Four to receive honorary degrees at SMU’s 93rd Commencement

SMU faculty at Commencement

SMU will confer honorary degrees upon four men and women for achievements in science, education and philanthropy during its 93rd Commencement.

Television producer Paula S. Apsell, climate studies pioneer Wallace S. Broecker and philanthropists Edith and Peter O’Donnell will be honored at the 9:30 a.m. ceremony May 17 in Moody Coliseum. Honorary degrees, a tradition at SMU since 1918, are awarded to individuals for uncommon personal accomplishments at home or abroad, for service to society and the public good, and for enlarging human understanding and enriching human life.

A symposium honoring the O’Donnells will be held 11 a.m.-noon May 16 in 110 Dedman Life Sciences Building. The SMU community is invited to attend.

Broecker will be welcomed with a presentation and reception at 4:30 p.m. May 16 in 153 Heroy Hall. The event is sponsored by the Provost’s Office and hosted by SMU’s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Department of Anthropology and Institute for the Study of Earth and Man. The SMU community is invited to attend.

Read more about the 2008 honorees.

Some major Commencement Weekend events at a glance:

May 16-17 – Class of 1958 golden reunion
May 16 – Baccalaureate and Rotunda Recessional
May 17 – Faculty Breakfast and Distinguished University Citizen Awards presentation
May 17 – All-University Commencement
May 17 – School diploma presentations

Find more information at the Registrar’s Commencement 2008 website.


Paula Apsell, longtime executive producer of the landmark television program NOVA, will receive the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree for her central role in enhancing public understanding of science through innovative broadcast programming. She began her career at station WGBH in Boston, after earning a B.A. degree from Brandeis University. In 1975 she joined NOVA, then a fledgling WGBH-produced national series that would soon set the standard for science programming on television. Apsell left NOVA to serve as a medical programming producer for ABC and as a Vannevar Bush Fellow in the Public Understanding of Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She returned to NOVA in 1984 as executive producer, guiding the program to become the most popular science series on television and the Web.

Apsell has overseen production of many award-winning WGBH Science Unit specials. Under her direction, NOVA has won every major broadcast honor, including multiple Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, AAAS Westinghouse Science Journalism Award and Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Gold Baton. NOVA also was the first recipient of the National Science Foundation’s Public Service Award. Apsell has been honored with numerous individual awards.

Wallace Broecker, a geologist and geochemist, will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree for advancing knowledge about the Earth’s past climate and environmental issues relating to its future. After receiving B.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Columbia University, he joined the faculty of Columbia, where he has been the Newberry Professor of Geological Sciences since 1977. Broecker pioneered new approaches to studying the Earth’s climate, including the use of radiocarbon and other chemical isotopes from marine sediments. His investigation of oceanic cycles and the relationship of the oceans and the atmosphere has advanced knowledge of climate change. He has played an active role in environmental policy debate as a leading voice warning of the potential danger of increased greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere.

The author of several textbooks and more than 400 scientific articles, Broecker is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His numerous honors include the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest scientific award, and the Blue Planet Prize for achievements in global environmental research.

Edith and Peter O’Donnell Jr., civic leaders and philanthropists, will receive honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees for their pivotal roles in advancing the arts and education. Edith O’Donnell graduated from the University of Texas, while Peter O’Donnell received a bachelor’s degree from the University of the South and an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Together they founded the O’Donnell Foundation in 1957. He is chairman, president and CEO, and she is secretary/treasurer. The O’Donnell Foundation of Dallas develops and funds model programs to strengthen engineering and science education and research. Mr. O’Donnell created the Advanced Placement Incentive Program, which has dramatically increased the rate of minority high school students passing college-level exams in mathematics, science and English.

Peter O’Donnell was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in April 2008. He serves on the Presidents’ Circle of the National Academy of Sciences and is a founding member of the Academy of Medicine, Science and Engineering of Texas. Edith O’Donnell promotes arts education as co-founder of Young Audiences, now called Big Thought, and founder of the Advanced Placement Incentive Programs for art and music theory in Dallas area schools. She serves on boards of The Hockaday School and Dallas Museum of Art. Together the O’Donnells have been honored with the James K. Wilson Award for service to the arts in Dallas and the Linz Award, Dallas’ most prestigious civic honor.

SMU expects to award nearly 2,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees to students at commencement, and the University’s schools and departments will hold individual diploma ceremonies throughout the day. The commencement speaker will be Allen Weinstein, archivist of the United States, who oversees the National Archives and Records Administration. NARA’s 38 facilities include the National Archives headquarters in Washington, D.C., and soon to be 13 presidential libraries – including the George W. Bush Presidential Library Center to be located on the campus of SMU.

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