USC to award honorary degrees to science, cinema and humanitarian leaders

USC to award honorary degrees to science, cinema and humanitarian leaders

USC’s 140th commencement ceremony will include the presentation of honorary degrees to three internationally renowned figures: Frances Arnold, Kevin Feige and Dolores Huerta.

March 28, 2023 Ron Mackovich-Rodriguez

Three internationally renowned figures from science, entertainment and human rights will be honored at the USC commencement ceremony on May 12.

Honorary degrees, a tradition dating back to 1912, are the highest honor conferred by the university. These degrees are awarded to people who have distinguished themselves with extraordinary achievements, made outstanding contributions to USC or elevated the university in the eyes of the world.

A committee made up primarily of faculty members nominates the potential recipients. The honorees are then chosen by the president and forwarded to the Board of Trustees for approval.

This year’s commencement ceremony will be held at 8:30 a.m. on May 12 on the University Park Campus.

Frances Arnold

Winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Arnold is widely recognized for her work in sustainable chemistry. Arnold’s research benefits sustainable practices in chemistry using biology.

Directed evolution, an approach to protein engineering which she pioneered in the 1990s, has enabled development of enzymes with far-reaching, beneficial applications across industries from consumer products to pharmaceuticals, agriculture, chemicals and fuels.

Arnold also co-founded three companies that use enzyme technology for sustainable chemistry. She serves on the boards of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, and Illumina.

Upon receiving the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2018, Arnold predicted “a steady stream” of female chemists receiving future Nobel prizes. She was right, as three more women have won that prize since 2018.

Arnold is the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology.

In 2021, she was appointed co-chair of the Presidential Council of Advisors for Science and Technology by President Joe Biden.

Arnold has been elected to the U.S. National Academies of Science, Medicine, and Engineering; the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the American Philosophical Society and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences of the Vatican.

She received her bachelor’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University and her doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.

Kevin Feige

A 1995 graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Feige is a producer and the president of Marvel Studios. The company is the home of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a collection of interconnected films and series that has made an indelible mark on popular culture and filmmaking.

Feige has maintained a close relationship with his alma mater and serves on the Board of Councilors at the School of Cinematic Arts. In 2017, the Academy Award nominee established a fund to foster success for cinema students at USC. The Kevin Feige Endowed Fund for Creative Producing supports courses that teach budding filmmakers how to turn an idea into a successful commercial release.

Feige is also the 2014 recipient of the Mary Pickford Alumni Award for achievements that have brought distinction to the school and the entertainment industry.

Under Feige’s direction, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become the highest-grossing film franchise of all time. It includes blockbusters like Iron Man, Avengers: Endgame and the Academy Award-nominated Black Panther.

Feige has built on that success by developing a host of streaming series, including the Emmy Award-winning shows WandaVision and What If…? as well as the critically acclaimed series Loki and Ms. Marvel.

Feige was honored with the 2019 David O. Selznick Achievement Award from the Producers Guild of America, as well as the Albert R. Broccoli Britannia Award for Worldwide Contribution to Entertainment from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in 2018.

Dolores Huerta

A celebrated Latina labor leader, community organizer and social justice activist, Huerta co-founded the United Farm Workers Union with César Chávez in 1962. She served as the union’s vice president for four decades and helped organize a nationwide grape boycott on behalf of agricultural workers. Those actions led to legislation allowing farm workers to organize, and a groundbreaking union contract was reached a few years later.

She has supported civil rights and social justice causes for over 50 years. The Dolores Huerta Foundation, which she founded, works on behalf of women, voting rights, education reform, infrastructure improvements for low-income communities and equity for the LGBTQ+ community.

Huerta was raised by her mother, Alicia St. John Chavez, an entrepreneur. Her father, Juan F. Fernández, was a farm worker, union activist and veteran who was elected to the New Mexico legislature in 1938. Huerta’s 11 children have dedicated themselves to public service.

Huerta is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Eleanor D. Roosevelt Human Rights Award. She has been recognized by the Smithsonian Institution, the National Civil Rights Museum, the California state legislature and the U.S. Department of Labor. She was the first Latina inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.