Seven Honorary Degree Recipients to be Recognized During Spring Commencement
Nadine Mathis Basha, Edward Perry Bass, Dean Kamen, John Kilkenny, Steven W. Lynn, Ned L. Norris Jr. and Cele Peterson will be honored for their contributions and achievements.

Rebecca Ruiz-McGill
April 29, 2009

The University of Arizona will confer honorary degrees to recognize the contributions and achievements of seven outstanding individuals during the 140th Spring Commencement ceremony. 

Nadine Mathis Basha*, Edward Perry Bass, John Kilkenny, Steven W. Lynn, Ned L. Norris Jr. and Cele Peterson will be honored during the graduate student ceremony on May 15. Dean Kamen will be honored during the undergraduate student ceremony on May 16.

Visit the UA Commencement Web site for more details about the event. 

The UA confers honorary degrees in order to honor individuals for their contributions to the UA, the state, the nation or the world.

*Nadine Mathis Basha

Due to an urgent personal matter, Nadine Mathis Basha is unable to attend the Spring Commencement Ceremony. The UA will award her honorary doctorate at the 2009 Winter Commencement Ceremony.

Edward Perry Bass

Bass will be presented with an honorary degree of Doctor of Science by Joaquin Ruiz, dean of the UA College of Science.

Bass is president of Fine Line, Inc., a private diversified investment and venture capital firm in Fort Worth, Texas. He is extensively involved in business, conservation and ranching.

A committed environmentalist, Bass is the founding trustee of the Philecology Trust – created in 1986 to fund select nonprofit ecological interests – and of the Philecology Foundation, established in 2007. He is the vice chairman of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas and was instrumental in arranging for the international resource center to be permanently housed in Fort Worth.

He serves on the executive committee of the New York Botanical Garden and is currently a member of the National Council of the World Wildlife Fund, having served on the council's board from 1988 to 2007. He also is an honorary trustee of the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation and was a member the founding board of directors of the organization.

Bass was named a successor trustee of Yale University in 2001 and is an active member of the Yale Corporation's Building and Grounds Committee. His service to Yale includes acting as co-chair of the Leadership Council of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, as a member and former chair of the External Advisory Board of the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies, and as former chair of the Yale University Council Committee on the Peabody Museum.

Bass was president of the parent company of Biosphere 2, which he co-founded in 1984 with the goal of better understanding the complex feedback mechanisms that control the earth's environment. The capabilities of Biosphere 2 make the facility a unique laboratory in which scientists can observe the consequences of a changing climate. In 2007, Bass, through the Philecology Foundation, partnered with the UA to create unique research experiments and outreach programs at Biosphere 2.

For the past two decades, Bass has been a leader in what is recognized as one of the most successful urban revitalization efforts in America. Along with other members of his family, he has developed the Sundance Square area of Fort Worth into a highly successful mixed-use, urban core district.

As chairman of Performing Arts Fort Worth, he led the development of the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall, a cultural capstone of his hometown. The hall opened in 1998 to international acclaim. His receipt of the 2007 Henry Hope Reed Award, from the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture, acknowledges his achievements in the promotion of traditional architecture and urban design.

Dean Kamen

Kamen will receive an honorary degree of Doctor of Science, presented by Jeffrey Goldberg, interim dean of the UA College of Engineering.

Kamen is an inventor, entrepreneur and a tireless advocate for science and technology. He is the founder of DEKA Research & Development Corporation, where he develops internally-generated inventions and provides research and development for major corporate clients. Kamen holds more than 440 U.S. and foreign patents for innovative devices that have expanded the frontiers of health care worldwide.

Some of his notable inventions include:

  • A highly efficient engine to generate electricity and purify water using waste heat. The Stirling Cycle engine was developed two centuries ago but Kamen's attention to materials, heat transfer efficiency and engine design has created a small, clean, quiet device capable of generating 1 kilowatt of power. The waste heat from the device can power a distillation device capable of generating 1,000 liters of clean, safe water per day.
  • An all-terrain wheelchair that can climb stairs and lift the passenger to standing eye level. The iBOT Mobility System is a four-wheel device that uses simple commands and body motions to provide an unprecedented level of freedom for users to climb curbs, descend stairs and navigate rough terrain. Also, the wheelchair was designed to give the user the ability to talk to standing persons at eye level, by rotating the wheels and lifting them. This wheelchair was designed by DEKA, and sold by Independence Technology, a Johnson & Johnson company.
  • A portable, automated infusion device, which Kamen developed while an undergraduate student. The device enables the delivery of drug treatments that once required round-the-clock hospital care.
  • An 18-degree-of-freedom robotic arm – the "Luke" Arm – named after the Star Wars character. This prosthetic device was supported by the U.S. Defence Advance Research Project Agency, with an eye to restoring a high level of functionality to the limbs of veterans with upper extremity amputations. With the weight and comfort of a normal arm, the capability to reach over the head and manipulate small objects, control via muscular contraction, and tactile feedback, this prosthetic may improve the lives of thousands of amputees. Support is now being sought for clinical trials.
  • The HomeChoice portable peritoneal dialysis machine and the Segway Human Transporter.

Among Kamen's noteworthy accomplishments is founding FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, a nonprofit organization dedicated to motivating the next generation to understand, use and enjoy science and technology. The idea was to give high school students an opportunity to enjoy the engineering process by working on exciting robotics projects. The response to this program has been overwhelming and there are 1,500 teams in the high school program, with more 38,000 students. The original idea has been adapted for primary and middle school students into a Lego Robotics program.

Kamen is a member of the National Academy of Engineers and was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 2000 and the Lemelson-MIT Prize in 2002. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in May 2005 and has been awarded a Global Humanitarian Action Award.

John Kilkenny

Kilkenny will receive an honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts. It will be presented by Maurice Sevigny, dean of the UA College of Fine Arts.

Kilkenny, a UA alumnus, is an executive vice president at Twentieth Century Fox, serving as the head of the studio's visual effects department. His division at Fox creates budgets and produces and oversees all the visual effects – key components of many of today's blockbuster pictures – on feature films made by all of the studio's production units.

In 2006, having attained a high level of success within the film industry, Kilkenny contacted the UA College of Fine Arts to offer his service to his alma mater. He agreed to serve on the Hanson Film Institute's Industry Council, which is composed of highly experienced creative and business professionals who are willing to provide critical support, including funding, to help fulfill its mission to lead individuals to successful careers in the film and television industry. He continues to serve on the council and to provide advice on program and resource development. 

Kilkenny provides specialized internships for UA School of Media Arts students and alumni at Twentieth Century Fox. An internship in his office at Twentieth Century Fox is considered one of the most competitive and premier internships that the School of Media Arts offers.

The Hanson Film Institute and the School of Media Arts will explore with Kilkenny the potential for his idea to provide unique training in visual effects producing at the UA. No such professional training exists at an American college or university.

Kilkenny grew up in Tempe, Ariz. As a student at the UA, he studied radio/television, interned at the NBC affiliate in Tucson and was a sports producer at the local ABC station. In addition, he headed the Associated Students of the UA's concert division, booking concerts headlined by superstars like Huey Lewis and the News, Barry Manilow, Kenny Rogers and Hall & Oates.

Kilkenny has proven to be an outstanding friend of the College of Fine Arts, in particular the Hanson Film Institute and the School of Media Arts. His commitment to providing specialized internships for media arts students has significantly enhanced the school's internship program and has leveraged internship positions from other film studios and companies. His resolve to hire UA alumni when possible has advanced the school's producing program and will enhance the school's standing in the industry.

Steven W. Lynn

Lynn will be presented with an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters by Edward Donnerstein, dean of the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Ronald Marx, dean of the UA College of Education.

Lynn has made remarkable and abundant contributions to the UA, the state of Arizona and the city of Tucson.

Lynn, who was born Los Angeles and raised in Phoenix, attended the UA and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in education, with a major in political science and a minor in speech communication. He went on to earn a Master of Arts degree from the UA in speech communication. It was during that time that he was inducted into Phi Delta Kappa, the national education honorary.

Lynn has established himself as an outstanding business professional, a community activist and an extraordinary public servant. In the business realm, he worked his way from assistant supervisor of customer services at Tucson Gas and Electric in the 1970s, to an urban resource development administrator for the city of Tucson in the 1980s, to CEO of the top advertising and public relations agency in Tucson in the late 1980s and 1990s.

Today, Lynn is a vice president at Tucson Electric Power Company. The common thread that connects his profesional positions is a commendable and tireless involvement in community relations. Lynn has exemplified unwavering devotion to the betterment of Tucson's civic and business spheres. He has earned a much deserved reputation for his outstanding dedication to the community, his astute knowledge and ability in public relations, and his unmatched business acumen.

Recently, Lynn has been serving as chair of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. With his substantial guidance, the redistricting commission has gained statewide and national recognition. The model of redistricting in Arizona is now recognized nationally and Lynn has on numerous occasions volunteered to discuss Arizona's system with national audiences.

Lynn is the recipient of dozens of awards and recognitions that speak to his outstanding community involvement and service. He has served as co-chair of the Arizona Early Education Fund and chairman of the newly-formed Downtown Tucson Partnership.

His many other civic activities include serving as vice chair of the Arizona Early Childhood Development and Health Board and serving on the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Advisory Board and the Arizona Hospital and Health Care Service Corporation.

In 2007, he was named Man of the Year by the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and was also presented with a "Distinguished Citizen" award by the UA Alumni Association.

Ned L. Norris Jr.

Norris will receive an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, presented by Andrew Comrie, dean of the UA Graduate College.

Norris is an enrolled member of the Tohono O'odham Nation from the village of Fresnal Canyon, in the Baboquivari District. He was elected to a four-year term as the chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation in May 2007.

In May 2003, Norris was elected to serve as vice chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation. Prior to this election he worked with the Tohono O'odham Gaming Enterprise as director of marketing and public relations (November 2000-May 2003); casino manager (June 1994-November 2000); and director of community relations (November 1993-June 1994). The enterprise operates both Desert Diamond Casino locations in Tucson and Golden Ha:san Casino near Why, Ariz.

Norris is in his 32nd year of serving the Tohono O'odham Nation. In addition to holding the positions of chairman and vice chairman, he also has served as the assistant director of the tribe's Children's Home, court advocate, Children's Court judge, Court of Appeals judge, Indian Child Welfare specialist, assistant director of Tribal Social Services and director of Tribal Government Operations.

On Feb. 1, 1993, Norris completed a six-year Tohono O'odham Legislative Council appointment as a (non-attorney) tribal judge, acting as Chief Judge for the judicial branch for the last three of those years.

Norris serves as chairman of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association, vice chairman of the Pima Association of Governments and co-chairman of the National Congress of American Indians Homeland Security/Border Issues Workgroup. He also is currently a member of Chicanos Por La Causa, the Tucson Urban League, the American Indian Association, Inc., the UA Arthritis Center Advisory Board, Tucson Metropolitan Education Commission, KUAT Communications Group Advisory Board and the Tucson Airport Authority Advisory Board.

Additionally, he is a former board member of the Sunnyside Unified School District governing board and was recently elected to the Sunnyside School District Hall of Fame. He is also a former commissioner for the Tohono O'odham Nation's Tribal Employment Rights Office.

Norris is a member of the UA President Robert N. Shelton's Native American Advisory Council.

Cele Peterson

Peterson will receive an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, presented by Mary Wildner-Bassett, interim dean of the UA College of Humanities.

Peterson has played a major role in many of Tucson's longest standing civic, cultural and social service institutions. Born in Pensacola, Fla., she has lived in Arizona since she was 3 years old. In 1931, Peterson stepped into the fashion business with her first women's apparel shop in Tucson. The business remains a vital fashion mecca today, with Peterson still at the helm, a testament to her entrepreneurial acumen.

Peterson founded what is now known as the Tucson Children's Museum, was a co-founder of Casa de Los Niños, the first crisis nursery in the United States and was very involved in the beginnings of the Arizona Theater Company and the Tucson Opera Company.

She was the initiator of a nonprofit organization that celebrates Tucson's birthday and culture every August. Peterson also had the idea for Kids International Neighborhood, a nonprofit organization that promotes cultural understanding, acceptance and respect among children of the world.

She served on the UA boards for the College of Humanities, the School of Architecture and the Steele Memorial Children's Research Foundation. She also served on the boards of the Tucson Trade Bureau, Tucson/Mexico Sister Cities, the Tucson Local Development Corporation, the Industrial Development Authority, the Tucson Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, the Tucson Community Foundation and the Tucson Downtown Alliance. She has also served on various advisory boards for organizations, including the Angel Charity for Children, the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation and Ballet Tucson.

Over the years Peterson's achievements have been recognized and honored with numerous awards including: the City of Hope Woman of the Year Award, the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce Founders Award, the UA College of Agriculture Distinguished Citizen Award, the YWCA's Lifetime Achievement Award and the Ernst & Young/INC. Magazine 1995 National Socially Responsible Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Peterson was named a Doña de Los Descendientes del Presidio de Tucson, the group of women responsible for maintaining Tucson's historic culture. She received a Crystal Apple from the Metropolitan Education Commission and was honored as one of the Four Women Who Helped Build Tucson by the Concerned Media Professionals.

In 2004, the America-Israel Friendship League honored her with a Cycle of Life Award. In the same year she was named Grand Marshal of the Tucson La Fiesta de los Vaqueros Rodeo Parade. In 2007, the Tucson Pima Public Library renamed and dedicated its Southwest Collection the "Cele Peterson Arizona Collection," an ongoing resource of local history.

Recently, Peterson has been working on a youth apprentice program for the Rodeo Parade Committee, actively recruiting additions for the Cele Peterson Collection at the library, and encouraging the exchange of cultural ideas for children through the distribution of "I Love You in Many Languages," a Kids International Neighborhood book.

She also continues her involvement with a coalition of environmental groups to restore and preserve native growth and wildflowers on a centrally located urban lot.

Peterson – fashion designer, entrepreneur and philanthropist – is a community icon who makes it her business to celebrate Tucson's multifaceted culture, its rich history and its thriving uniqueness.

Extra info


University of Arizona's 140th Commencement Ceremony


McKale Memorial Center


Graduate Ceremony: Friday, May 15, 7:30 p.m.; Undergraduate Ceremony: Saturday, May 16, 8 a.m.


Resources for the media

Rebecca Ruiz McGill