UWM to award five honorary degrees

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will confer honorary degrees on five outstanding individuals at its May 22 commencement ceremony. Honorees include Mary Alfred, professor and interim department head in the College of Education and Human Development at Texas A&M University; Willem Dafoe, visionary actor of stage and screen; Judy Murphy, nurse executive and health IT leader; Kevin Shafer, executive director of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District; and Noble Wray, retired chief of the Madison Police Department.

Mary Alfred will receive an honorary Doctor of Adult and Continuing Education degree.

During her 40 years in higher education, Alfred spent five years as assistant professor of adult and continuing education at UWM’s School of Education. One of the most prominent scholars of adult education, she was inducted into the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame in 2016.

Her research interests include international adult education; learning and development among women of the African diaspora; sociocultural contexts of adult learning; social welfare and economic disparities among low-income and low-literate adults; and issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in education and the workplace. She has published numerous articles that have appeared in both research and professional publication outlets.

She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Central Texas, now Texas A&M University-Central Texas, and her doctorate in educational administration from the University of Texas at Austin.

Willem Dafoe, who is also the featured speaker at the university’s two commencement ceremonies, will receive an honorary Doctor of Arts degree.

Dafoe attended UWM in 1973 and 1974 before leaving to become part of Theatre X, which started as a faculty-student workshop and then became an independent experimental theater company. Known internationally as one of the most fearless, talented and successful actors of our time, Dafoe has made more than 100 films.

He has been recognized with four Academy Award nominations, as well as Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations. In 2020, the New York Times named him one of the 25 greatest actors of the 21st century. He has been awarded by the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review, as well as twice by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. He has also received two Independent Spirit Awards, the Venice Film Festival Volpi Cup, and a Berlinale Honorary Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement.

Judy Murphy will receive an honorary Doctor of Nursing degree.

A Milwaukee native and a nursing alumna of Alverno College, Murphy has been an influential leader in the field of nursing information systems and electronic health records. She served as chief nursing officer for IBM Global Healthcare and as deputy national coordinator for programs and policy in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Prior to that, she spent 36 years at Aurora Health Care in Wisconsin, 26 of those years in clinical informatics.

With over 100 published articles and book chapters, Murphy has received numerous awards for health IT leadership. She is a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing and the American College of Medical Informatics, and she serves as a dean’s cabinet member at the Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing at the University of California, Irvine; an advisory board member for OnyxHealth; and digital nursing international advisory panel chair for NHS Digital.

Kevin Shafer will receive an honorary Doctor of Freshwater Sciences and Water Resource Leadership degree.

A global leader in freshwater resource management and sustainability, Shafer served six years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a decade with an international engineering firm before joining the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, which he has led for the past 20 years.

Shafer spearheaded development of the nationally recognized Greenseams program, which protects waterways from flooding and stormwater pollution runoff by providing conservation easements. He also led the innovative conversion of landfill methane to help power the wastewater plant on Jones Island, and the landmark restoration and redevelopment of the Menomonee River Valley. He has been recognized among the Top 25 World Water Leaders and has received the American Academy of Environmental Engineers & Scientists’ Edward J. Cleary Award.

Shafer earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and his master’s from the University of Texas at Arlington.

Noble Wray will receive an honorary Doctor of Philosophy in Social Welfare degree.

Originally from Milwaukee, Wray graduated from UWM in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He went on to serve on the Madison Police Department for nearly 30 years, rising in the ranks from patrol officer to chief. A nationally recognized consultant for law enforcement organizations, he has lent his expertise to cities like Ferguson, Baltimore and New York. He presents around the country on topics like implicit bias, Blue Courage and procedural justice.

Wray has served in leadership roles at the national, state and local levels. In 2015, Wray was asked by the U.S. Department of Justice to help lead an initiative to implement President Obama’s 21st Century Policing recommendations. In 2019, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers appointed Wray to serve on the Governor’s Pardon Advisory Board, and in 2007, Wisconsin Gov. James Doyle invited him to co-chair the State Commission on Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System. He also served as president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison in 2014. Wray has received numerous awards, including the UWM Helen Bader School of Social Welfare’s Alumnus of the Year in 2011.