Kathy Johnson

UK Honorary Degree Recipients Have Strong Ties to Kentucky

Published: Dec 19, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 19, 2013) ― The University of Kentucky will honor an auto industry executive, a national leader in transportation safety, and a former college president with honorary doctorates at its December Commencement ceremonies Friday, Dec. 20, in Memorial Coliseum.


At the 1:30 p.m. ceremony for graduates receiving master's and doctoral degrees, Deborah Hersman, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, and Michael T. Nietzel, former president of Missouri State University and former UK provost, will receive honorary degrees


Hersman is recognized as one of the nation's most visionary and passionate safety leaders who advocates for safety across all modes of transportation.  Among her many initiatives, Hersman has focused attention and actions on distracted driving, child passenger safety and helping accident victims and their families.  Prior to becoming chairman, Hersman was the NTSB's lead investigator at the scene of one of Kentucky's worst disasters, the 2006 crash of Comair flight 5191. She was praised for her thorough investigation that resulted in several safety recommendations as well as her compassion for the families who lost loved ones. Transparency and accountability have been hallmarks of Hersman's tenure as NTSB chair.  She has significantly increased the quantity and quality of NTSB information available online, held more public meetings to highlight safety issues, and embraced social media to communicate with citizens. Hersman will receive an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities.


Nietzel, who worked at UK for 32 years in a number of pivotal positions, including provost, later served as president of Missouri State University and, most recently, as a senior adviser to the governor of Missouri.  Nietzel devoted 32 years to UK as a professor, researcher, Department of Psychology chair, and campus administrator including serving as UK's first provost following a major administrative reorganization in 2001.  During that time Nietzel helped implement strategic initiatives to further elevate the university's status as a nationally regarded public research institution.  He left UK in 2005 to lead Southwest Missouri State through a period of transition and growth as it became known officially as Missouri State University.  He left the presidency there in 2010 and joined the staff of Missouri's governor.  Nietzel will receive an Honorary Doctorate of Letters.


At the 6 p.m. Commencement ceremony for undergraduates, Wilbert W. (Wil) James Jr., president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky (TMMK), will receive an Honorary Doctorate of Engineering.


James, who has worked for Toyota since 1987 and held various administrative positions, became president of TMMK in 2010.  As such he leads Toyota's largest automotive manufacturing plant in the United States, providing well-paying jobs for thousands of Kentuckians.  James is the first African-American president of TMMK and recently was named as one of the Top 100 Most Influential Blacks in Corporate America.  In addition to ensuring that TMMK is an outstanding corporate and community citizen, James lends his talents in service to several civic and community organizations.  As Diversity Champion for Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, James leads company-wide diversity and inclusion initiatives across North America. Additionally, he currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and is a board member for the Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement. He is active in the Executive Leadership Conference and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.


This will be UK's fourth December Commencement.  Friends and family who cannot attend personally can still enjoy this special event. Both ceremonies will be live-streamed on UK's news website, UKNow, at www.uky.edu/uknow.  “Live from the Blue Carpet,” which features students, faculty and special guests as they prepare for Commencement and is hosted by students, will begin at 1:12 p.m. prior to the graduate Commencement and at 5:40 p.m. prior to the undergraduate Commencement ceremony Friday.


Followers of UK’s Twitter account (twitter.com/universityofky) can follow along with the Commencement activities via live tweet during the event. Twitter users are also encouraged to use the hashtag #ukgrad to honor all the graduates.



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