As is now a tradition, bagpipers lead the doctoral hooding processional on The Green.

New doctors in the house

UD doctoral grads receive regalia, diplomas in hooding ceremony


4:51 p.m., May 30, 2015--With hundreds of friends, family members and mentors looking on and untold others watching a live feed online, scores of University of Delaware students received their doctoral hoods and diplomas – symbols that they had reached the summit of scholarship – during ceremonies held Friday morning, May 29, on The Green.

With a pair of bagpipers as escorts and Charlie Riordan, deputy provost for research, bearing the mace, the new doctors marched into a large white tent to celebrate the end of a long and rigorous endeavor.

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.

Jim Richards, vice provost for graduate and professional education, put the day into context with some numbers.

The University offers 52 doctoral programs and will award 277 doctorates this year, representing 26 nations and 22 states, he said. Many of those new doctors were not present Friday, he said, but 160 were in the tent. 

Three dozen new doctors are Delaware residents. Three graduates earned the University's first doctoral degrees in water science and policy and nursing science. The youngest new doctor is 25 years old, he said, and the "most experienced" is 60.

In his final remarks to doctoral students before taking a new post at the helm of the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia, University President Patrick Harker urged graduates to “be open, be useful and be grateful.”

“You know that every advancement brings a new challenge and every opportunity, new risks,” he said. “What we need isn’t always more facts but, rather, deeper insight.

“You’re built for this. Doctoral study is the enemy of simplistic reasoning and hollow logic. We need you to help change the character of our conversations on the things that matter.”

Special recognition

Four graduates received prizes for their dissertations during Friday's ceremony and one faculty member, Joseph Zeni, assistant professor of physical therapy, received the Outstanding Doctoral Graduate Student Advising and Mentoring Award.

The four honored graduates and the titles of their dissertations, which offer a hint of the rigor of study involved, include:

• Amanda Kate Gurnon, Allan P. Colburn Prize in Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, for "Nonlinear Oscillatory Rheology and Structure of Wormlike Micellar Solutions and Colloidal Suspensions."

• Jacob R. Fooks, George Herbert Ryden Prize in Social Sciences, for "Essays on Computational Applications in Land and Environmental Economics."

• Colleen Terry, Wilbur Owen Sypherd Prize in Humanities, for "Presence in Print: William Hogarth in British North America."

• Alyssa J.L. Findlay, Theodore Wolf Prize in Physical and Life Sciences, for "Sulfide Oxidation and (Nano) Particle Formation Along Redox Gradients in the Marine Environment."

As a rite of passage that carries the University's imprimatur, the hooding ceremony also is a visual reminder of the significance of the mentoring process. Each graduate wears the University's blue robe, now marked with three black stripes on the sleeve, and crosses the stage accompanied by his or her faculty adviser. 

It is that faculty member who places the University's blue and gold doctoral hood over the graduate's head, marking their symbolic entry into an elite academic cohort.

State Sen. Bethany Hall-Long (D-Newark) was wearing a much different hat and full academic regalia Friday as adviser to Ronald Castaldo, who joined Robbi Alexander as the first to receive University doctorates in nursing science.

Hall-Long said Castaldo's research in advanced practice nursing has been useful to her as she works to strengthen and protect nurses' roles in health care.

With 40 years of nursing experience, Alexander said she now will mentor student nurses as an assistant professor at Moravian College.

Words of wisdom, words of joy

UD's ceremony includes brief details of each graduate's life and often bits of student commentary, too, all read by Mary Martin, associate vice provost for graduate and professional education.

The audience laughed after hearing what Tom Mowen had to say. According to Mowen, who earned his doctorate in sociology, his wife once told him he could get a motorcycle if he ever finished his Ph.D.

"I should say, 'Vroom, vroom.'"

Lenora T. Felder, who earned her doctorate in urban affairs and public policy, offered this bit of advice on building resilience during difficult challenges: "Pick yourself up, ride again and repeat the steps one or two thousand times."

Throughout the ceremony there were tears of joy, shrieks of delight, shouts of acclaim and, of course, many more dignified exchanges.

"I have been here almost 30 years, and this is still one of my favorite days of the whole year," said Gail Rys, assistant dean of graduate services in the College of Education and Human Development.

George Watson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said the same as he greeted the new graduates of his college. It has been 30 years since he received his Ph.D. in physics, he said.

"One of the chief pleasures of academic life is that you continue to be involved in graduations," Watson said.

Hearing what others have accomplished can give fresh hope for the future, as Nancy Targett, dean of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, noted in her comments to students from that college. 

"Knowing about their efforts and hearing about the efforts of others here today, fuels my optimism about the future," she said. "So to the geologists I say, 'Rock on.' To the marine science and policy students I say, 'Ride that wave, because the world really is your oyster.' And to the geographers I say, 'You've charted a path forward and now you have the latitude to make a real difference in the world.'"

Global reach

As graduates assembled on the steps of Memorial Hall for a group photograph before the ceremony, it seemed likely their high-level study would have global impact. The family and friends who lined up with cameras to take advantage of the photo opportunity looked like an international press corps.

Students from as far as Myanmar, China and Nepal were in the midst, Rys said, and soon they and others will carry their expertise around the world and around the nation. Most already have jobs and many will start tenure-track positions in higher education, she said.

Soma Dash, a doctoral student in molecular biology who hopes to finish her degree in about two years, was on hand to see four friends graduate. She sat with their family members, some of whom had spent at least 15 hours on the plane to arrive from India.

"The best part of this – everyone is so happy and enthusiastic," she said. "You can feel it in the air."

Autumn Kidwell's sister made the trip to Newark from Perth, Australia, and her parents, Bill and Kem, and other family members came from Fort Worth, Texas, to see her receive her doctorate in oceanography. 

Po-Yen Wang's two children, 3 years old and 2 months old, were on hand for Friday's ceremony, where the native of Taiwan was recognized with a doctorate in civil and environmental engineering. He also received his master's degree in civil engineering this weekend.

His wife, Dr. Joannie Yeh, knows the challenge of high-level study, having gone through medical school with a specialty in pediatrics. But this is different, she said. Unlike medical school, Ph.D. studies have no fixed duration. They can sometimes extend for six, eight, 10 years.

"It's the end of a long journey, and it brings some closure, too," she said. "We feel relief and also pretty excited."

Many of the new doctors will pursue other challenges locally and elsewhere in the United States, where poverty, hunger, poor literacy, violence and other intractable problems remain.

As Dean Lynn Okagaki of the College of Education and Human Development said, "The ultimate goal in education and human development is to help people reach their full potential. This is by no means an easy task.... Now these challenges are your challenges. You are responsible for our nation's future. We, your faculty, are confident that the creativity, the skills, the determination and persistence that brought you here today will enable you to help us solve these difficult social problems."

Francis Thomas, who was among those in the cheering section for Natalee Smith, had no doubt she would do great things with her new doctorate in chemistry and biochemistry.

"It has been a long road," Thomas said. "But I knew she could do it. She has many more things to accomplish. And UD made it happen!"

Related stories and resources

• UD held its 166th Commencement ceremony on Saturday morning.
• Follow the conversation on social media by checking out the Storify site.
• For videos about Commencement, see the University’s YouTube channel.
Honorary degrees were presented to five outstanding individuals.
Outstanding seniors and alumni were an important part of the Commencement processional.
• Eight high index seniors were honored.
• The Commencement view from graduates and faculty members.
• The UD Honors Program held a celebratory breakfast on Friday morning.
• Read the remarks by Commencement speaker David DeWalt.

Article by Beth Miller

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and David Barczak

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