Former NASA Chief Bolden Among 5 to Receive Honorary Degrees
This year’s honorary degrees also will be granted to the CEO of a large community development corporation, a research professor driving U.S.-Mexico partnerships, a finance expert and a Superior Court judge.

University Communications
May 1, 2017

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Maj. Gen. Charles Frank Bolden Jr. will receive an honorary degree from the UA College of Science and will be the featured speaker during Commencement.
Maj. Gen. Charles Frank Bolden Jr. will receive an honorary degree from the UA College of Science and will be the featured speaker during Commencement. (Photo: NASA)

The University of Arizona will honor five individuals at its 153rd Commencement who have made significant achievements within the academic environment and the world at large.

Maj. Gen. Charles Frank Bolden Jr., who has traveled into orbit and also ushered NASA into a new era of space exploration, will receive an honorary degree from the UA College of Science. Bolden also will be the speaker during the Commencement ceremony, to be held May 12 at 7:30 p.m. in Arizona Stadium.

Nominated by former U.S. President Barack Obama to serve as the 12th administrator of NASA, Bolden became the first African-American to hold the office and, after confirmation by the U.S. Senate, began his post in 2009. Bolden retired in January 2017.

NASA's activities under Bolden's direction included an unprecedented landing on Mars with the Curiosity rover, the launch of a spacecraft to Jupiter and the enhancement of the nation's fleet of Earth-observing satellites.

A visionary who has advanced efforts toward human settlements in space, Bolden also has led NASA in developing the Space Launch System rocket — slated to become the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built — and the agency's Orion spacecraft, which will carry astronauts to deep space destinations such as asteroids and Mars. Also, NASA's support of commercial space transportation systems for reaching low-Earth orbit has enabled commercial cargo resupply of the space station and has furthered efforts to allow U.S. companies to launch astronauts.

Bolden's connections to the UA are long-standing, given the University's relationship with NASA and significant contributions to advancements in planetary sciences. One of the last space launches Bolden attended as NASA's administrator was in September 2016 for the agency's UA-led OSIRIS-REx mission, which successfully launched a spacecraft toward the asteroid Bennu as part of a sample return operation.

Other honorary degree recipients to be honored for their contributions to the UA, the state of Arizona, the nation or the world are:

David Adame

David Adame is president and CEO of Chicanos Por La Causa Inc., the largest community development corporation in Arizona and one that is dedicated to serving communities in areas including education, housing and health services. He will receive an honorary degree from the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

A third-generation Arizonan, Adame attended Arizona State University on a music scholarship and studied finance, graduating in 1985. Shortly thereafter, he began his first tour as the director of economic development for Chicanos Por La Causa.

After two years with the organization, Adame accepted a position at JP Morgan Chase, where he served as a corporate banking associate. He then was promoted to assistant vice president in the Retail Business Loan Center.

After seven years at JP Morgan Chase, Adame left to become program officer with the Phoenix office of the Local Initiatives Support Corp. There, he designed programs that assisted community development corporations in developing single-family housing to support neighborhood revitalization efforts.

Adame left in 1997 to become senior deputy director for Fannie Mae in its Arizona Partnership Office. In this role, Adame worked with the director of Fannie Mae to form a comprehensive housing investment strategy to provide $15 billion in affordable mortgage financing. During his time at Fannie Mae, Adame earned a Master of Business Administration degree from ASU in global management.

After six years with Fannie Mae, Adame left to become vice president of Arizona operations for McCormack Baron Salazar Inc. In this capacity, Adame oversaw the $120 million Matthew Henson HOPE VI project, which transformed the city of Phoenix's public housing buildings into mixed-income, mixed-finance and mixed-use communities.

Adame returned to Chicanos Por La Causa in 2008, serving as chief economic development officer responsible for managing the economic development arm of the organization in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. Since returning to the organization, Adame has raised more than $250 million in resources from government agencies, corporations and foundations — all during one of the most severe recessions in U.S. history.

In addition, Adame has completed 12 real-estate development projects across Arizona valued at more than $60 million. He also has significantly expanded the number of Chicanos Por La Causa-owned and -operated for-profit business ventures, which contribute toward the organization's goal of becoming self-sufficient.

Adame is admired as a man of faith and is esteemed for his commitment to family and his dedication as a strongly principled business and community leader.

Sergio Alcocer

Sergio M. Alcocer, a research professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico's Institute of Engineering, is the founder and president of México Exponencial, a think tank for the development of public policy and strategies for embracing exponential technologies in Mexico. He will receive an honorary degree from the College of Science.

Alcocer was instrumental in bringing a National Autonomous University of Mexico satellite office to the UA. Through this office, the Mexico university is creating long-term partnerships that will enhance the research and education of students and will create bridges with various government and educational entities of Mexico.

Alcocer served as undersecretary for North American Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from Mexico and as the undersecretary for Strategic Planning and Technology Development of the Ministry of Energy in the Mexican government. Alcocer also served as secretary general (provost), coordinator for Innovation and Development, and director of the Institute of Engineering at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Alcocer is an active member in several technical societies, including the American Concrete Institute, Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering, and Fédération Internationale du Béton.

He is a foreign member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and past president and honorary member of the Mexican Society of Structural Engineering. He is also past president of the Academy of Engineering of Mexico.

He currently holds membership with the Mexican Academy of Sciences and the board of Fundación ICA, and he is a non-executive member and chairman of the board of Iberdrola México.

In 2001, Alcocer was awarded the UNAM Prize for Young Academics, as well as the Prize on Research of the Mexican Academy of Sciences. In 2007, he received the SMIE Prize on Structural Engineering for Housing. In 2012, the Mexican Society of Civil Engineers recognized Alcocer with the José A. Cuevas Award for the best technical paper.

Alcocer is a Distinguished Engineering Alumni of the Cockrell School of Engineering of the University of Texas at Austin. He received his civil engineering degree from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and a Ph.D. in structures from the University of Texas at Austin.

Judge Sarah "Sally" Simmons

A native of Miami, Arizona, Simmons has been a trailblazer in a profession where only in her time have women come to occupy leadership roles in law firms and professional organizations. Simmons graduated with high honors from the UA with a degree in history in 1970. She then continued for two more years studying law before transferring to the University of Denver, earning a Juris Doctorate with high honors in 1973. Soon thereafter, she returned to Tucson.  

Simmons will receive an honorary degree from the James E. Rogers College of Law.

Spanning more than four decades, her biography reflects significant work spent improving the legal profession in Arizona, exemplified by her election as president of the State Bar of Arizona in 1993. Prior to her election as president, Simmons served as a member of the association's Board of Governors from 1987 to 1995, and was its first chair of the Committee on Persons with Disabilities in the Legal Profession, serving in that capacity from 2000 to 2005. She also was a member of the Pima County Bar Association's board of directors from 1985 to 1995.  

In addition to being a leader in advancing the inclusive nature of her profession with a focus on individuals with disabilities, Simmons has advocated for greater inclusion of women and people of color.  

Simmons began working at the law firm of Molloy, Jones and Donahue, P.C. as an associate from 1974 to 1977, and as a shareholder from 1978 to 1992. She was then employed with the law firm of Brown & Bain, P.A. from 1993 through 2002. That year, she became a partner at the law firm of Lewis and Roca LLP, and served in that capacity until her appointment to the Pima County Superior Court in January of 2006.  

With the Superior Court, Simmons has served in the family law, juvenile and civil divisions, and was presiding judge of the court from 2011 to 2015. During this time, she also assumed leadership of various efforts to build Arizona's legal infrastructure and professional standards for state's attorneys and judges. Simmons was named Judge of the Year by the Arizona Supreme Court in 2015. 

Across southern Arizona, her civic leadership has focused on sustaining healthy local economies, particularly in the areas of tourism and business development.  Simmons also was named Tucson Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year in 1994, and a recipient of the YWCA Women on the Move Award in 1995. After returning to Tucson, Simmons reconnected with the College of Law and has maintained strong ties ever since.

Joan M. Sweeney

Sweeney's business acumen resulted in a highly successful 29-year career in the financial services industry, with the majority of her career spent in the fields of accounting, finance and private equity investing. She will receive an honorary degree from the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Sweeney entered the finance world after earning her bachelor's degree in business administration at the UA, and her early career as a CPA led her on a path to private equity investing, in which she became one of the youngest female C-suite officers in the finance world. She has extensive experience in capital raising, mergers and acquisitions and expertise in entrepreneurship, corporate finance and corporate governance.  

In 2010, Sweeney retired from private equity investing, in which she had served as chief operating officer, managing director and member of the board of directors for Allied Capital Corp., a NYSE-listed company. 

Now living in Tucson, Sweeney has dedicated herself to community volunteerism and philanthropy, with a focus on higher education.  

She is a member of the Board of Trustees for the University of Arizona Foundation, which assists the University in fundraising and asset management. Her primary role is chairing the investment committee and serving on the audit and executive committees.

Sweeney also is a member of the advisory board for the John and Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, for which she previously had been named interim director of the Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing and Consumer Sciences. During her interim director appointment, Sweeney focused on strategic initiatives, including building an online career platform that bridges industry recruiters to students in the Retailing and Consumer Sciences program. She also led the efforts to identify the new director of the Lundgren Center for Retailing and Consumer Sciences. 

Sweeney's past civic and charitable affiliations and board memberships include the UA Eller College of Management's national board of advisers, president of the Skyline Country Club's board of directors, and member of the boards for the El Rio Foundation, the American Heart Association of the Greater Washington Region and the National Council for Economic Education.

Extra info

The UA's 153rd Commencement ceremony will be held Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Arizona Stadium. Arizona Public Media will stream the ceremony online:

Event details are available online for:

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