UWM announces commencement speaker, honorary degree recipients

A University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee alumnus is taking time from his work on Mars to give the commencement address at the university’s May 16 virtual commencement.

Darian Dixon, who earned his undergraduate degree in geological sciences in 2015, plays a key role on NASA’s $3 billion Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars in February.

Dixon is Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z data management lead. His duties involve guiding the two Mastcam-Z cameras, which are part of the rover’s array of nearly two dozen cameras. They’re capturing panoramic stills to help scientists learn more about the planet’s atmosphere, landscape and soils. And he teamed with colleagues to quickly ensure Mastcam-Z footage of the inaugural Ingenuity helicopter flight was received back on Earth as soon as possible.

Dixon is passionate about inspiring other students to follow their dreams, especially students of color. He encourages them to pursue careers in the STEM-related fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

“We’re exploring the final frontier. It’s something that fills our hearts with awe and wonder,” Dixon says. “I don’t think you can put a price on that. You just get to look up and be happy that you are part of something that is much bigger than humanity.”

For more about Dixon, check out this story.

At the May 16 commencement, UWM will award honorary degrees to:

Robert W. Henderson, curator emeritus of herpetology at the Milwaukee Public Museum. The College of Letters & Science will grant him an honorary Doctor of Herpetology degree.

David J. Lubar, president and CEO of Lubar & Co. The Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business will grant him an honorary Doctor of Business degree.

Jere D. McGaffey, retired partner of Foley & Lardner. The College of Letters & Science will grant him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Henderson’s interest in reptiles, and snakes in particular, began when he was a student at Wauwatosa East High School. He earned his bachelor’s degree in systematics and ecology from the University of Kansas. Before he started his graduate program there, he entered the Peace Corps, where he taught biology to middle schoolers in Belize (then British Honduras). At Kansas, he worked on his master’s degree under Henry S. Fitch, the “father” of snake ecology. Over the years, they collaborated on projects in Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

When he returned to Milwaukee to do research for his thesis, he contacted the Milwaukee Public Museum and was later hired. He was there for 38 years before retiring as senior curator of herpetology. He has written nearly 300 publications and 15 books, either as sole author, co-author or co-editor. He conducted research in South and Central America and on several dozen islands in the West Indies. Henderson has also had several species named after him. Over the years, he has had a strong focus on the Grenada bank treeboa, and is continuing that work after retirement.

Lubar joined Lubar & Co. in 1983 after working for Wells Fargo Bank in Minneapolis. Lubar & Co. is the family office for the Lubar family and a private investment firm, founded in 1977, that invests in middle market operation companies with a focus on long-term growth.

In addition to serving as president and CEO of Lubar & Co., Lubar is a member of the board of directors of Ixonia Bank, the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club and many other companies. He serves or has served on the boards of numerous Milwaukee-area nonprofit organizations, including Froedtert Health System, Greater Milwaukee Committee, Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Jewish Federation, United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County. He has served as chairman of the UWM Business Advisory Council, the UWM Foundation and other UWM organizations.

He received his bachelor’s from Bowdoin College and an MBA from the University of Minnesota.

At Foley & Lardner, McGaffey headed the tax group, chaired the finance committee and was a member of the management committee. He served with many professional legal, tax and real estate organizations. Among other professional accomplishments, he compiled a nine-volume Treatise on Tax Analysis and Forms for Business and Estate Planning.

McGaffey has served two nine-year terms on the UWM Foundation Board and is a current member of the investment committee. He was a former chair of the advisory board to the College of Nursing. His late wife, Ruth, was a professor and chair of the Communication Department and was given the Spaights Plaza Award, one of the university’s highest honors.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a bachelor’s in arts and science from the University of Nebraska. He earned his law degree from Harvard Law School, where he was a member of the Law Review.