The University of Arizona

UA Honorary Degrees to Commend Five Leaders

By Rebecca Ruiz-McGill, University Communications | May 10, 2012

Sérgio Assad, Harry A. George, Emily Meschter, Brian P. Schmidt and Margaret Wilch will be recognized with honorary degrees during the May 11 commencement ceremony.

Harry A. George, with more than 38 years of experience in founding, operating and investing in successful rapid growth technology-related companies will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the UA Eller College of Management. (Photo credit: Balfour Walker Photography)
Harry A. George, with more than 38 years of experience in founding, operating and investing in successful rapid growth technology-related companies will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the UA Eller College of Management. (Photo credit: Balfour Walker Photography)
UA alumnus Brian P. Schmidt is a Distinguished Professor and Laureate Fellow at the Australian National University and is being recognized for his contributions to the world of science with a Doctor of Science from the UA College of Science.
UA alumnus Brian P. Schmidt is a Distinguished Professor and Laureate Fellow at the Australian National University and is being recognized for his contributions to the world of science with a Doctor of Science from the UA College of Science.
The UA will award five honorary degrees during it's commencement ceremony on May 11. (Photo by Patrick McArdle/UANews)
The UA will award five honorary degrees during it's commencement ceremony on May 11. (Photo by Patrick McArdle/UANews)

The University of Arizona will award honorary degrees to leaders in science, education, music and finance during the commencement ceremony for master's and doctoral students on May 11 at 7:30 p.m. at McKale Memorial Center. 

World-renowned classical guitarist, composer and teacher Sérgio Assad, venture capitalist Harry A. George, philanthropist and supporter of education Emily Meschter, Nobel Prize winning UA alumnus Brian P. Schmidt and science educator and UA alumna Margaret Wilch will be recognized for their outstanding contributions with honorary degrees.

Sérgio Assad

Sérgio Assad is a world-renowned classical guitarist, composer and teacher who has greatly impacted the modern classical guitar world through brilliant performances, compositions and teachings. For his impact on the UA College of Fine Arts, Assad is being recognized with an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the UA College of Fine Arts.

Assad is an influential sought-after music teacher who has worked at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music since 2008. He has kept a close relationship with the UA through numerous concerts and master classes and served as a resident musician for an annual week-long program.

He and his brother, Odair, recently performed with Yo-Yo Ma at Centennial Hall and will return in the fall to perform at Holsclaw Hall. He has greatly influenced the careers of UA students and continues to enrich the campus with new compositions, performances and teaching.

His most recent work is entitled "Sandy's Portrait," written for Sandy Bolton who, as a major donor to the School of Music, created an endowed chair and whose name now honors the UA guitar program. "Sandy's Portrait" is a three-movement composition; one movement is a Passacaglia based on Bolton's name.

He first made an impression on the world of classical guitar through the remarkable performances of the celebrated Duo Assad, featuring him and his brother (also known as the Assad Brothers). Their acclaimed performances not only deliver sophisticated and profound interpretations of the traditional classical repertoire, but they also enlarged significantly the possibilities of the classical guitar through exceptional arrangements and original compositions that have bridged musical styles and cultural boundaries.

Beginning with arrangements and compositions for their guitar duo, Assad has since augmented his impact as a recognized composer for a wide range of chamber music and orchestral formations. His works are frequently performed, from solo guitar pieces which are now standards in classical guitar recitals and competitions, to large orchestral pieces which have been recorded by a number of leading music interpreters of our times including recordings by most of the leading classical guitarists.

His music also has been recorded in collaborations of the Duo Assad with a long list of renowned classical and jazz artists including Yo-Yo Ma, Dawn Upshaw, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Gidon Kremer, the Turtle Island Quartet and Paquito D'Rivera.

Assad has received two Latin Grammys, one for his composition "Tahhiyya Li Ossoulina" in 2008 and one for the album "Sérgio and Odair Assad Play Piazzolla" in 2002. His recordings and compositions have had numerous nominations, including two in 2010 for Latin Grammy Best Classical Contemporary Composition for his guitar duo piece "Maracaípe" (recorded by the Beijing Guitar Duo) and his concerto for guitar quartet and orchestra "Interchange" (recorded by the LA Quartet).

Harry A. George

Harry A. George has more than 38 years of experience in founding, operating and investing in successful rapid growth technology-related companies and will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the UA Eller College of Management.

He co-founded Solstice Capital in 1995. Solstice is a venture capital fund that invests in early-stage life science, information technology and clean-tech companies. Solstice is currently managing its second fund ($57 million) and has invested in a total of 44 companies since inception.

Previously, from 1981 to 1989, George was co-founder, director and vice-president of finance for Interleaf Inc. During this time, Interleaf, a pioneer in electronic publishing, grew to be a publicly traded company with $100 million in annual revenue.

In January 2000, Interleaf was acquired by Broadvision in a stock merger that valued Interleaf at approximately $1 billion. Prior to this, George was a co-founder, director and vice president of finance of Kurzweil Computer Products, subsequently purchased by Xerox Imaging Systems in 1980. 

George has worked as a director of 26 private and public companies and is currently a director of Calimmune, High Throughput Genomics (where he serves as chairman), Lumidigm, Medipacs, Post.Bid.Ship, Rehnu, Syncardia and Tempronics. He has been active with the Arizona Venture Capital Conference, and its successor, Invest SW, and served on their conference screening panels since 1997. He also is one of the founders of Tucson's Desert Angels.

He is a member of the Arizona Technology Council Board, the BIO5 Advisory Board, the Arizona Venture Capital Association and the boards of the Rocky Mountain Venture Capital Association, the Southern Arizona Leadership Council and the Pima County Bond Advisory Committee.

He is being recognized at the UA for serving on the board of the Arizona Center for Innovation and was a member of the advisory committee of the MBA program at the Eller School of Business for six years. George also is chair of a TREO task force developing an entrepreneurial economic blueprint for Tucson.

From 1992 to 1999, he served as a trustee of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and as its treasurer. From 2000-05, George was co-chair of the Museum's Treasure of the Desert Capital Campaign. Since 2004, he served as a trustee of the Tucson Museum of Art and serves as its treasurer.

Emily Meschter

Emily Meschter holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Cornell University. After a very successful career in finance and on Wall Street, she turned her attention to philanthropy and has built a long and distinguished record as a philanthropist and supporter of education in the Tucson region for which she will be honored with a Doctor of Humane Letters from the UA College of Education.

Meschter began her philanthropy in Tucson in 1994, when she approached the Flowing Wells School District with a unique idea – she wanted to give support to students in a school serving a low-income community by funding the students' post-secondary education. 

The "I Have a Dream" program began with 71 fourth graders at Laguna Elementary School who were promised a full, four-year college tuition scholarship upon successful completion of high school and admission into college.

For this "dream" to be fulfilled, Meschter realized these students would need additional support along the way and funded an infrastructure that included field trips, summer school, extracurricular activities, tutoring, mentoring and counseling.  The program began her long association with the Flowing Wells School District that continues today.

High school completion can be difficult for children living in poverty, yet 80 percent of the students Meschter supported graduated from high school. To date, 30 students of the founding group attended college and three became teachers.

Her generosity to the school district continues with substantial donations to various afterschool programs including mariachi and martial arts programs for elementary-aged students. More recently, she was instrumental in providing financial support for the district's Early Learning Center, personally donating $200,000 and fund raising an additional $100,000.

The center, now named after her, includes a classroom that serves as a dedicated fieldwork site for the UA College of Education's Early Childhood Teacher Education Program.  Moreover, her help in developing the center (fondly known as "Emily's Place") helped the UA College of Education secure a grant from the Helios Education Foundation for nearly $2 million to develop innovative teacher education curriculum.

Meschter is a major donor in support of the UA College of Education's affiliation with the Rodel Foundation's Exemplary Teacher program. This effort supports the placement of outstanding teacher education candidates in the classrooms of highly effective teachers in low income schools. Now in its seventh year, her donation has helped the UA sustain its collaboration with Rodel.

She also helped fund Project SOAR-Student Outreach for Access and Resiliency, a UA College of Education project, developed and administered in the UA Department of Educational Policy Studies and Practice. The project provides an undergraduate service-learning course for students across the University, as they mentor middle school students enrolled in high poverty schools.

One goal of the effort is to increase the chances of middle school students to attend college. Her investment resulted in a major grant from the Helios Education Foundation, and SOAR is now firmly established at the UA as a general education option and is now jointly funded by the College of Education and the College of Science.

More recently, she has contributed significantly to the College of Education's unrestricted fund and to a new endowed faculty chair.

Brian P. Schmidt

UA alumnus Brian P. Schmidt is a Distinguished Professor and Laureate Fellow at the Australian National University. He was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work measuring the change in the rate of expansion of the universe and is being recognized for his contributions to the world of science with a Doctor of Science from the UA College of Science.

While an undergraduate at the UA, Schmidt was a double major and earned Bachelor of Science degrees in physics and astronomy. He attended Harvard University for graduate studies and worked under the direction of one of the world's leading astronomers, Robert Kirshner. 

Schmidt moved to Australia and began to use type Ia supernova to measure a quantity generically called q-naught, which measures the change in rate of expansion of the universe.

He and colleague Nick Suntzeff put together a team of investigators called the High-z Supernova Search Team with members Mark Phillips, who had refined the Ia supernova distance estimating method, and Adam Riess, who was a graduate student at Harvard and played the key role in pushing the results to larger distances.

Schmidt's High-z Supernova Search Team battled another team led by Saul Perlmutter to obtain the first meaningful results. The two teams reached the same result at nearly the same time and are considered independent co-discoverers of the surprising and mysterious acceleration.

The result, that the universe's expansion was accelerating, was named Breakthrough of the Year by Science Magazine in 1998.

Schmidt has won a range of awards for his work, including two honors from the Australian government: The Malcolm McIntosh Prize in 2000 and the Australian Academy of Science's Pawsey Medal in 2001.

He also was recognized with the Harvard Bok Prize in 2000 and the UA's Aaronson Prize in 2005. He has been awarded India's Vainu Bappu Medal, the Shaw Prize in Astronomy in 2006 and the Gruber Cosmology Prize in 2007. In addition, he has been elected to various national academies: Spain in 2008, U.S. in 2008 and Australia in 2008.

He is now leading the effort at the National Observatory at Mount Stromlo to build the SkyMapper telescope, a facility that will provide a digital map of the southern sky from ultraviolet to near infrared wavelengths at multiple epochs.

Margaret Wilch

UA alumnus Margaret Wilch received a bachelor's degree in special studies in biology in 1979 from Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa. In 1999, she earned a Master of Science in general biology from the UA for her thesis on Predation and Prey Response in the Galls of Pemphigus populiramulorum, the culmination of work performed in the laboratory of UA professor Nancy Moran.

Wilch, who has worked as a biology teacher at Tucson High Magnet School for the past 20 years, will be recognized for contributions to science education with a Doctor of Science from the UA College of Science. Her major accomplishments include teaching Honors Research Methods, a yearlong course in which students conduct authentic scientific research on a topic of their choice, often working in UA research laboratories.

More than 300 students have taken the course; many have won scholarships and awards.

Since 1999, 20 of her students have been selected as finalists and represented Southern Arizona at the International Science and Engineering Fair where many have won grand prize awards.

Wilch also founded BLAST, Tucson High's modern molecular biology lab. Students conduct research on the genomics of a diversity of organisms, typically in partnership with UA faculty. The summer program at BLAST has hosted about eighty students and teachers from 18 high schools across Arizona over the past five summers.

She pioneered SANITY, a 10 day summer field ecology internship for Tucson High students at a world-class field station in the Chiricahua Mountains of Southeast Arizona. This program has inspired a diversity of students to pursue science research experiences, at the high school level and beyond.

Additionally, she co-created a course for teachers associated with the UA College of Science public lecture series, and has co-taught this course at UA for the last six years.

Wilch has been awarded 17 teaching awards since 1998, including Arizona Math/Science Teacher of the Year in 2000. She was a 12-time winner of the Top High School Teacher at the Southern Arizona Regional Science and Engineering Fair from 1998-2012 and the Top High School Teacher at the Arizona Science and Engineering Fair in 2009 and 2010; the Arizona Bioscience Educator of the Year of the Arizona Bioscience Industries in 2008; and the Arizona Junior Science and Humanities Symposium Science Teacher Award winner four times from Arizona State University and Rio Salado Community College during 2002-11.

She has taught numerous workshops for teachers and has served on advisory councils. For example, she designed and led a weekend Evolution Short Course for teachers at the Arizona Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics housed at Biosphere 2, in February 2009.

She served on the U.S. EPA National Environmental Education Advisory Council in 2008 and 2009 and on the Advisory Committee of the Cooper Environmental Center, a partnership between the Tucson Unified School District and the UA, in 2008 and 2009.

She has collaborated with UA faculty in ecology and evolutionary biology, molecular and cellular biology, neurobiology and psychology in the College of Science, and with plant sciences and entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She is well respected at the UA and greatly admired by her students.