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University of Central Missouri
Administration 302
Warrensburg, MO 64093
Phone: 660-543-4640
Fax: 660-543-4943


Special Awards Highlight Spring Commencement Exercises

Contact: Jeff Murphy
WARRENSBURG, MO (May 2, 2008) – Special award presentations, including two honorary degrees, the Distinguished Service Award, and the Outstanding Recent Alumni Award, are planned during 2008 Spring Commencement exercises at the University of Central Missouri. More than 1,000 new graduates are eligible to participate in the festivities beginning with the graduate commencement at 7 p.m. Friday, May 9, and followed by undergraduate ceremonies at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday, May 10.

Honors Presented During Commencement Ceremonies

During the Saturday morning ceremony, the university will recognize Joseph Vandepopuliere, a UCM alumnus from Columbia, MO, with the honorary degree, Doctor of Science. It will also present the honorary Doctor of Laws degree to Gerardus Bernardus Maria Leers, Maastricht, the Netherlands. Presentations take place during the ceremony for new graduates of the Harmon College of Business Administration, College of Education, and College of Science and Technology.

Also during the morning ceremony, Maastricht residents Benoit and Bella Wesly will make a special presentation of a silver medallion and chain to University President Aaron Podolefsky. The medallion bears the university’s new crest, which was adopted during the 2007 fall semester. The crest includes an image of the Maastricht Friendship Tower, a monument to international friendship and understanding, which is located near the president’s official residence on campus. The belltower was made possible through the generosity of the Wesly family. The medallion was commissioned by the Weslys, and was created in Maastricht by Martin Faun.

Cheryl Harness, a UCM alumna from Independence, MO, will receive the Distinguished Service Award, and Summer Schnakenberg-Ott, Nassau Bay, TX, will be honored with the Outstanding Recent Alumni Award during the Saturday afternoon festivities. Following their recognition, degrees will be conferred upon new graduates of the College of Health and Human Services and College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.

Honorary Doctorate Degree

The honorary doctorate is bestowed upon individuals who have distinguished themselves through outstanding service and exemplary achievements within their fields of endeavor.

Joe Vandepopuliere
Joseph Vandepopuliere

Joseph Vandepopuliere

Vandepopuliere earned a bachelor's degree in biology at UCM in 1951, then became an inventor of internationally known products as a research scientist for 15 years at Ralston Purina in St. Louis. Early in his career with the company, he was involved in extrusion research for companion animals and small animals that ultimately led to the production of the company's highly successful line of "chows" for dogs, cats, monkeys and fish. His work in the area of primate nutrition also helped produce healthy rhesus monkeys for Dr. Jonas Salk's polio vaccine research. He left industry in 1972 and dedicated the next 25 years to students and scholarly work as a professor in the Department of Animal Science at the University of Missouri. His research in poultry science led to three U.S. patents, including one related to the "pasteurized egg" or methods of controlling salmonella in shell eggs.

Gerardus Bernardus Maria Leers
Gerardus Bernardus Maria Leers

Gerardus Bernardus Maria Leers

Leers has served as mayor of Maastricht, the Netherlands, since 2002. In this capacity, he has shown great support for UCM and its involvement in the Maastricht Center for Transatlantic Studies. His office has helped many of the university’s students overcome obstacles that are common to international study, including receiving residence permits. In addition to his position as mayor, he is the regional manager of the South Limburg Regional Police Force, chair of the executive and general management board of South Limburg’s Fire Brigade/Emergency Medical Services, and is an honorary member of the Council of Europe. His career achievements include a proactive campaign to curb drug trafficking in not only the Netherlands but also in all of Europe.

Distinguished Service Award

The Distinguished Service Award honors individuals who have rendered exemplary and extended service to the human race, society, and/or the university.

Cheryl Harness
Cheryl Harness

Cheryl Harness

Harness graduated from UCM in 1973 with a degree in art education. Since that time, she has devoted her career to writing and illustrating more than 30 children’s books, in addition to donating her time and service to UCM. She serves the university through her participation in the annual Children’s Literature Festival, the “From Dream to Page: Children’s Books and the People Who Make Them” summer workshop, and through her support of the Philip A. Sadler Research Collection of Literature for Children and Young Adults. She has donated more than 150 of her original children’s books illustrations to the Sadler collection housed in the James C. Kirkpatrick Library. Harness is known in children’s literature circles for her many books about famous historical figures, including titles such as Ghosts of the White House and Abe Lincoln Goes to Washington.

Outstanding Recent Alumni Award

Recipients of the Outstanding Recent Alumni Award are alumni whose endeavors in business, professional, civic, philanthropic organizations, performing arts, public service, volunteer, political or similar activities are worthy of recognition and have brought honor to the university. The award is made possible by the UCM Alumni Association. To be eligible, individuals must have obtained an undergraduate degree from UCM in the past 10 years.

Summer Schnakenberg-Ott
Summer Schnakenberg-Ott

Summer Schnakenberg-Ott

Schnakenberg-Ott earned a Bachelor of Science in 1999 and a Master of Science in 2001 from UCM, both in psychology. Since September 2007, she has served as clinical director of the newly established CHRISTUS St. John Sports Medicine Concussion Center in Nassau Bay, Texas. As director, she heads up a one-of-a-kind comprehensive concussion center that treats head injuries and provides an individual approach to concussion management with clinical oversight and care. After earning a doctorate in clinical psychology at the Forrest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Mo., in 2005, she spent two years as a post-doctoral fellow in sports neuropsychology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. She got involved in concussion evaluation and management of athletes, including working with professional hockey and football players in Pittsburgh.