Joel Best tells the graduates during Sunday's doctoral hooding ceremony that the advanced degree grants them great independence.

Doctoral hooding

University honors 'remarkable' graduates at doctoral hooding ceremony

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1:59 p.m., Jan. 7, 2013--The doctorate is a “remarkable degree that requires a remarkable person to earn it,” University of Delaware President Patrick Harker told UD’s latest recipients of academia’s highest degree on Sunday, Jan. 6, at the doctoral hooding ceremony in the Roselle Center for the Arts.

And from the details about the elite group shared by Charlie Riordan, vice provost for research and of graduate and professional education, and by Mary Martin, assistant provost, an exciting future indeed lies ahead for these intellectual leaders.

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Richard Burns received his doctorate in computer science and also recently was married. He’s heading to a tenure-track faculty position at West Chester University.

Kota Takahashi, whose dissertation research focused on prosthetic limbs, will be working at the Army Research Laboratory. 

Others are heading off to positions at companies, in health care, in government service or postdoctoral research at universities. Still others are continuing on with professional careers already established, in schools and universities to the Delaware State Police.

UD’s newest doctoral alumni include 110 doctors of philosophy, 29 doctors of physical therapy and 17 doctors of education. Only a fraction were in attendance, however, as the ceremony recognizes students who completed their degree programs during the past summer and fall semesters, and many already have begun new careers, Riordan said.

Showcasing the tremendous breadth of scholarship represented by the graduates, Riordan noted that a doctoral student in political science and international relations compared and contrasted how India, South Africa and the United Kingdom approached freedom of information laws, while a student in mechanical engineering made advances in robotics to enable students with special needs to become more mobile and explore their world.

A dissertation in marine studies examined international governance principles as they pertain to European maritime policy while a dissertation in economics proposed a new compensation paradigm for public school teachers.

A doctoral student in animal and food sciences evaluated the immune response to microbial infection in the avian influenza, and a Ph.D. student in education explored the engagement of skilled readers in the eighth grade with online, multimodal texts.

Reflecting on recent world events including the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., war in Syria, and the U.S. government’s lackluster performance in dealing with fiscal issues, Riordan reminded the freshly minted doctoral recipients that “leadership matters, and when it’s lacking, the consequences are obvious.” 

Riordan urged the students to be leaders and mentors and to pursue their dreams.

“Recall the words of John F. Kennedy: 'The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men [and women] who can dream of things that never were.’”

Harker noted that it has been 30 years since he earned his doctorate, but he still remembers the joy and how startling discovery can be, as well as the hard work.

“But those sleepless nights weren’t yours alone,” he told the graduates, applauding the audience of parents, grandparents, spouses, children and friends, who provided support — moral and financial — along the way.  

In his address, Joel Best, UD professor of sociology and 2012 recipient of the Francis Alison Faculty Award, also acknowledged the many people who had invested money, time and love in where the graduates are today.

Best talked about a person who supported him — his dad, who grew up on a farm in a remote area of North Dakota, served in the war and completed his bachelor’s degree when he returned, securing a position in business. His dad wanted Joel and his brother to get their doctoral degrees. Joel got his Ph.D. in sociology and his brother became a veterinarian. But why had their father placed so much emphasis on this? 

His dad didn’t like bosses, and their top degrees meant independence. “That’s pretty rare in today’s complex society,” Best said. “You are being granted remarkable independence — in your teaching, your research — it’s a privilege, enjoy it.”

Kandia Lewis, who earned a Ph.D. in education for her research on family early literacy practices for a Spanish-speaking population, had an extensive cheering section that included her parents, her sister and grandparents, in addition to her adviser.

Lewis, who is a research scientist at Temple University and has an aunt with a Ph.D. in biology, thanked her family for their support. “It was imperative,” she said.

Swarnajay Mukherjee, a native of India, received his doctorate in mechanical engineering researching how drops and bubbles move through liquids. 

“I chose the University of Delaware based on the quality of the education, the research and the University’s location,” he said. Professors in India also encouraged him to attend UD.

“UD was a great experience. I had all the freedom in the world — my adviser did not micromanage me,” he said. Now working in Houston for Schlumberger, which supplies technology to the oil and gas industry, he added, “I’m happy.” 

Related articles and resources

For an article about Sunday's Winter Commencement, click here.

For more photographs of the doctoral hooding ceremony, see UD in Photos.

Article by Tracey Bryant

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson, Lane McLaughlin and Jeff Work

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