For the fourth and final time, Thomas Pollard, the twentieth dean of the Graduate School (and the Sterling Professor of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology and professor of Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry and Cell Biology), presided over Convocation, the opening event of the Graduate School’s Commencement festivities, on Sunday, May 18.
Academic excellence in a wide range of disciplines was recognized with more than 50 awards. Graduating students who had been Prize Teaching Fellows were honored, and a Public Service Award was given to Keerthi Shetty (Immunobiology) for her volunteer work as a member of the Yale Science Diplomats (YSD), a group devoted to educating the public about science and encouraging scientists to become engaged in the political process. Keerthi was one of the creators of Science in the News (SITN), a lecture series for the general public on newsworthy science topics. As YSD’s first educational outreach coordinator, she worked with the Office of New Haven and State Affairs and local teachers to integrate SITN lectures into the high school curriculum. Keerthi is YSD’s current co-president.
Graduate Mentor Awards honor faculty members who give extraordinary professional, scholarly, and personal support to their students. This year, the awards were presented to Mary Lui, professor of American Studies and History; Eric Dufresne, the John J. Lee Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Physics and Cell Biology; and Gregory Huber, professor of Political Science and Institution for Social and Policy Studies. One mentor is chosen from each of the three academic areas (humanities, social sciences, and sciences), based on anonymous recommendations from students.
Each of the honorees spoke at Convocation. Lui said she sees her graduate students “as future colleagues and possible collaborators who will surpass us in their teaching, research, and writing. We often cannot even begin to imagine their future accomplishments. My role, as an adviser, is simply to remember their unlimited potential and stand ready to guide and support as my own advisers did. And to offer kindness in times of need. It is also my job to get out of the way —- so that they can find their own voice, make their own way in their fields, and truly come to own their own scholarship.”
As Director of Graduate Studies for American Studies over the past two years, Lui has worked to “build and maintain a strong graduate community” and prepare students for the job market.
One letter of nomination read, “As I think about making the transition from graduate student to assistant professor next year, Mary is the person and scholar I most want to emulate. If I can impact even one graduate student in the same way she has impacted me, I will consider that to be the greatest professional accomplishment.”
Another student said that Lui “not only taught me how to be a better scholar, but also served as a model for the kind of teacher and colleague that I strive to become, thanks to her personal and intellectual generosity. Whatever good I do as a scholar and teacher, I owe to her example.”
A letter nominating Dufresne noted, “He makes time for every student, listens attentively, and encourages the development of each individual’s special talents. He values every student’s present contribution and future success. His lab is a friendly, welcoming place and the center of an intellectual community that transcends disciplinary boundaries.”
“Without ever sacrificing intellectual rigor, Eric demonstrated that kindness can bring out the best in people,” a second student wrote.
Dufresne “inspires by example,” another wrote, praising “his infectious enthusiasm for science, knack for creative and elegant solutions, and most importantly, his strong work ethic.”
Speaking at Convocation, Dufresne urged students to “remember that we all need more than one mentor,” and that “each mentoring relationship needs to be thoughtfully built upon the unique skills and aspirations of each side.”
Huber has been DGS for Political Science for the past three years, which involves guiding all 80-100 graduate students in addition to his own advisees. Being an effective mentor to the entire program, he says, “boils down to this: You want to provide students with information that you now know, by virtue of your experience, so that they can make choices to get where they want to be.” In his remarks at Convocation, Huber said, “The key task for students is to make the transition from student to researcher and teacher, and it’s up to the faculty to help.” He also reassured the audience that “It is okay to decide you don’t want to become an academic. Part of being an effective mentor is reminding students they can do something else.”
One letter of nomination recommending Huber for the award said, “His energy, talent, and constant willingness to lend time and effort to supporting his students is inspiring. When we jointly wrote a paper, I learned so much — not just about good scholarship and creative problem-solving, but also about how to write fluidly and quickly. He’s the model of an excellent researcher.”
Another student wrote, “In addition to being an unbelievably productive scholar and a terrific adviser, Greg has transformed our department as DGS. He’s made sure that students at every level of the program, from new admits to upper years, get the support and the information they need to succeed in graduate school.”
On Monday, May 19, the bells of Harkness Tower rang out joyful melodies and heraldic horns trumpeted a fanfare to announce the start of the University’s 313th Commencement. Ceremonial mace and flag bearers led the way, followed by faculty in colorful academic regalia. Students from all schools of the University streamed onto Old Campus wearing the caps and gowns appropriate to their degrees, which President Peter Salovey conferred on them, school by school, building to the climax — in Latin — of the PhD degrees.
Two Graduate School alumni were awarded their second doctorates at the ceremony — this time honoris causa. Elliot Meyerowitz (PhD 1977, Biology), the George W. Beadle Professor of Biology at the California Institute of Technology, was given an honorary Doctor of Science degree for his research into the ways genes govern organic development, using “innovative approaches to plant science, attracting a new generation of scholars to the analysis of how things grow, helping to feed the world.”
David Swensen (PhD 1980, Economics), Yale’s Chief Investment Officer, was given an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree for his years of dedicated service to the University. The citation read, in part, “Your unconventional success has allowed Yale to grow and prosper, and the Yale Model has become the gold standard for endowment portfolio management.” Swensen also teaches at Yale.
The Graduate School’s diploma ceremony followed in Woolsey Hall. Diplomas for the degrees of Doctor of Philosophy, Master of Philosophy, Master of Arts, Master of Science, and Master of Engineering were awarded by the Dean and faculty representatives from each department or program. Students receiving master’s degrees from the Yale MacMillan Center for International & Area Studies and the Economic Growth Center had a similar ceremony in Luce Hall.
Two unusual scholars received diplomas that day. One was George Camp, who completed his PhD back in 1967 from the Department of Sociology with a dissertation titled “Nothing to Lose: A Study of Bank Robbery in America.” He left New Haven two weeks before graduation to work for the Federal Bureau of Prisons at the Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. Over the years he continued to work in the prison system and stayed in touch with Yale, generously providing financial aid and mentoring students.
“Since that spring of 1967, I have attended our four children’s college graduations, one medical school graduation, and two doctoral graduations,” Camp says. “All were very happy occasions, but at the same time a bit sad because I had come to realize what I had missed. I said to myself, ‘I’m going to see if I can turn back the clock.’ I asked Richard Breen, the current chair of the Sociology Department, and he said ‘yes.’ By the way, ‘yes’ has always been the operative response at Yale. It was clear from my very first day at Yale that everyone was here to help you succeed. It was never a question if you were going to graduate, it was only a question of how well you were going to do. That same culture of excellence and encouragement remains just as alive today as it was 50 years ago. It is what endears me (and probably all of us) to Yale.”
This year, Camp — the co-president of the Criminal Justice Institute and co-executive director of the Association of State Correctional Administrators — made up for that long-ago omission and marched in Commencement along with all the newly minted PhDs.
Another degree candidate was given his long-delayed diploma on stage in Woolsey Hall at the age of 64. His story is somewhat different from Camp’s, but no less compelling. Ramiro Cibrián studied for his doctorate in the 1970s, but had to leave with an MA degree in Political Science and an MS in Engineering and Applied Science. He then had a long and distinguished career that included consulting for the government of Andalusia (Spain) on nuclear waste, teaching at Complutense University of Madrid and the University of Southern California, working for General Electric and Westinghouse in the U.S., directing international programs on environmental and nuclear safety, heading the European Union delegation to the Czech Republic (1998-2003) and Israel (2005-2010), and serving as an officer of the EU in Brussels.
Despite these accomplishments, Cibrián says, “I always considered the Yale PhD in Political Science as unfinished business. In 2011, life, in an unexpected way, put me in a position to envisage reactivating my Yale studies.” He was delighted and grateful that the Graduate School and his department were willing to reinstate him as a degree candidate, and he devoted himself to research and writing. His dissertation, “Nationalism, Political Violence and the Democratic Polity: The Case of San Sebastián in the Basque Country,” was supervised by Professor Juan J. Linz, and after his death last October, by David R. Cameron. Cibrián’s next project will sound familiar to other members of the graduating class of 2014: once he has his diploma in hand, he plans to turn his dissertation into a publishable book.