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Raising a toast to UD’s new doctors

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Doctoral Hooding celebrates highest academic degree

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​The 2023 University of Delaware Doctoral Hooding Ceremony was held on May 25 at the Bob Carpenter Center. The Hooding Ceremony recognizes students who have achieved the highest academic degree — the doctorate — it is often a moment of great joy.​



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The University of Delaware added a new twist to its tradition-rich Doctoral Hooding Ceremony on Thursday, May 25, celebrating the more than 350 students who have earned their doctorates in the past year by raising a celebratory toast.

Almost 250 were in the house — the Bob Carpenter Center, that is — for the 2023 event, and an estimated 8,000 family, friends, mentors and colleagues were there for it, too, bearing witness to the network of support and connection this kind of endeavor requires.

Escorted by bagpipers Mark Hurm and Russell Johnstone, UD officials and deans led the procession into the arena, with the graduates and their mentors following. Teddy Austin, master of music in voice performance, then opened the ceremony with a stirring rendition of the national anthem.

While many convocations and graduations and celebrations mark the end of an academic year, the doctoral hooding marks a unique achievement.

The doctorate, academia’s highest degree, is evidence that a student has broken new ground and created new knowledge in their field of expertise. They have found new evidence, created a new substance, seen or experienced something no one had seen or experienced before.

“You added a piece to this giant puzzle of continuous discovery that we are all trying to solve,” UD President Dennis Assanis said. “In research and scholarship, we often only have theories about how those pieces might fit together, and we’re constantly revising those ideas. Still, every piece you contribute helps to bring that big picture a little more into focus.

“This is true whether you work in basic or applied research, whether you work in the arts, the humanities, business or the sciences, whether you work in a lab or a classroom or the community, whether you remain in academia or whether you pursue a career in the private, government or nonprofit sectors.”​

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people wearing academic regalia

​From left to right, UD Provost Laura Carlson, President Dennis Assanis and Graduate College Dean Lou Rossi join the graduates at the Doctoral Hooding Ceremony.​

Assanis urged the graduates to remember “the power of innovation and the promise of engagement” by continuing to pursue new insights and investing their knowledge in collaborative ways with others. No one is smart enough to address the world’s complex problems alone.

Assanis pointed to the promise and peril of artificial intelligence (AI), so-called because it simulates human intelligence, feeding machines and computers all sorts of information and processes that they then draw on to make new computations, regulate functions, develop new insights or create new things.

“The innovations have been nothing short of astounding — and, quite frankly, a bit alarming,” Assanis said. “Realizing the benefits of AI while mitigating its negative impacts will require even more innovation. We need the insights and ideas of those of you in political science and public policy, in education and economics, in communication and community development. It will take all of these fields working together — and many others— to ensure that AI and other emerging technologies remain human-centered and actually contribute to making our world a better place.”​

Louis F. Rossi, dean of the Graduate College and vice provost for Graduate and Professional Education, shared several examples of things UD’s new doctors had done:

  • Developed a new silicon photonic component that will contribute to faster, more powerful devices that use less power.

  • Found a way to use digital twins in pharmaceutical manufacturing to speed the pace of safe and effective therapies

  • Found a new way to remove radionuclide pollution from oceans and rivers

  • Developed a potential new therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Created a framework for understanding how the right combinations of policy, self-governance structures and technology can lead to cleaner, better ways to live together.​

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people wearing academic regalia

​UD President Dennis Assanis gives a thumbs-up as the procession begins at the 2023 Doctoral Hooding Ceremony Thursday morning. Louis F. Rossi, dean of UD’s Graduate College and vice provost for Graduate and Professional Education, is leading the way with the mace. ​

The graduates had come a long way during their quest — some quite literally. UD’s new doctors came from more than 30 countries, Rossi said, including every inhabited continent of the planet.

“And since we do not have any students from the Kerguelen Islands — which is the farthest inhabited land mass from Delaware — I believe the student who traveled the greatest distance came from Indonesia, which is over 10,000 miles away if you were to travel on the surface of the planet along a geodesic,” he said.

“One student came all that way and joined many other students who made their own journeys to a tiny state where there is a medium-sized university, respected around the world for our knowledge, our expertise and our ability to produce outstanding scholars, scientists and thought leaders.”​

Comments from several graduates were read as they crossed the platform with their mentors.

“Out of tragedy comes triumph,” was Chanel Gaither’s statement. It referred, she said later, not only to that early trauma in school, but also to the loss of both of her uncles and her grandfather during her doctoral journey.

In his statement, Eric Wright, who earned his doctorate in computer science, thanked his adviser — Sunita Chandrasekaran, associate professor of computer and information sciences — “who believed in me even at the hardest points.”​

​Several “firsts” were part of the ceremony this year, including:

  • The first doctorate in hospitality business analytics was awarded to Ling Ling, who was advised by Zvi Schwartz, professor of hospitality business management.

  • The first doctorate in epidemiology was awarded to Colten Strickland, who was advised by Jennifer Horney, professor and founder of the program.

  • The first student from the Graduate College to be part of a hooding ceremony. John J. Stout Jr. expects to complete all requirements for his doctorate in interdisciplinary neuroscience this summer. His adviser was Amy Griffin, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences.​

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group of people wearing academic regalia

More than 350 students have earned their doctorates in the past year. ​

Stout said his interest in neuroscience started during high school, when he learned of an infant named Emma, who had Krabbe disease, a devastating neurological disorder. He decided to do a music video for her to spread the word about the disease.

His interest in neuroscience grew from there. Along with skills he learned as an experimental neuroscience student at UD, Stout said computational studies have become his favorite part of research. He now has job offers in bioinformatics and data science.​

As the ceremony drew to a close, one new event capped off the celebration — a champagne toast. Graduates and mentors filed out of the arena, picked up a glass and returned to their seats.

With glasses raised, they listened as Rossi spoke.

“We are counting on you to lead our community, our nation and our world to a brighter future,” he said. ”We hope you will apply the wisdom you have gained with us to these challenges, using the work ethic that got you here along with the humility that comes from living in a small state like Delaware.

“We wish you continued success in all that you do and just as important, we hope that you will live a good and extraordinary life.”

May it be so.​​

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​ Article by Beth Miller, photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and Evan Krape 

Published May 26, 2023​

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