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Lehigh to bestow honorary degrees

Five accomplished scholars will receive honorary degrees at the 136th commencement ceremony that will be held at 10 a.m. Monday, May 24 at Lehigh’s Goodman Stadium.

Receiving honorary degrees are:

• Iconoclastic author Kurt Vonnegut, who will address the 1,200 graduates before receiving a Doctor of Humane Letters.

• Dana Gioia, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, who will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters.

• Mark Juergensmeyer, the director of Global and International Studies and a professor of both sociology and religious studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, who will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters.

• Ruzena Bajcsy, director of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society at the University of California, Berkeley, who will receive a Doctor of Engineering.

• John W. Hutchinson, the Abbot and James Lawrence Professor of Applied Mechanics at Harvard University, who will receive a Doctor of Engineering.

Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut gained worldwide fame in the 1960s with such novels as Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five . The American novelist was born in 1922 in Indianapolis, and his childhood was shaped by the Great Depression, which left his father out of work and eroded his family’s wealth.

He began writing in high school, where he also edited the first high school daily in the country. He headed for Cornell after his graduation, where he studied chemistry and biology (following in the footsteps of his older brother, Bernard, who is credited with discovering cloud seeding to produce precipitation). While he struggled with his studies, he excelled as both a columnist and managing editor of the Cornell Daily Sun.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943, and served in World War II, where he witnessed and survived the bombing of Dresden after being taken as a prisoner of war during the Battle of the Bulge. This experience would inform most of his work, as well as form the core of perhaps his most famous work, the classic anti-war novel Slaughterhouse Five.

After marrying upon his return to the U.S., Vonnegut attended the University of Chicago as a graduate anthropology student, and worked for the Chicago City News Bureau as a police reporter. Upon having his master’s thesis rejected, he went to work as a publicist for General Electric, and launched a part-time career as a fiction writer.

Collier’s magazine published Vonnegut’s first short story in 1950. His first novel, Player Piano, was published in 1952. By the time his next novel, The Sirens of Titan, was published in 1959, dozens of his short stories had been published. He’d also taught English at a school for emotionally disturbed students, ran a Saab dealership, and lost his father and his sister (whose death followed her husband’s death in a train accident by less than 48 hours). He also adopted three of his sister’s four children and raised them alongside his own three children.

During the 1960’s, he published four more novels, wrote a collection of short stories, and served a two-year residency at the famous University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop. The following decade brought an off-Broadway play, a creative writing position at Harvard, and a divorce.

In his later years, Vonnegut has become known by a new generation as an outspoken social critic, pacifist, and political satirist who is much in demand as a lecturer.

Dana Gioia

Gioia, an internationally acclaimed poet, critic, and educator, was appointed chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts in 2003. He is perhaps best known for his 1991 book, Can Poetry Matter?, which examined the role of poetry in contemporary culture. His collection of poems, Interrogations at Noon (one of three full-length books of poetry he has written), won the 2002 American Book Award.

Gioia has enjoyed a long and prosperous collaborative friendship with Lehigh music professor Paul Salerni that spans nearly 20 years. The two began working together after Salerni set a Gioia poem from The New Yorker to music. Pleased by the transformation of his words in “Garden on the Campagna,” Gioia “blessed” the arrangement and began sending him both finished and unfinished works for him to score. Most recently, Gioia contributed the libretto to Salerni's one-act opera, Tony Caruso’s Last Broadcast.

Internationally known as a commentator on American culture and literature for BBC radio, his poems, translations, essays and reviews have appeared in many magazines, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post Book World. He is also the co-editor of the best-selling college literary textbook in America: Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama.

Through his ongoing commitment to education, Gioia founded “Teaching Poetry” in 2001, a conference dedicated to improving high school teaching of poetry. He has also taught as a visiting writer at Johns Hopkins University, Sarah Lawrence College, Colorado College, and Wesleyan University.

A former business executive, Gioia supported his writing for 15 years by working as an executive for General Foods in New York, where he rose to the position of vice president of marketing. He is a graduate of Stanford University, where he earned both his B.A. and M.B.A, as well as Harvard University, where he earned his M.A.

Mark Juergensmeyer

Juergensmeyer is an internationally renowned expert on religious violence, conflict resolution, and South Asian religion and politics. Author of more than two hundred articles and a dozen books, he is best known for his work Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, which was based on interviews with violent religious activists around the world—including individuals convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, leaders of Hamas, and abortion clinic bombers in the United States. The 2003 revised version won acclaim from The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times as one of the best nonfiction books of the year.

Juergensmeyer has received research fellowships from the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the American Council of Learned Societies. In 2003, he was the recipient of the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for contributions to the study of religion, and is the 2004 recipient of the Silver Award of the Queen Sofia Center for the Study of Violence in Spain.

Since the events of September 11, Juergensmeyer has been called upon to offer insight and expert commentary in the news media—including CNN, NBC, CBS, BBC, NPR and Fox News—and by international news organizations in Japan, Oslo, Jakarta, and Delhi.

He received his B.A. in philosophy from the University of Illinois, Urbana, his M.Div. in ethics from Union Theological Seminary, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley.

Ruzena Bajcsy

Bajcsy, professor in the electrical engineering and computer science department at the University of California, Berkeley, served as the assistant director of the Computer Information Science and Engineering Directorate (CISE) of the National Science Foundation’s CISE directorate prior to her position at Berkeley. She came to NSF from the University of Pennsylvania, where she was a professor of computer science and engineering and the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s General Robotics Automation Sensing Perception Laboratory, which she founded in 1978.

Bajcsy is a pioneering researcher in machine perception, robotics, and artificial intelligence and has done seminal research in the areas of human-centered computer control, cognitive science, robotics, computerized radiological/medical image processing, and artificial vision.

Bajcsy received her master’s and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from Slovak Technical University. She received a Ph.D. in computer science in 1972 from Stanford University and, since that time, has been teaching and doing research at Penn’s Department of Computer and Information Science

She has received the ACM A. Newell award (2001), the CRA Distinguished Service Award (2003), and the ACM Distinguished Service Award (2003).

In the November 2002 issue of Discover magazine, she was included on the list of the 50 most important women in science and she was named to the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee in 2003.

John W. Hutchinson

Hutchinson is a highly distinguished scientist recognized throughout the world for his critical contributions to the mechanics of engineering materials. His interests range from aerospace and ship structures to microscopic phenomena involving the deformation, fracture, and processing of electronic materials. His pioneering work on micromechanics and fracture of thin films, multilayers and bi material interfaces, and plastic deformations of materials at the micron scale laid the foundation for and brought new perspectives to designing new material systems.

Hutchinson is widely published in journals such as the Journal of Mechanics and Physics of Solids, and the International Journal of Solids and Structures, and serves on the board of editors for numerous journals, including the Journal of Engineering Sciences, Journal of Mechanics of Materials ,and Journal of Mechanics Sciences.

Hutchinson has received numerous honors, including the ASTM Irwin Medal, Swedlow Award, the SES Prager Medal and the ASME Nadai Award, Thurston Award and Timoshenko Medal. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has received honorary degrees from The Royal Institute of Technology (Stockholm, Sweden) and The Technical University of Denmark (Copenhagen, Denmark). He was also one of the youngest full professors to have an endowed chair at Harvard.

He earned his undergraduate degree from Lehigh University in engineering mechanics and his Ph.D. from Harvard University in mechanical engineering.

Posted on Thursday, May 20, 2004

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