Published: Nov. 30, 2012

‘One Tough Nerd’ to address graduates

Contact(s): Kristen Parker Media Communications office: (517) 353-8942 cell: (517) 980-0709

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder will be one of three speakers for Michigan State University’s December commencement ceremonies.

Ceremonies will be held Dec. 14-15 at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center, One Birch Road.

Snyder will speak at the 10 a.m. Dec. 15 ceremony and will receive an honorary doctorate of laws. He will address undergraduates from the colleges of Arts and Letters, Broad Business, Education, Music and Social Science, as well as James Madison College and the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities.

Johnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, will speak at 2 p.m. Dec. 15. Earning an honorary doctorate of humane letters, she will address undergraduates from the colleges of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Communication Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Natural Science and Nursing, as well as Lyman Briggs College.

Also at that ceremony, Christopher Somerville, director of Energy Biosciences Institute, the world’s first research institution solely dedicated to the new field of energy bioscience, will receive an honorary doctorate of science.

And Thomas Vilsack, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will address advanced degree candidates at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 14 and will receive an honorary doctorate of laws. Also at that ceremony, Ian Cowx, director of Hull International Fisheries Institute at University of Hull, United Kingdom, will receive an honorary doctorate of science.

“We’re honored to have such a distinguished group of speakers and honorees at commencement,” said MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon. “As leaders in business, public policy, culture and science, they represent some of the most important areas of Michigan State’s own scholarship and service.”

Biographies of the speakers and honorary degree recipients follow.

Rick Snyder

Before becoming Michigan’s 48th governor, Snyder served as the president and CEO of Gateway, guiding the company to Fortune 500 status. He then returned to Michigan in 1997 to co-found Ann Arbor-based venture capital fund, Ardesta.

Two years later, Snyder was named the first chairperson of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., where he was instrumental in shaping the organization into one of the nation’s most respected public-private economic development programs.

With the moniker “One Tough Nerd,” Snyder has pledged to improve Michigan’s economy. His goal is to diversify the state’s economy to attract global companies while providing a positive climate for existing companies and entrepreneurs.

Snyder grew up in Battle Creek and is a three-time graduate of the University of Michigan.

Johnnetta Betsch Cole

Cole was appointed director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in March 2009. The museum features a collection of more than 10,000 traditional and contemporary works of art from nearly every country in Africa.

Prior to joining the museum, Cole had a distinguished career in higher education. She served as president of the only two historically black universities for women in the United States: Spelman College and Bennett College for Women. She is professor emerita of anthropology, women’s studies and African American studies of Emory University.

Cole has received 55 honorary degrees and is the recipient of many awards. She is the former chairperson of United Way of America and the first African American to serve in that position.

Thomas Vilsack

As leader of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Vilsack has worked with the Obama administration to strengthen the American agricultural economy and create greater opportunity in America’s rural communities.

Under Vilsack’s leadership, USDA has focused on creating more jobs across the nation by supporting producers, renewable energy efforts, development of local and regional food systems, outdoor recreational opportunities and more.

In addition, USDA has partnered with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative to improve nutrition for America’s children, and Vilsack has led a comprehensive effort to improve the safety of the American food supply.

Vilsack is chairperson of the first-ever White House Rural Council, which works to strengthen services for rural businesses and entrepreneurs.

Prior to his appointment at USDA, Vilsack served two terms as the governor of Iowa and in the Iowa State Senate.

Christopher Somerville

Somerville holds a joint appointment with the University of California, Berkeley campus and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and is currently the Philomathia Professor of Alternative Energy at UC Berkeley.

From 1986 to 1993, Somerville served as professor at MSU, working for MSU’s Plant Research Laboratory. He then taught biological science at Stanford University, where he was also director of Carnegie Institution’s Department of Plant Biology.

Somerville has won numerous scientific awards, including the 2006 Balzan Prize in Plant Molecular Genetics, which he shared with Elliot Meyerowitz from Caltech, for helping to establish Arabidopsis as a model organism for plant molecular genetics.

He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, The Royal Society of London and the Royal Society of Canada.

Ian Cowx

In addition to serving as professor of applied fisheries science at Hull University, Cowx is adjunct professor in MSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

An expert in freshwater fish conservation, Cowx’s research focuses on fish capture techniques, stock assessment for management purposes, rehabilitation of inland fisheries and aquatic resource management planning.

He has led more than 100 research and consultancy projects in Europe, Africa and Asia, many of them in conjunction with the European Union and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. And Cowx’s contributions to fisheries conservation around the world earned him the 2012 International Fisheries Science Prize.

Cowx is the editor of 14 books and more than 180 peer-reviewed journal publications. He is editor of the journal, “Fisheries Management and Ecology.”


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