Commencement 2015: High profile brain scientist rock star to address URIs Class of 2015 at 129th Commencement ceremonies, May 17

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University to present honorary degrees to five distinguished individuals


KINGSTON, R. I. — April 8, 2015 — Cranston, R.I., native Rudolph E. Tanzi has been called many things. Time magazine lists him on the 2015 “100 Most Influential People in the World,” he has been named one of the “World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds,” one of the “Top 20 Translational Scientists in the World” and even as a “Rock Star of Science” by GQ. In fact, Tanzi, the holder of the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Endowed Chair in Neurology at Harvard Medical School, is considered to be one of the greatest hopes for research and treatment breakthroughs to end Alzheimer’s disease.


As of May 17, he will also be among The University of Rhode Island’s newest and most accomplished alumni. Before addressing the Class of 2015, Tanzi will receive a Doctor of Science honoris causa in recognition of his advanced research and his plan “to end Alzheimer’s disease by the year 2020.”


“We are honored to welcome Dr. Tanzi home to Rhode Island and we are extremely pleased that he will address our graduates at commencement and share his insights into the power of the brain and his work to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease,” said URI President David M. Dooley. “He will be joined by four other honorees who will be recognized for their transformational contributions.”


To honor their unique contributions to the University, the people of the State of Rhode Island, and the nation, the University will confer five honorary doctorates at Commencement, including one posthumously. The honorary degree is the highest honor bestowed by the University and is reserved to recognize true distinction. In addition to Tanzi, the following individuals will also be so honored:


• Shirley Cherry has been a dedicated teacher/librarian and tour director for the museum that was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s previous home at the Dexter Parsonage in Montgomery, Ala. She will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters


• Rolf-Dieter Schnelle, former German Consul General in Boston, international diplomat and longtime board member of the URI International Engineering Program, will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters


• Angus C.F. Taylor, a distinguished global leader and passionate advocate for dual language immersion programs, serves as president and chief executive officer of Hexagon Metrology, Inc. He will receive an honorary Doctor of Business


• Leo F. DiMaio Jr., director emeritus of URI’s Talent Development Program, he paved a path to success for thousands of disadvantaged Rhode Island students at URI. He will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters posthumously.


About these distinguished honorees

Rudolph E. Tanzi

Doctor of Science honoris causa


The holder of the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Endowed Chair in Neurology at Harvard Medical School, Tanzi’s groundbreaking research has focused on genetic links to neurological diseases. In 1980 he helped find the gene for Huntington’s disease—the first disease gene ever found by genetic linkage analysis.


Since then, he discovered the first three Alzheimer’s disease genes and several other genes for neurological disorders. As director of the Mass General Hospital’s Genetics and Aging Research Unit, he oversees several laboratories investigating the genetic causes of the disease while also developing several novel therapies for Alzheimer’s, two of which are in clinical trials.


Tanzi has studied the power of the brain and translated his scientific findings to teach techniques for retaining mental acuity throughout their lives. In fact, this neuroscientist is quite well known for his other jobs: as host of Super Brain with Rudy Tanzi on PBS, co-author of New York Times Best Seller Super Brain with Deepak Chopra, M.D., and as a musician who has performed and recorded with Joe Perry, Aerosmith, and other major performing artists.


But Tanzi doesn’t let anything cramp his style—or cause him to lose focus on solving the big puzzle: His ongoing collaborative research to find a cure for the neurological disease that is robbing the minds and legacies from millions of families worldwide.


Tanzi earned his B.S. in microbiology and B.A. in history from the University of Rochester, and his Ph.D. in neurobiology from Harvard University.

Shirley Cherry

Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa

Shirley Cherry is a former teacher/librarian and retired tour director of the museum at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s home at the Dexter Parsonage in Montgomery, Ala. She is also a living legacy and part of our nation’s historical narrative.


Cherry’s courage, inspirational struggle for education during the pre-Civil Rights era, and her leadership go well beyond what any position or title can capture. Cherry grew up poor in the segregated South at a time when she was banned from attending school or walking into a library. Her grandmother, mother, and aunts taught her to read and urged her to pursue her education. Their lessons and Dr. King’s quest for civil rights were persistent forces in her life.

When her family moved to Georgia, she was enrolled in a training school while white students her age attended a high school. She recognized the difference and lobbied for change—the black training school was renamed to honor Ralph Bunche, the first African American Nobel Peace Prize winner and she became valedictorian of the high school’s first graduating class.


Cherry then earned a bachelor’s degree from Tuskegee Institute and taught in Alabama and Georgia before moving to Rhode Island. She taught at Portsmouth High School for 28 years and earned her master’s degree in Library and Information Studies from URI in 1976.


In Rhode Island, Cherry received many awards for promoting racial and social harmony. Upon retirement, she returned to Alabama—the area where both she and Dr. King began their quests for civil rights.

Rolf-Dieter Schnelle

Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa

Rolf-Dieter Schnelle, former German Consul General in Boston, has been an active supporter and a longtime board member of the University’s International Engineering Program. With his years of service in public diplomacy, foreign cultural policy, and transatlantic affairs, Schnelle linked the innovative program with funding sources and made many connections for students and faculty that still serve the program today.


Schnelle joined the German Diplomatic Service in 1975 and was posted to the German Embassy in Tokyo, to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in Madrid, and to the United Nations in New York. In the 1990s he was deputy chief of mission in Oslo, Norway, and later served as German consul general in Boston, deputy director general of the Department of Culture and Education in the German Foreign Office, and co-chair of the German-American Fulbright Commission. Now an advisor to the Hertie Foundation and the Hertie School of Governance, he also teaches transatlantic relations at his alma mater, the Free University of Berlin.


In these positions, Schnelle focused on building international cooperation in higher education. Before joining the diplomatic corps, Schnelle was a German Academic Exchange Service lecturer at the Polytechnic of Central London, at the Sorbonne Nouvelle and at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris.


After undergraduate studies at the University of Marburg, Schnelle received his graduate degree in history from the Free University of Berlin, a M.A. degree in history from Stanford University, and continued studies at the London School of Economics.

Angus C.F. Taylor

Doctor of Business honors causa

Angus C. F. Taylor is president and chief executive officer of Hexagon Metrology, Inc., a global technology company based in Quonset Point, North Kingstown RI. Taylor’s success is largely founded on his leadership and his focus on identifying and developing talent. He has decades of experience in many industries with a strong focus on design and high-tech manufacturing.


Taylor also passionately advocates for an ambitious plan to implement K-12 dual-language immersion programs in public schools. He is an active part of the volunteer team helping to build the Rhode Island Language Roadmap.


Knowing that global companies, like Hexagon, need to recruit multilingual engineering and business talent, Taylor is a strong advocate for the University’s College of Engineering and has served on the International Engineering Program board for many years. Hexagon has provided internship opportunities to help develop students’ hands-on technical skills as well as the critical language and cultural abilities needed for global engineering success.


Experienced in European, Asian and North American business cultures, Taylor studied mechanical engineering at the University of Central Lancashire, formerly Preston Polytechnic, in the U.K. With a background in mechanical design, in 1987 he joined a subsidiary of the Brown & Sharpe manufacturing company (now Hexagon Metrology) as a project engineer. He advanced his career by assuming increasing levels of responsibility in both the U.K. and in the U.S. before being named president and CEO in 2008.

Leo DiMaio, Jr.

Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa (posthumously)

Leo F. DiMaio Jr. served as director of URI’s Talent Development Program and was one of Rhode Island’s most recognized education advocates. He dedicated his life to advancing the cause of expanding opportunity for students of color and disadvantaged students.


Known as “Mr. D.,” he was a beloved and revered figure to generations of Talent Development students and served with great distinction for over thirty years. The Providence College graduate, who earned a master’s degree in education from URI, was the face of a program that still fights for social justice, one student at a time.


Prior to joining URI, DiMaio was the first director of education and recreation at the Adult Correctional Institution in Cranston, R.I., where he broke new ground with educational opportunities for inmates.


Upon retirement from URI in 1998, DiMaio created College Readiness, a program to provide educational support to a new generation of marginalized youth.


Throughout his life, DiMaio understood relationships and was a loyal friend to an unfathomably large and diverse group of people. “A friend is a friend is a friend” is a motto he lived by. He knew people well in all walks of life. His love, his words, and his lessons will never be forgotten.


While DiMaio’s dedication to education and his lifework brought many awards, accolades, and deep satisfaction, it was with his family that he spent his most cherished time. DiMaio’s granddaughter, Angelica M. DiMaio, a member of this URI’s graduating class, will accept her grandfather’s degree on behalf of the DiMaio family.