Willamette University announces commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients

Willamette University will bestow honorary degrees upon four prominent individuals at the College of Liberal Arts’ May 15 commencement ceremony.

Scientist, entertainer and author Bill Nye will deliver the commencement address and will receive an honorary doctorate in science. Willamette will also award an honorary doctorate in science to alumnus and Nobel Prize winner Dale Mortensen. The university will present honorary doctorates in humane letters to Wendy Doniger, author and professor, and Deborah Bial, founder of The Posse Foundation.

Honorary Doctor of Science and CLA Commencement Speaker

Bill Nye
Scientist, engineer, comedian, author and inventor

Bill Nye’s mission is to help foster a scientifically literate society by making science entertaining and accessible. Nye began his engineering career at Boeing before making the transition to a full-time comedy writer and performer. He made a number of award winning shows, including, “Bill Nye the Science Guy.”

While working on the “Science Guy”, Nye won seven Emmy Awards for writing, performing and producing. The show won 18 Emmys in five years. In between creating the shows, he wrote five children’s books about science.

Nye is the host of two current television series: “The 100 Greatest Discoveries” on the Science Channel and “The Eyes of Nye” on PBS. His interest in gnomonics (sundials) led him to develop the EarthDial Project, a set of sundials around the world linked together on the World Wide Web. Nye’s innovative spirit has led to patents for educational and athletic products.

Nye received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University and visits Cornell regularly as part of the Frank H.T. Rhodes Visiting Professorship. He also serves as a member of the Planetary Society Board of Directors.

Honorary Doctor of Science

Dale Mortensen ’61
Ida C. Cook Professor of Economics at Northwestern University

Dale T. Mortensen is one of three economists to earn the 2010 Nobel Prize in Economics for their “analysis of markets with search frictions.” The three men pioneered a theory that helps explain why people remain unemployed despite many job vacancies. The model can be used to estimate how unemployment benefits, interest rates, the efficiency of employment agencies and other factors affect the job market. Mortensen’s insight has become the leading technique for analysis of labor markets and the effects of labor market policy. His publications include over 50 scientific articles.

Mortensen is the Ida C. Cook Professor of Economics at Northwestern University and the Niels Bohr Visiting Professor of Economics at Aarhus University. Mortensen is a fellow of the Econometrica Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Society of Labor Economics and the European Economic Association. He was awarded the IZA Labor Economics Prize in 2005 and the Society of Labor Economics Mincer Prize in 2007. In 2008, he was elected an American Economic Association Distinguished Fellow.

Mortensen received his bachelor’s degree in economics from Willamette University in 1961 and his doctorate in economics from Carnegie-Mellon University.

Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters

Deborah Bial
President and Founder, The Posse Foundation

Deborah Bial has grown The Posse Foundation from a concept into one of the most comprehensive college access and scholarship programs in the United States. Since 1989, The Posse Foundation has identified more than 3,000 Posse Scholars. These young people have won $334 million in leadership scholarships, are graduating at a rate of 90 percent and are leaders on their campuses and in the workforce. The Posse Foundation supports programs in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City and Washington, D.C., and it has partnerships with 38 selective institutions of higher education. In October 2007, Bial was honored for her work with a prestigious fellowship from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Bial completed her bachelor’s degree at Brandeis University and earned her master’s and doctorate in education from Harvard University. In 1999, she received a $1.9 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for her dissertation work, which focused on the design and assessment of a new college admissions tool that could be used in addition to traditional college admissions measures.

Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters

Wendy Doniger
Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions, University of Chicago

Wendy Doniger has been called “the greatest living mythologist.” She is a scholar of Hindu religious traditions as well as an editor, translator, novelist and memoirist. Her research and teaching interests revolve around the cross-cultural mythology of death, dreams, evil, horses, sex and women.

She has taught at Harvard, Oxford, the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, the University of California at Berkeley and, since 1978, the University of Chicago. She has been president of the American Academy of Religion, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and president of the Association for Asian Studies. She serves on the International Editorial Board of the Encyclopedia Britannica. She has received several accolades, including: the PEN Oakland literary award for excellence in multi-cultural literature and the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize from the British Academy for the best book about English literature written by a woman. Doniger has written 16 books, many of which have been translated from Sanskrit to English. She has also published over 300 articles and many reviews.

Doniger first trained as a dancer under George Balanchine and Martha Graham, then completed doctorates in Sanskrit and Indian Studies from Harvard University and Oxford.