High profile brain scientist to address URI’s Class of 2015 at 129th Commencement ceremonies, May 17

Posted on
University to present honorary degrees to four distinguished individuals


KINGSTON, R. I. — April X, 2014 — Cranston, R.I., native Rudolph E. Tanzi has been called many things. He’s known as one of the “World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds,” one of the “Top 20 Translational Scientists,” and even as a “Rock Star of Science.” In fact, Tanzi, the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Endowed Chair in Neurology and Mental Retardation at Harvard University, is considered to be one of the greatest hopes for research and treatment breakthroughs to end Alzheimer’s disease.


As of May 17, he may also be called one of 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 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 work.”


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 and 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 be so honored:


• Shirley Cherry, retired teacher/librarian and tour director for the museum that was once the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s home at the Dexter Parsonage in Montgomery, Alabama. She will receive a 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 a doctor of humane letters.

• Angus C.F. Taylor, President and chief executive officer of Hexagon Metrology, Inc., will receive a doctor of business

• Leo F. DiMaio Jr., director emeritus of URI’s Talent Development Program will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters posthumously.

About the honored guests

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Doctor of Science

The Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Endowed Chair in Neurology and Mental Retardation at Harvard University, Tanzi’s groundbreaking research has focused on genetic links to neurological diseases. In 1980 he was part of the pioneering work that led to the location of the gene for Huntington’s disease—the first disease gene ever found by genetic linkage analysis.


Since then, he has worked to discover three genes, including those that harbor defects causing early-onset forms of Alzheimer’s disease. As director of the Mass General Hospital’s Genetics and Aging Research Unit he oversees eight laboratories investigating the genetic causes of the disease. He is 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 everyone 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 the best-selling book Super Brain with Deepak Chopra, M.D., and as a musician who has performed and recorded with Aerosmith.


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 has co-authored over 470 research articles, including three of the top ten most cited Alzheimer’s disease papers and also co-authored the popular trade books Decoding Darkness: The Search for the Genetic Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease. He has received the two highest awards for Alzheimer’s disease research: The Metropolitan Life Award and The Potamkin Prize. 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


Shirley Cherry is a former teacher/librarian and the retired tour director for the museum at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s home at the Dexter Parsonage in Montgomery, Alabama. She is also a living legacy and part of our nation’s historic 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 even 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 successfully lobbied for change—the black training school was renamed to honor Ralph Bunche, the first African American Nobel Peace Prize winner. She was 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.


While in Rhode Island, Cherry received several 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


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. Most recently he was director of the Council of Experts of German Foundations on Integration and Migration and is 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


Angus 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 talent, Taylor is a strong advocate for the University’s College of Engineering and has served on the International Engineering Program advisory board for many terms. Hexagon has provided international 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, Mr. Taylor studied mechanical engineering at the University of Central Lancashire, formerly Preston Polytechnic, in the UK. 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 UK and in the US before being named president and CEO in 2008.

Leo DiMaio, Jr., Doctor of Humane Letters (posthumously)


Leo F. DiMaio Jr. served as director of URI’s Talent Development Program. DiMaio was one of Rhode Island’s strongest and most recognized education advocates. He dedicated his life and career 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. DiMaio served with great distinction for over thirty years at URI, he was the face of a program that still fights for social justice, one student at a time. He earned his bachelor’s from Providence College in 1952 and, prior to coming to URI, served as director of education and recreation at the Adult Correctional Institution in Cranston.

Upon retirement from URI in 1998, DiMaio continued his work with College Readiness, a program he created to provide further educational opportunity 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.


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. His love, his words, and his lessons will never be forgotten.


DiMaio passed away last year and his granddaughter, Angelica M. DiMaio, who is also a member of this year’s graduating class, will accept her grandfather’s degree on behalf of the DiMaio family.