Lehigh President Alice P. Gast was one of 10 people selected to receive an honorary degree from the University of Western Ontario at the Canadian school’s convocation this month.
Gast joined former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, former London Mayor Jane Bigelow and former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine in receiving the university’s highest honor at its 295th convocation in mid-June.
Over the course of a weeklong series of ceremonies, nearly 6,400 students representing every territory and province in Canada received their degrees.
On Wednesday, June 16, Gast received a Doctor of Science honoris causa (D.Sc.) for a distinguished career that has earned her international recognition for work in surface science and interfacial phenomena.
At the ceremony, Andrew Hrymak, dean of engineering at Western Ontario, read a citation saying that the field of engineering was fortunate to have Gast, whom he described as “illustrious” and as “a true role model for young females interested in studying engineering at university.
“A great inspiration to students”
“As many of you know, women are the minority in the profession of engineering,” he read. “Significant strides have been made to attract women to engineering over recent years, however, more needs to be done to recruit and retain females in our field. As you can see, Dr. Gast is a scholar, a researcher and a leader who is a great inspiration to female and male students alike, who aspire to enter the profession of engineering.”
In an address to the approximately 500 graduates of the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and the faculties of Western Ontario’s engineering and science programs, Gast said open eyes, open hearts and open minds are needed to change the world.
She implored her audience to embrace different perspectives to gain clarity, depth and focus; to hold onto their passions and avoid indifference; and to develop a critical and questioning mind to distinguish truth from fiction.
“There are many challenges in the world awaiting your help,” she said. “Never before have educated people like you had so many opportunities to contribute so much, so please contribute.”
Western Ontario, which was founded in 1878, has awarded more than 750 honorary degrees, honoring prime ministers, scientists, authors, artists and academics.
In an article that recently appeared in the London Free Press, Western Ontario President Amit Chakma said Gast was selected because of the international recognition of her work. Chakma chairs the senate committee that selects the degree recipients from nominations provided by the academic community. Typically, he told the publication, candidates are interviewed before an invitation to receive the degree is sent.
A busy year on the international academic circuit
Gast’s latest honor caps an academic year in which she joined education experts from around the world attending the Lord Dearing Memorial Conference at England’s University of Nottingham to discuss the global economic crisis and higher education, and in which she also spoke at the fourth annual Global Competitiveness Forum in Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabian.
At that forum, Gast joined top business leaders, international political leaders, intellectuals and journalists to discuss sustainable competitiveness. She participated in the forum at the invitation of Amr A. Al-Dabbagh, governor and chairman of the board of directors of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority.
Last fall, Gast was invited to Kyoto, Japan, along with scientists from 85 different countries to discuss science and engineering education at the sixth annual Science and Technology in Society (STS) Forum.