In addition to celebrating the accomplishments of more than 8,000 graduating students, commencement is also a time to recognize the achievements of members of the University of Utah faculty, as well as individuals whose work warrants the university’s highest honor, the honorary doctoral degree. This year’s honorary doctoral degree and special award recipients include:
Honorary doctoral degrees:
Kem C. Gardner
Kem C. Gardner is a distinguished businessman and philanthropist who has had an enormous impact on Utah’s economy. As chairman of Gardner Company and past-president of The Boyer Company, he has assisted over his 40 years in business in more than 35 million square feet of retail, office, medical, hotel and industrial space. He has developed important business parks and signature projects, such as The Gateway, Adobe and One Utah. He has served in several capacities from fundraising chair of the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics to the executive committees of the Utah Symphony and Opera and United Way of Salt Lake. He chairs the Days of ’47 Rodeo and has assisted in several University of Utah projects. Among his many distinctions, Gardner is a recipient of the Salt Lake Chamber Giant in Our City Award, the Philanthropic Leadership Award from Utah Philanthropy Day and the Compassionate Leader Award from United Way. He has received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Utah Alumni Association, the Bravo Award from Pioneer Theatre Company and the Camerata Award from the U’s School of Music. He will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Business in recognition of his dedication to building and fostering Utah’s growing business economy.
Lynette Nielsen Gay
Lynette Nielsen Gay is a notable entrepreneur and philanthropist best known for her impactful charity work, particularly in creating health programs in Africa. As an outgrowth of her development program in Ethiopia’s Rift Valley, she founded Engage Now Africa in 2002, which operates in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Namibia, Uganda and Ethiopia. The organization has several initiatives, including education and literacy, health and sanitation, medical and maternal clinics, micro-credit, orphan support and eradication of modern slavery. After a decade of work in rural Africa and serving with her husband, Robert C. Gay, as mission president of the Ghana West Africa Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she wanted to deepen their impact. Ten years ago, she launched the development of what would become Ensign College of Public Health in Kpong, Ghana. It received its first class of students in 2014, and Gay is currently working with the University of Utah to establish Ensign College as an extended campus. Her work and Ensign College have inspired the vision of the Global Health Institute at the U. Gay has also served in leadership capacities with Kensington Capital Children’s Fund, Choice Humanitarian, Stay Alive Program, Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance, Southern Virginia University and the LDS church. She will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters in recognition of her work in Africa.
Kirk M. Ririe
Kirk M. Ririe is is a visionary scientist and inventor with several patents to his name. He currently serves as CEO of BioFire Defense, which delivers a fully integrated suite of biological agent identification products and life science systems to the biodefense and first responder community. Among his inventions, he built the prototype to shorten the processing time of a cutting-edge DNA analysis technique called PCR from hours to minutes. This prototype, and assistance from his alma mater, the University of Utah, spurred his founding of BioFire Diagnostics, Inc. and the invention of the LightCycler. His latest invention, FilmArray System and Respiratory Panel, was approved by the FDA in 2011 to quickly test dozens of organisms simultaneously. Ririe is the recipient of numerous awards, including Entrepreneur of the Year from Ernst & Young in 2004 and the Franklin Jefferson Award in Science and Technology Innovation in 1999. He has been inducted into several halls of fame, including the Utah Technology Council’s Hall of Fame in 2014. He will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Science in recognition for his robust and innovative explorations in science.
George D. Smith
George D. Smith is a prominent businessman and publisher, best known as co-founder of Signature Books, which specializes in Mormon and Western-American studies, and founder of the Smith-Pettit Foundation. In addition, Smith organized two other companies, Smith Capital Management and Smith Research Associates, following graduation from Stanford University and New York University. He has served on the boards of the Commonwealth Club of California, the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, the Kenyon Review, the Leakey Foundation and National Public Radio, and has acted as elections monitor for The Carter Center in China and Central America, and for women’s advocacy in Africa. He is the award-winning author of several significant books on Mormon history, as well as historical articles published in the Journal of Mormon History, the John Whitmer Historical Association Journal, Free Inquiry, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought and elsewhere. He has lectured at the University of Utah for Friends of the Library, and is currently the publisher of Signature Books Publishing LLC and president of the Smith-Pettit Foundation. He will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Humanities for his major influence in, and contributions to, the publishing industry.
Distinguished Teaching Awards
Professor of Pharmacy
Department of Pharmacotherapy
“While I have learned much from her in the classroom, I have learned just as much from her outside of it,” said one of Karen Gunning’s students. “The more admirable feat is the sheer number of students she helps in similar ways.” Gunning is a mentor in and outside the College of Pharmacy, and her influence is felt across multiple programs at the U. Through both didactic teaching and hands-on clinical training, Gunning exposes her students to the joy of helping others and instills the principle of lifelong learning. She has expanded the reach and potential of the College of Pharmacy by teaching skills never before included in the curriculum and creating the U’s ambulatory care pharmacy residency. Gunning has been course master of five courses and has taught several others for more than 10 years, all while co-authoring more than 25 peer-reviewed publications. She is exceptionally generous with her time as she serves in mentorship roles and committee leadership capacities. She has held many prominent positions, including serving as director of the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine’s Family Medicine Grand Rounds. Among many awards, Gunning is a three-time recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award from the College of Pharmacy and two-time recipient of the Specialist Teacher of the Year by the Family Medicine Residents. She graduated summa cum laude from Oregon State University and earned a doctorate in pharmacy from the University of Utah.
Associate Professor of Sociology
Department of Sociology
“Honestly, in the four years I have spent at the University of Utah, Dr. Heather Melton is the most inspiring professor I’ve had,” said one nominator. This sentiment is often repeated by many of Melton’s other students. Melton is a pioneering professor of sociology at the U who helps her students break misconceptions and stereotypes. She is widely popular with both undergraduate and graduate students, as indicated by her full-to-the-brim course attendance, her exceptional instructor evaluations and her guidance in student theses and research projects. Melton doesn’t shy from controversial material as she uses modern events and concrete research to delve into issues like gender and crime. She has introduced new programs and courses to the department, making it one of the best in the nation. She designed and leads a course on sexual violence, started the Victim Service Usage Project and directs the Criminology Certificate, which is a centerpiece of the Department of Sociology that attracts many students to the major and lands them jobs in criminal justice fields. Melton has delivered presentations at, and served as chair for, numerous scholarly conferences around the world. She has won several awards for her excellence in teaching, including the College of Social and Behavioral Science Teaching Award and the Alpha Kappa Delta Professor of the Year award. She earned her undergraduate degree in history and doctorate in sociology from the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Professor of Biology
Department of Biology
“Dr. Leslie Sieburth is easily the best professor I have ever had,” said one of her students. “She teaches with passion and has complete mastery of the subject. What separates Leslie from her peers the most is how she cares about her students.” Many of Sieburth’s other mentees would agree. As a plant geneticist with an internationally renowned reputation for her significant contributions to the field, she has co-authored more than 30 publications and lectured at more than 50 prestigious conferences and universities around the world. Even with this busy schedule, she makes time for her undergraduate and graduate students. As a professor at the U since 1998, she has taught more than 3,000 students in numerous courses. Seeing an opportunity to engage more first-year students in science, she developed and taught an introductory biology seminar for freshmen. Sieburth has implemented innovative teaching techniques in the U’s science classrooms, including clicker technology, video streaming and classroom “flipping.” She provides her students with transformative, career-building experiences by allowing them to conduct scientific research in her laboratories and helping them publish scientific articles. Sieburth believes in teaching students to use critical thinking to solve scientific problems, a skill they will use throughout their lives. She earned two undergraduate degrees from Humboldt State University before receiving her doctorate in botany from the University of Georgia in Athens.
Timothy W. Smith
Distinguished Professor of Psychology
Department of Psychology
“Tim has had an enormous impact on my education and career trajectory,” wrote one of his former students. “I would not be where I am without the many hours of time and accurate guidance that Tim has provided over the years.” Timothy Smith is a great mentor to his students, serving as advisor for more than two dozen doctoral students during his three-decade career as professor of psychology at the U. Smith is internationally known as one of the best scholars in health psychology. He has co-authored more than 200 publications, presented at numerous international conferences and served as chair of many committees. He is not only a prominent psychologist, but an exceptional teacher as he communicates his expertise to students of all levels of understanding. Smith has designed and taught several courses to help students evaluate research and theoretical frameworks instead of memorizing facts. He co-founded the U’s Health Psychology Program, one of the first of its kind in the nation, and established collaborative ties with hospitals to give students hands-on training in evidence-based clinical care. Such an excellent instructor doesn’t come without accolades: Smith won the U’s Distinguished Mentor Award and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Superior Teaching Award. Smith earned his undergraduate degree in psychology from Gettysburg College, and his master’s and doctoral degrees in clinical psychology from the University of Kansas.
Distinguished Scholarly and Creative Research Awards
Professor of Biology
Department of Biology
Dale Clayton is an expert in host-parasite coevolution. His research is featured in every major textbook on evolutionary biology, parasitology and ornithology. Through comparative methods and rigorous experiments, he demonstrates how the ongoing coadaptation of interacting species leads to the diversification of life. Clayton has published 130 journal articles, several book chapters and three books, and he has given numerous presentations at distinguished international venues. As a professor at the U for nearly 20 years, he has raised millions of dollars in funding and invited high school, undergraduate and graduate students to participate in groundbreaking research in his laboratory. Clayton has received many honors, including the H. B. Ward Medal, the highest award given by the American Society of Parasitologists. “Unlike many academics, Dr. Dale Clayton has had the courage and vision to translate his findings in fundamental research into applications of benefit to society,” said a fellow faculty member. Clayton has successfully commercialized his scientific discoveries for the masses by inventing an FDA-cleared medical device that kills head lice using only heated air. Clayton earned his undergraduate degree from Hartwick College, a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota and his doctorate from the University of Chicago.
Professor of Psychology
Dean of College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
“Dr. Cynthia Berg’s contributions to the field of developmental psychology are truly outstanding, and your university should be extremely proud to have her on the faculty,” said a colleague. Berg was one of the first scholars to study the social context of everyday problem-solving across development. Her research on how individuals and families can better manage chronic diseases through collaborative problem-solving has been published in over 100 journal articles and book chapters, and she has given over 100 presentations at esteemed conferences and universities around the world. Berg’s research has generated over $13 million in federal funding and examines how Type 1 diabetes is a difficult self-regulatory task that is facilitated when individuals collaborate within close relationships, such as with parents and romantic partners. Berg is also an exceptional teacher and leader at the U. As dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science, Berg develops programs for 6,000 students and leads over 200 faculty members. Berg has won several awards, including the 2007 Master Mentor Award from the American Psychological Association and is a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America and the American Psychological Association. She has an undergraduate degree from the University of Washington and graduate and doctoral degrees in psychology from Yale University.
Eric W. Schmidt
Professor of Medicinal Chemistry
College of Pharmacy
“I have followed Eric Schmidt’s career over the past decade and believe he has had a bigger impact in the knowledge base of natural products of therapeutic potential and utility than any other academic investigator,” wrote one of his colleagues from a top research university. As a professor at the U for the past 15 years, Schmidt is a well-rounded scientist who maximizes his diversity of scientific training to make impactful, innovative discoveries applied across the world. An international leader in natural product biosynthesis, Schmidt was the first to show definitively that symbiotic microorganisms in animals produce anticancer agents. In essence, he discovered how evolution creates chemical diversity. His interdisciplinary research program focuses on microbiology, organic chemistry, genetic engineering and biotechnology to create drug therapies and improve human health. Schmidt uses “creativity, broad scope and technical mastery,” as one nominator put it, and his work has been published in over 80 research articles. He has been awarded many grants to further his research, including several from the National Institutes of Health. He earned his undergraduate and doctoral degrees from the University of California, San Diego.
Distinguished Faculty Service Award
Jensie L. Anderson
Clinical Professor of Law
University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law
“I cannot think of another professor who has worked so tirelessly to address the lack of access to justice for those who are homeless in our community. Nor can anyone compare to her when it comes to instilling the value of service,” said a nominator. As a U professor of law for 16 years, Anderson has formed a community to help the less fortunate within Utah and surrounding states. Along with her decades-long service delivering free legal service to the homeless, she helped found a nonprofit called the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center in 2000 that represents wrongfully convicted individuals in Utah, Nevada and Wyoming. What started as a small nonprofit blossomed into a law school innocence course, an externship at four different law schools and a leading pro bono agency in national innocence law and policy. Center volunteers, including Anderson, litigate hotly contested cases and advocate for legislative changes. She is motivated by the belief that success is measured by how many lives you touch. Anderson has won numerous awards, including the Christine M. Durham Woman Lawyer of the Year award and the Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year by the Utah State Bar. She earned both her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Utah.
Distinguished Innovation and Impact Awards
Baldomero M. Olivera
Distinguished Professor of Biology
Founding Director of the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program
“I cannot think of another scientist whose discoveries have led so directly to new therapies actually being used to treat human patients with devastating disorders, or whose current research has more potential to continue doing so,” said one of his nominators. Baldomero Olivera, co-author of more than 300 scientific publications and professor of biology at the U for more than four decades, is an international leader in neuroscience with 50 patents to his name. He is famous for his discovery of conotoxins in cone snails that led to breakthroughs in medication development across the world, including helping create an FDA-approved drug called Prialt that treats chronic pain in medication-resistant patients. His advances are also helping create treatments for epilepsy and schizophrenia, among other illnesses. Rather than monetarily capitalizing on his work, Olivera freely shares the discoveries from his National Institutes of Health-funded research program. He was elected a member of the U.S. National Academy of Science in 2009 and won the Scientist of the Year Award from Harvard University in 2007, among many other awards. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of the Philippines, his doctorate degree from the California Institution of Technology and his post-doctorate from Stanford University.
Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry
Department of Biochemistry
“Dr. Dana Carroll’s work has forever altered the world of genetics. His advances mark a singularity in genetic research, fundamentally reconceptualizing what can be done and enabling a previously unanticipated range of investigations and therapies,” said one his colleagues from University of California, Berkeley. Carroll’s revolutionary work has made it possible to edit genomes for virtually all species of microbes, plants and animals, including human cells. With over 70 original publications, Carroll has developed a platform called zinc finger nucleases that enables site-specific DNA sequence altering. Put simply, Carroll’s advances are used worldwide for fundamental biological studies, and ultimately, to find ways to help alleviate suffering from previously intractable disease by correcting mutations. His technology was used in a five-year clinical trial designed to protect patients against the HIV virus. Carroll received the 2012 Novitski Prize from the Genetics Society of America, the 2014 Sober Lectureship Award from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2013. He received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Swarthmore College, his doctorate in biophysical chemistry from UC Berkeley and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research and the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
Assistant Professor of Architecture
School of Architecture, Multi-disciplinary Design Program, College of Architecture + Planning
“Jim has redefined what it means to be a scholar — he is a designer, a builder and a creator who works across many disciplines. Jim is a leader who cultivates in others the skills to visualize, catalyze and actualize positive change in creative and sustainable ways,” wrote one of his former students. Agutter is at the forefront of contemporary design education, and, during his 15 years at the U, has participated in the development and expansion of the college’s design program. Agutter has also been the CEO of Applied Medical Visualizations, LLC since 2002 and former leader of other startup companies. Agutter is a visionary in interdisciplinary design, combining medicine, engineering, business, art and architectural principles to create numerous programs and initiatives. His innovative work is primarily focused on designing better experiences for consumers to use medical technologies and transforming individual experiences using digital interfaces. Among his many projects, he worked with undergraduate students to initiate Connect2Health, a volunteer program that helps underserved patients in the Salt Lake area acquire resources they need for their multidimensional health issues. Agutter received the U’s Beacons of Excellence Award for providing transformational experiences to undergraduate students, among other awards. He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture from the University of Utah.
Calvin S. and JeNeal N. Hatch Prize in Teaching
Winthrop Lindsay Adams
Professor of History
Department of History
“The impact of Winthrop Lindsay Adams’ teaching on decades of student cohorts is remarkable. If Lindsay is awarded this prize it will be to a very dedicated teacher who has made a real impact on the lives of his students,” wrote one nominator. Adams joined the U faculty in 1975 and has since offered lecture courses, seminars, conducted special studies courses, mentored numerous students and boosted the quality of the U’s history program. Specializing in ancient Greece and Rome, Adams inspires a passion for study that leads many students to pursue careers in history. Adams ensures his students have great opportunities for networking and helps them land prestigious doctorate program placements and tenured faculty positions. Adams has lectured around the world, garnering him a strong international reputation for his expertise. Among some eight teaching awards for his work as a teacher and mentor are the Department of History’s Virgil Award for Graduate Student Mentoring, the ASUU Student Choice Award in 2009, the University’s Presidential Teaching Scholar Award in 1996 and a university professorship in 2002 and 2003 to teach a course on the Olympics. He earned his undergraduate degree and doctorate from the University of Virginia.