Commencement 2016: University of Rhode Island to present 5 honorary doctorates this year

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National Medal of Science recipient to speak at Graduate Ceremony, May 21

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 2 2016 – More than 600 students at the University of Rhode Island will receive their master’s or doctoral degrees at the Graduate Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 21 at the Thomas M. Ryan Center on the Kingston Campus.


During the ceremony they will also hear from one of the University’s distinguished honorary degree recipients, Dr. Richard Tapia, a mathematician and professor in the Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University. Internationally known for his mathematics research, Tapia is also an acclaimed champion of diversity in higher education. Among his many honors is his election to the National Academy of Engineering and his distinguished service on the National Science Board from 1996-2002.


President Barack Obama awarded Tapia the National Medal of Science, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on scientists and engineers. Presented in 2011, the award was in recognition of outstanding contributions to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical, engineering, behavioral and social sciences. Tapia is the first Latino to receive this prestigious award.


Due to his innovative outreach, student recruitment, and teaching practices, Rice University is a national leader in the preparation of women and underrepresented minority doctoral degree recipients in science, engineering, and mathematics. In recognition of his leadership, the University will present Tapia with the Doctor of Science Honoris Causa during the main Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 22.


“Tapia will be awarded the honorary Doctor of Science, in recognition of his years of leadership and contributions to the welfare of the nation through public service activities in science, technology and higher education,” said URI Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Donald H. DeHayes who chairs the Honorary Degree Committee. “We are honored to hear from such an inspirational teacher, scholar, and leader who also has made remarkable contributions toward advancing diversity in higher education and society.”


The first in his family to attend college, Tapia earned his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles.


2016 Honorary Degree Recipients

To honor their unique contributions to the University, the people of the State of Rhode Island, and the nation, the University will confer Honorary Doctorate Degrees at Commencement on Sunday, May 22. The Honorary Doctorate Degree is the highest honor bestowed by the University and is reserved for recognizing true distinction. In addition to Tapia and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor who will deliver the commencement address at the main commencement on Sunday, the following individuals will be so honored: The Honorable Judge Frank Caprio of Providence, Dr. Christopher M. DiMaio ’62 of Aptos, Calif., and Melanie Will-Cole of Albuquerque, NM.


. Brief biographies for these honored individuals are:


• The Honorable Judge Frank Caprio, Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa: A first-generation American from humble beginnings, Frank Caprio’s commitment to public service and education has been demonstrated throughout his life and career.


After earning a bachelor’s degree from Providence College, Caprio simultaneously taught American history at Hope High School, coached the school’s wrestling team, and commuted to Suffolk University School of Law every night. He earned his J.D. in 1965 and is now a senior partner at Caprio and Caprio in Providence. His stature as a respected attorney, fair-minded jurist, and higher education leader vividly illustrate the promise of the American Dream.


Appointed as Providence Municipal Court Judge in 1985, Caprio is well known as host of the courtroom, educational, entertainment show “Caught in Providence,” that airs on network television. Caprio has been guided by the wisdom of his parents and has brought keen thinking, sound judgment, compassion, and a dose of levity to the courtroom.


In 1993 Caprio was appointed to the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education and served as Chair for eight years. His experience as the first college graduate in his family inspired his passion for making higher education accessible and affordable to all. His personal mission and leadership to transform the lives of Rhode Islanders for generations to come through education has been an empowering agenda impacting many.

• Dr. Christopher DiMaio ’62, Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa: A resident of Aptos, Calif., Dr. Christopher M. DiMaio showed tremendous bravery and provided courageous service to this nation during the Vietnam War. A medical officer in the 3rd Marine Division in Phu Bai/Hu and Quang Tri City, he was the battalion surgeon for the Marine 1st of the Ninth, the famous “Walking Dead” unit that suffered a 90 percent casualty rate. He received many of the military’s highest honors in recognition of his service.


Since that time, Dr. DiMaio has worked relentlessly to improve conditions within the veteran community. From his early recognition, understanding, and treatment of what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder, to the development of means to address issues faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender veterans, Dr. DiMaio has been a strong supporter of all veterans. He is an active Santa Cruz County Veterans Court volunteer.


Dr. DiMaio was drafted into active service after graduating from the University of Rhode Island in 1962 and enrolling in Georgetown University medical school. He completed his residency while at the Cornell Division Bellevue Hospital and North Shore Hospital. After his tour of duty, he completed his psychiatry residencies at the Pacific Medical Center, San Francisco, the County Mental Health Center, San Diego, and a fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles.

• Melanie Will-Cole, Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa: Melanie Will-Cole is a renowned researcher, author, inventor, and innovative educator. She served for 27 years as a research physical scientist at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, where she attained the distinction of ARL Fellow, an honor bestowed on only 1 percent of the technical workforce. Will-Cole’s research talent is matched only by her passion for teaching and mentoring diverse groups, especially women, in the physical sciences. To achieve this, Will-Cole joined the faculty of Central New Mexico Community College in 2015.


Although her formal education resides in geoscience, BS (University of Miami), MS (Iowa State University) in geochemistry and doctoral studies in geochemical-oceanography at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography, Will-Cole has since become one of the leading experts in electronic materials physics. Her research in complex oxide thin-film electronic materials established the scientific foundation for the development of the Army’s software-defined reconfigurable radios and phased array antennas, both of which are critical technologies for soldier survival on the battlefield.


Will-Cole’s scholarship includes an H-index of 27, 140 refereed journal articles, 276 invited presentations, 5 book chapters, 9 U.S. patents, 4 disclosures and 2 licensed patents. Among her dozens of honors, Will-Cole received the 2008 Society of Women Engineers Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of her achievements and sustained contributions to the engineering field.


And as written about in an earlier release —

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to speak at URI’s 130th Undergraduate Commencement, May 22


Supreme Court of the United States


Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa

The Honorable Sonia Sotomayor is the 111th Justice to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, and the first Hispanic and third woman to ascend to the nation’s highest judicial body.


President Barack Obama appointed her in August 2009 following her distinguished career of service in the courts. She served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1998 to 2009 and as a U.S. District Court judge, Southern District of New York, from 1992 to 1998. She began her legal career as an assistant district attorney in New York from 1979–1984 and was at the law firm of Pavia & Harcourt where she litigated international commercial matters in New York City from 1984–1992.


Justice Sotomayor is also recognized and cherished for sharing her personal story and serving as a role model to millions of Americans. Born in Bronx, New York, her best-selling memoir, My Beloved World, captures her life growing up in the housing projects of New York and the challenges she faced and overcame.


Justice Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1976. She earned a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1979, where she served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal.