URI to award honorary degrees to leaders in government, business and academia

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KINGSTON, R.I. — April 21, 2011 — The University of Rhode Island will celebrate the achievements of its students, and salute the accomplishments of four distinguished citizens at its 125th commencement exercises on Saturday and Sunday, May 21-22, 2011.

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 Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, N.J.; Victor Baxt, chairman of Teknor Apex Co.; Alan G. Hassenfeld, former chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Hasbro, Inc.; and Margaret Leinen, executive director of the Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. Leinen will speak during the Graduate School commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 21.

Cory Booker. Known for his innovative ideas and bold actions, Booker, has been mayor of Newark, N.J., since 2006. He will speak at URI’s undergraduate commencement ceremonies on May 22 and will be awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters during the ceremony. When elected, Booker immediately rolled up his sleeves to transform New Jersey’s largest city by marshalling its resources to achieve security, economic health, and a nurturing environment.

Now in his second term, he oversaw a restructuring of the city’s police department that helped Newark lead the nation in reductions of shootings and murders. In March of 2010, Newark experienced its first murder-free month in more than 40 years. Booker’s political career began in 1998, after serving as staff attorney for the Urban Justice Center in Newark. He rose to prominence as Newark’s Central Ward councilman from 1998-2002. His active involvement became the foundation for his leadership as mayor.

Booker received his B. A. and M. A. from Stanford University, a B. A. in Modern History at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and completed his law degree at Yale University.

Victor Baxt. The man who once said he’s “just a little chemist,” Victor Baxt, will be awarded an honorary doctor of science degree in recognition of his professional accomplishments. Baxt, has spent much of his life turning the Teknor Apex Company in Pawtucket, R.I., into a leading producer of vinyl materials and other plastics for worldwide applications.

After graduating from URI in 1938 and Duke University in 1940, Baxt joined his friend and fellow alumnus, the late Norman Fain ’36, at the Thompson Chemical Company (later to be named Teknor Apex). Through the years, the chairman built the company into one that includes six major divisions, with 2,000 employees in 12 locations throughout the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, China, and Belgium.

At the same time, Baxt has been an ardent supporter of his alma mater. He is a trusted advisor and critical advocate for the University. He established an endowed scholarship in chemistry, established the Victor Baxt Chair in Polymer Engineering and supported construction of the new Norman M. Fain Hillel Center at URI. In the fall of 2010, Baxt also publicly supported the R.I. bond referendum to build URI’s new Center for Chemical and Forensic Sciences.

Alan G. Hassenfeld. A native Rhode Islander, Alan G. Hassenfeld is the former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Hasbro, Inc., the multi-billion dollar international toy company that his grandfather had started in 1923. In recognition of his professional accomplishments and his civic leadership, he will be awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters during the undergraduate commencement ceremony.

Under Mr. Hassenfeld’s leadership, Hasbro became a worldwide leader in children’s and family entertainment. Headquartered in Rhode Island, Hasbro’s products are some of the most recognizable and respected throughout the world. Alan began his 40-year career at Hasbro in 1970 and worked his way up the ranks of the business. He was one of the key architects of the company’s international operations.

Passionate about corporate social responsibility and philanthropy, he currently serves as Chairman of the Governing Body of the International Council of Toy Industries, (ICTI CARE Process), an organization that promotes ethical manufacturing in the worldwide toy industry supply chain. He also leads the Hassenfeld Foundation – a family organization whose goals include globalized safety and human rights within the area of children’s products, empowering women in developing countries, and taking on initiatives to improve the economy, education and business opportunities in Rhode Island. Mr. Hassenfeld holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and several honorary doctoral degrees.

Margaret Leinen. A leading climate change scientist, Margaret Leinen is the executive director of the Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and Associate Provost of the university’s Marine and Environmental Initiatives. In recognition of her professional accomplishments and global leadership, she will be awarded an honorary doctor of science and will speak during the Graduate School commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 21.

Prior to her current position, Leinen founded and led the Climate Response Fund, to increase awareness and funding for promising climate engineering research and served as chief science officer of Climos, Inc. Before that she was assistant director for geosciences and coordinator of environmental research and education for the National Science Foundation.

Once known fondly in Rhode Island as the “Dean of the Deep,” earlier Leinen had served as the dean of the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography — her alma mater — for nine years. As dean and vice provost of Marine Affairs, Leinen spearheaded the University’s efforts to build a cohesive interdisciplinary marine and environmental focus. When she was appointed dean in 1991, she was the first woman to head what was one of the nation’s select 10 Joint Oceanographic Institutions. Leinen received her bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Illinois; her master’s degree in geological oceanography from Oregon State University; and her Ph.D. in oceanography from URI.

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