Honorary degree recipients share the University’s values

Shalala, Pappas and Wrights honored for commitment to service, public health

By Jim Fessenden

UMass Medical School Communications

June 02, 2011

An important part of the tradition and symbolism of any graduation ceremony is the honoring of distinguished guests who represent the mission and values of the institution. The four people who are receiving honorary degrees at UMass Worcester’s 38th Commencement ceremonies on Sunday, June 5, fit that description well: former secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Donna E. Shalala, for her distinguished career in the service and promotion of public health; founding UMMS faculty member Arthur Pappas, MD, professor of orthopedics & physical rehabilitation and pediatrics, for his service to the University; and Autism Speaks founders Suzanne and Bob Wright, for their role in increasing autism awareness nationally. 

UMass Medical School was created in l962 by an act of the Massachusetts legislature to enable state residents to study medicine at an affordable cost, and to increase the number of primary care physicians practicing in underserved areas of the state. Its mission is to serve the people of the commonwealth through national distinction in health sciences education, research and public service. 

Donna E. Shalala, promoting children’s health 

UMass Worcester will present an honorary degree to former secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Donna E. Shalala, for her distinguished career in the service and promotion of public health. 


  Donna E. Shalala

Shalala, who will give the keynote address, is a prominent public health advocate with more than 25 years of experience as a scholar, teacher and administrator. She was appointed secretary of HHS by President Clinton in 1993 and led the agency for eight years, becoming the longest-serving HHS secretary in U.S. history. As secretary, she oversaw a wide variety of programs including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Child Care and Head Start, Welfare, the Public Health Service, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 
Among her many accomplishments as HHS secretary, she made health insurance available to millions of children through the approval of all State Children’s Health Insurance Programs, raised child immunization rates to the highest levels in history, led major reforms of the FDA’s drug approval process and food safety system and revitalized the NIH. At the end of her tenure as secretary, she was described by the Washington Post as “one of the most successful government managers of modern times.” 

Shalala recently chaired the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Initiative on the Future of Nursing, which last October issued a comprehensive report on the challenges facing the nursing profession and opportunities to build upon nursing-based solutions to improve quality and transform the way Americans receive health care. Of interest to the UMMS community in general, and the Graduate School of Nursing in particular, the well-received report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, recommended enhancing the scope of practice for nurses; fostering interprofessional collaboration in which nurses are full partners in the health care team; and improving and expanding nursing education, particularly master’s and doctoral programs, 

Shalala became professor of political science and president of the University of Miami in 2001; since then, the university has solidified its position among top U.S. research universities and continues to rise in national rankings from 67th in 2000 to 47th in 2010 in the U.S.News and World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges.” 

Born in Cleveland, Shalala received her undergraduate degree in history from Western College for Women. As one of the country’s first Peace Corp volunteers, she served in Iran from 1962 to 1964. She received her PhD from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University and held tenured professorships at Columbia University, the City University of New York and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Shalala served in the Carter administration from 1977 to 1980 as assistant secretary for public development and research at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She was president of Hunter College of the City University of New York from 1980 to 1987 and chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1987 to 1993. 

In 2007, President George W. Bush selected Shalala to co-chair, with U.S. Senator Bob Dole, the Commission on Care for Returning Wounded Warriors, to evaluate how wounded service members transition from active duty to civilian society. The following year, President Bush presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. Shalala has more than three dozen honorary degrees and a host of other honors, and serves on several national boards and councils related to education, arts and sciences, and public policy and service. 

UMass Worcester will award Shalala an honorary degree at Commencement in recognition of her outstanding stewardship of the Health and Human Services Secretariat and her steadfast commitment to the health and well-being of this nation’s children. 

Download the Honorary Degree Citation

‘First UMMS surgeon,’ Arthur Pappas, MD 

 Arthur Pappas
  Arthur Pappas, MD

UMass Worcester will award an honorary degree to Arthur M. Pappas, MD, in recognition of his unparalleled leadership in the Worcester community and years of dedication to sports medicine, along with the numerous philanthropic contributions to UMass Medical School. 

Throughout his career at UMMS, Dr. Pappas has been a driving force in the success of the clinical system and the Medical School. Pappas was the founding chair of the Department of Orthopedics and is fondly recalled as “the first UMMS surgeon,” having admitted and operated on the first patient in 1976 at what was then the newly constructed UMass Hospital. His teaching and patient interests are focused on the orthopedic care of handicapped children and professional and amateur athletes. A pioneer in the field of sports medicine, he has published more than 100 articles related to orthopedic problems with children and athletes and has delivered more than 300 lectures worldwide. He was the medical director for the Boston Red Sox from 1978 to 2003; he was also a former president of the Association of Professional Baseball Physicians, a member of the Sports Medicine Committee for the American Academy of Pediatrics, president of the Massachusetts Amateur Sports Foundation and sponsor of the Bay State Games. 

Born in Auburn, Pappas graduated from Harvard College in 1953, where he was actively involved in competitive and individual athletic events, and the University of Rochester School of Medicine in 1957. Pappas received his orthopedic residency training at Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital and Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (now Brigham & Women’s) in Boston. He also served as research officer at the Naval Medical School in Bethesda. Prior to assuming his position at UMass Medical School in 1971, he was interim orthopedic surgeon-in-chief at Children’s Hospital and surgeon to the Harvard College Athletic Department. 

Pappas has received numerous awards, including the Worcester District Medical Society’s Dr. A. Jane Fitzpatrick Community Service Award in November 1999, and the Physician Achievement Award from the Arthritis Foundation in 2000. He was also presented with the Dr. Marian Ropes Award from the Arthritis Foundation. In 2003, multiple donors joined UMass Medical School in honoring Pappas by establishing theArthur M. Pappas, MD, Chair in Orthopedics, with David C. Ayers, MD, invested as its first recipient. In 2011, the Massachusetts Medical Society bestowed on Pappas a Lifetime Achievement Award, one of the highest awards given each year “to a member of the society who has made a lasting contribution to the practice of medicine over a lifetime and who has made significant contributions to the goals of the society.” 

Download the Honorary Degree Citation

  Suzanne and Bob Wright, advocates for autism 

Suzanne and Bob Wright 
  Suzanne and Bob Wright

UMass Worcester will award honorary degrees to Suzanne and Bob Wright in recognition of their immense impact on the recognition of autism as a major health threat, support for research into this complex neurobiological condition, and advocacy on behalf of people affected by autism around the world.

Bob Wright is senior advisor at Lee Equity Partners, and chairman and CEO of the Palm Beach Civic Association. He served as vice chairman of General Electric and CEO of NBC and NBC Universal for more than 20 years; he also serves on the boards of the Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation, RAND Corporation and the New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Suzanne Wright has an extensive history of active involvement in community and philanthropic endeavors, mostly directed toward helping children. She is a trustee emeritus of Sarah Lawrence College, her alma mater. Suzanne has received numerous awards, such as the Child magazine Children’s Champions Award; the Luella Bennack Volunteer Award; the Spirit of Achievement Award by the National Women’s Division of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine; and the Women of Vision Award from the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Grandparents of a child with autism, the Wrights founded Autism Speaks in 2005. Since then, the organization—now North America’s largest autism science and advocacy foundation—has committed more than $160 million to research through 2014, and to the development of innovative new resources for families. Based in New York, Autism Speaks is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. In 2008, the Wrights were named to Time magazine’s “100 Heroes and Pioneers,” a list of the most influential people in the world, for their commitment to global autism advocacy. In his 2009 speech at the National Institutes of Health, President Barack Obama identified autism as one of three major health areas of concern. 

In 2010, UMMS partnered in the inaugural Autism Speaks Light It Up Blue campaign, a global initiative designed to raise awareness and shine a bright light on autism as a growing public health crisis by having local, national and international landmarks illuminated in blue light as part of the annual celebration of World Autism Awareness Day, established in 2007 by the United Nations General Assembly. 

Download the Honorary Degree Citation

Related links: 

Student speakers offer words of wisdom 
Anticipation builds for 38th Commencement exercises 
Commencement information for graduates 

A celebration of student achievement