Duke University will award seven honorary degrees during the school's May 10 commencement exercises, Duke President Richard H. Brodhead announced Wednesday.
Degree recipients are economist-educator Susan Athey, Nobel geneticists Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein (a team who will receive one degree), higher education leader James Moeser, Nobel chemist Mario Molina, business executive Indra Nooyi, pianist Murray Perahia and media entrepreneur and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey.
Commencement, featuring an address by Winfrey, will be held at Wallace Wade Stadium and is open to the public. (See http://news.duke.edu/2008/10/oprah.html.)
"Each of these men and women represent the best and brightest in their respective fields, and it is our honor at Duke to recognize them for their enormous contributions to society," Brodhead said. "And, for the first time, we are awarding one degree to a collaborative team, which reflects the reality that our graduates will be functioning in a world where collaboration is increasingly required to achieve excellence."
Athey, a professor of economics at Harvard University, matriculated at Duke when she was just 16 and completed three majors in four years: economics, mathematics and computer science. At 24, the Boston native earned a Ph.D in economics from Stanford University.
Athey's research interests include mathematical methods for theoretical modeling, auctions and organizational design. She is credited with changing the way auctions are held by proposing sealed bids as a way to reduce the probability of collusion.
She is the first woman to receive the John Bates Clark Medal, which is awarded by the American Economic Association every other year to an American economist under the age of 40 who has made the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge.
Brown and Goldstein, who have been working on the genetics and regulation of cholesterol metabolism for some 30 years, discovered the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) receptor that controls the level of cholesterol in blood and cells.
The duo's work laid the theoretical groundwork for a class of drugs called statins that block cholesterol synthesis, increase LDL receptors, lower blood cholesterol and prevent heart attacks. More than 20 million people worldwide take statins daily.
Brown is the Paul J. Thomas Professor of Molecular Genetics and director of the Jonsson Center for Molecular Genetics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas.
Goldstein is a member of the Board of Trustees of The Rockefeller University and the Board of Trustees at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He also serves on several scientific advisory boards for academic institutions and biotechnology companies.
Moeser is a former chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.
The trained concert organist introduced numerous changes while at UNC Chapel Hill from 2000-08, including the Carolina Covenant, which helps students from low-income families attend UNC Chapel Hill debt-free. Moeser also oversaw the expansion of genome research, the university's most successful private fund-raising campaign and numerous campus building projects.
Among his honors is the 2007 American Council on Education's Reginald Wilson Diversity Leadership Award, a lifetime achievement honor that recognizes major advancements to diversity in higher education.
Moeser began his academic career in 1966 as a music faculty member at the University of Kansas, where he eventually became dean of the School of Fine Arts.
Chemist Mario Molina won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his role in making clear the threat to the Earth's ozone layer from chlorofluorocarbon gases (CFCs).
Molina's work focuses on air quality and global change issues, and he collaborates with colleagues from diverse disciplines on problems related to serious air pollution in rapidly growing cities.
Since 2004, Molina has worked in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California at San Diego, and UCSD's Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He previously was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine, among others. He also sits on several scientific committees, which has included the U.S. President's Committee of Advisors in Science and Technology.
Nooyi is chairwoman and chief executive officer of PepsiCo, a $40 billion food and beverage company. Before joining PepsiCo in 1994, Nooyi established her prominence as a top business executive, leading corporate strategy at Motorola and ABB and directing strategic projects for companies while at Boston Consulting Group.
"Indra is a world-class executive who rose from humble roots in India to succeed in a corporate world dominated by white males," said Victor J. Dzau, M.D., chancellor for health affairs at Duke University and a member of the PepsiCo Board of Directors. "She is an impressive and inspirational leader, a visionary and a strategic thinker who has played a key role in PepsiCo's success and in shaping PepsiCo's future."
Nooyi earned a graduate degree in business administration from the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta, and a master's degree in management from Yale University. She serves on a number of charitable boards and is a Successor Fellow of Yale Corporation and a member of the Board of Trustees of Eisenhower Fellowships.
Perahia, who began playing the piano at age 4, entered Mannes College in his native New York City when he was just 17. He majored in conducting and composition and was mentored and taught by esteemed pianist Mieczyslaw Horszowski.
While in his mid-20s, Perahia won a Leeds Piano Competition. He went on to record the complete piano concerts of Mozart with the English Chamber Orchestra. He later recorded the complete portfolio of Beethoven piano concerti with Bernard Haitink and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
Today, Perahia is a Bach specialist and the principal guest conductor of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields orchestra.
He received Grammy Awards for best instrumental soloist in 1993 and 2003. He has received many other honors, including being named an honorary knight of the British Empire in 2004 in recognition of his outstanding service to music.