UD President Patrick Harker speaks during the doctoral hooding ceremony, held Friday on The Green.

Cheers for academic elite

University of Delaware doctoral recipients headed for fulfilling work


Editor's note: To see a podcast of the ceremony, click here.

4:04 p.m., May 26, 2012--Applause filled the air as the University of Delaware’s highest degree earners received the elite doctoral hood in a ceremony held Friday, May 25, under a luminous white tent on The Green. Although their achievements required years of difficult study, the 126 graduates won’t be resting on their laurels now.

Nicole Raineault, who earned a doctorate in geology, will begin a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Rhode Island almost immediately. 

Campus Stories

From graduates, faculty

As it neared time for the processional to open the University of Delaware Commencement ceremonies, graduating students and faculty members shared their feelings about what the event means to them.

Doctoral hooding

It was a day of triumph, cheers and collective relief as more than 160 students from 21 nations participated in the University of Delaware's Doctoral Hooding Convocation held Friday morning on The Green.

“The adventures haven’t stopped since I’ve come to UD, and they don’t look like they will anytime soon,” Raineault said excitedly. On Monday, she will board the NOAA vessel Okeanos Explorer for a two-week research cruise mapping the seafloor off the U.S. East Coast.

“This degree is a remarkable one, and it demands that a remarkable person earn it,” UD President Patrick Harker told the graduates in his congratulatory remarks. “To stand where you stand takes equal parts passion and perseverance — and it takes both in larger quantities than most people can fathom.”

Charlie Riordan, vice provost for graduate and professional education, noted that the 126 doctoral graduates present represented only a portion of the more than 300 doctoral awardees this spring. Many have gone on to new careers around the globe. 

“In celebrating your achievements to date, you have both an opportunity and a responsibility to take a leadership role. Use your creativity, expertise, time and passion to now inspire others,” Riordan urged.

Lynn Snyder Mackler, Alumni Distinguished Professor of Physical Therapy, delivered the convocation address, which focused on the importance of fulfilling work. She pointed out that a number of doctoral graduates, especially women, unfortunately will “drop off” from academic careers and research because of concerns about balancing work with family.

“If you think we are always keeping all the balls in the air, it’s an illusion,” she said. “We’re here because we play to our strengths. We all have our successes and failures.”

She said she was no good at decorating cakes or making collages with her kids, but cakes and collages got made, and her children had the benefit of other opportunities, such as travel, that enriched their lives. 

“Don’t try to be great. Be solid. Do your best. Find a good team to lead, or be part of it,” she said. “Confucius was right: If you choose a job you love, you will never have to work a day in your life.” 

Fascinating jobs, indeed, lie ahead for UD’s “new doctors.” 

Amanda Rich, from Winchester, Mass., who received a doctorate in human development and family studies, will begin a tenured track position this fall as an assistant professor at York College of Pennsylvania in the behavioral science and sociology department. There, she will continue to work with disability advocacy groups in Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania. 

“My experience at UD has shaped my career path, made long-lasting professional and personal connections and has helped me find my passion for social justice,” Rich said.

As a postdoctoral researcher at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Gayathri Mahalingam will contribute to the development of facial recognition software for the FBI and other agencies that will improve not only how we identify terrorists and criminals, but also missing children who’ve aged since they’ve been gone. 

Mahalingam credits her adviser in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences, Chandra Kambhamettu, for helping her to “think out of the box” as she worked with images and video sequences, especially video taken with low-resolution mobile phones.

Daniel Orozco, who earned a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering under the advisement of Prof. Guang Gao, had to work his way from Medellin, Colombia, to “one of the best universities in the U.S.” 

But once here, Orozco contracted a serious illness that required two surgeries. The medical bills mounted, and he was afraid he would not be able to complete his Ph.D. He says he overcame each hurdle through “sheer force of will and hard work.” 

Soon, Orozco will start a new life in Hillsboro, Ore., working for Intel Corp., where he will develop improved technologies for producing microprocessor chips.

“I feel happy,” Orozco said, “because, who would have thought that a little boy from a small school in a Third World country would become a scientist? I feel it is a dream come true.” 

Dissertation and mentoring prizes awarded

The following prizes were awarded at the doctoral hooding ceremony:

  • James G. Mutitu, electrical and computer engineering, won the Allan P. Colburn Prize in Engineering and Mathematical Sciences for “Light Trapping in Thin Film Solar Cells Using Photonic Engineering Device Concepts.” His dissertation chair was Dennis Prather.
  • Lynn A. Letukas, sociology, won the George Herbert Ryden Prize in Social Sciences for “The Ascent of Punditry: Media and the Construction of Cable News.” Her dissertation chair was Joel Best.
  • Michael R. Edson, English, won the Wilbur Owen Sypherd Prize in Humanities for “Allegories of Abstraction: Retirement in Britain, 1660–1830.” His dissertation chair was Charles E. Robinson.
  • Mansoor Ur Rehman, physics, won the Theodore Wolf Prize in Physical and Life Sciences for “Realistic Inflation Models and Primordial Gravity Waves.” His dissertation chair was Qaisar Shafi.
  • Kerrin C. Wolf, urban affairs and public policy, won the Dan Rich Prize for Making a Difference for Delawareans for “An Exploration of School Resource Officer Arrests in Delaware.” His dissertation chair was Danilo Yanich.
  • The late Lawrence H. Cohen, professor of clinical psychology, was honored with the Outstanding Doctoral Graduate Student Advising and Mentoring Award. Prof. Cohen, who died this past April, advised 26 doctoral students to degree completion during his 32 years at UD and was admired for setting high standards coupled with “exceptional caring.” His “incredible mentorship” was described as “his gift and his calling” by a former student. His award was received by his wife, Rita Yopp Cohen, and daughter, Jessica Cohen.

Article by Tracey Bryant

Photos by Ambre Alexander and Evan Krape

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