Commencement 2012: URI to award honorary degrees to noted author, business leaders and attorney

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KINGSTON, R.I. — April 24, 2012 – The University of Rhode Island will celebrate the achievements of its students, and salute the accomplishments of four distinguished citizens at its 126th commencement exercises on Sunday, May 20, 2012.

In recognition of their unique contributions to the University, the people of the State of Rhode Island, and the nation, the University will confer honorary degrees upon Marlen Suyapa Bodden, award-winning author and human rights attorney; Amy DeVaudreuil, a noted attorney working in areas related to affordable housing in California; Colonel Philip J. Saulnier, a U.S. Army veteran honored for decades of post-retirement service to our veterans; and Shivan Subramaniam, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, FM Global. Two of the honorees, DeVaudreuil and Saulnier are prominent University alumni.

Marlen Suyapa Bodden: Acclaimed author and human rights attorney with a passion for justice and defense of the disenfranchised, Marlen Suyapa Bodden has been named as speaker for the University’s undergraduate commencement and will be awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

An attorney with The Legal Aid Society in New York, the nation’s oldest and largest legal services organization, Bodden has spent decades working in support of disadvantaged and immigrant communities. She tapped into this experience and her knowledge of human trafficking, human rights abuses, and modern day slavery to write her first novel, The Wedding Gift, a compelling historical novel set in pre-Civil War times. Bodden is a graduate of Tufts University and earned her law degree from New York University School of Law.

Amy DeVaudreuil: A partner in the affordable housing and community economic development law firm Goldfarb & Lipman LLP, Oakland, Calif., Amy DeVaudreuil is the often unseen, but passionate force making a big difference in the lives of thousands of low-income residents in communities in California. For the 1997 URI graduate, originally from North Smithfield, R.I., it was at URI that she “discovered the importance of analyzing one’s place in the world, recognizing and then acknowledging one’s privilege, and working within systems to bring about social change.”

DeVaudreuil’s experience at URI cemented her commitment to racial and class justice. She has focused in her career on bringing about change through the development of affordable housing and increasing diversity in higher education, law schools, and the legal profession itself. In her law practice, she represents nonprofit organizations in the development, financing and operation of affordable housing and has special expertise in financing affordable housing with the syndication of low income housing tax credits. DeVaudreuil is a frequent presenter and speaker at statewide and local events promoting the development of affordable housing, training others on the technical aspects of such development.

The first person in her family to have graduated from a 4-year college, DeVaudreuil was a finalist for both the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships in 1997 and graduated with highest honors. She attended graduate school in Philosophy at the University of California, San Diego and then continued her studies at the University of California at Berkeley where she graduated with a degree in law. There she served as diversity editor of the California Law Review and published the essay “Silence at the California Law Review,” imploring the Law Review to examine and remedy the effects the absence of underrepresented students of color had on the journal and, as a result, on legal scholarship and the legal profession itself.

In recognition of her pioneering works, DeVaudreuil will be awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.

Colonel Philip J. Saulnier: Founder and President of America’s Pride, Colonel Philip J. Saulnier is an individual with a long and distinguished history of service. The highly decorated officer, who served two tours of duty in Vietnam during his 24-year military career, put his leadership skills, military training and his desire to help others to work enhancing the quality of life for people with severe disabilities and disabled veterans.

After a medical injury forced his own retirement as Director of Command and Leadership Studies at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Penn., in 1985, Colonel Saulnier became the executive director of the East Region of the National Industries for the Severely Handicapped. Then, in 2003 he founded America’s Pride, a service-connected, disabled-veteran-owned company focused on providing employment opportunities for the dependents of service members and for disabled American veterans.

Colonel Saulnier’s leadership was evident during his undergraduate years at URI, some 50 years ago. He majored in physical education, was co-captain of the 1961 football team and the cadet colonel in the University’s ROTC program. He later received a master’s degree in management from Florida Institute of Technology. As an active alumnus, he is a trustee of the URI Foundation, a director of the URI ROTC Alumni Chapter and was president of the Washington, D.C., Alumni Chapter. He and his wife, the former Judith Stone ’61, live in Dunn Loring, Va.

In honor of his work and leadership, Colonel Saulnier will be awarded the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

Shivan Subramaniam is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, FM Global, RI’s largest private company and one of the world’s largest commercial property insurance companies. As chairman and chief executive officer, Subramaniam is responsible for strategic and operational direction at FM Global.

FM Global has worked closely with the University of Rhode Island to perform cutting-edge joint research on commercial and industrial property hazards and loss prevention. Recent projects include the development of new techniques to predict the strength of steel when subjected to heat from fire hazards with faculty in the Mechanical Engineering Department. In addition, recognizing URI’s research and workforce development strengths, FM Global’s research department has hired many undergraduate and graduate student interns over the years.

Subramaniam was named FM Global chairman in 2002 after being elected president and CEO in 1999. Earlier he served in leadership positions at Allendale Insurance, a predecessor company of FM Global. Subramaniam received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Birla Institute of Technology, Pilani, India, and has since earned two master’s degrees—one in operations research from Polytechnic University, Brooklyn, N.Y., USA, and another in management from the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., USA.

In recognition of his leadership, entrepreneurship, and accomplishments, Subramaniam will be awarded the Honorary Doctor of Business.

For more information about the University’s 126th commencement on May 19-20, visit