyone’s lives.

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