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US university president honoured in Bristol

Dr Graham Spanier receives his honorary degree from Eric Thomas, the University of Bristol’s Vice-Chancellor

Dr Graham Spanier receives his honorary degree from Eric Thomas, the University of Bristol’s Vice-Chancellor Ede and Ravenscroft

Press release issued: 19 July 2011

The president of one of the United States’ top universities has travelled to Bristol to collect an honorary degree today [19 July] in recognition of his contribution to education throughout the world.

Dr Graham Spanier is at the helm of Pennsylvania State University, which has a huge population of 94,300 students and 41,000 staff across 24 campuses.

His “meteoric career” has also seen him play a major role in establishing the Worldwide University Network, a leading international Higher Education network which has 16 member universities across five continents.

Their collaborative research advance knowledge and understanding in areas of global concern has attracted $60million in additional funding to increase research activity and output.

The University of Bristol’s Vice-Chancellor Eric Thomas took over from Dr Spanier as Chair of the network in 2003 and said: “His advice to me and to Bristol about universities in general and about internationalisation in particular was invaluable.

“He has hosted us at visits to Penn State and was particularly generous in allowing us to interact with his fundraising office whilst we set up our Centenary campaign.

“Bristol really is a global operation now in its reach both with students and staff and research; the Worldwide University Network and Graham’s personal help has been a part of that change.”

To mark this contribution, Dr Spanier is to be awarded with a Doctor of Laws honorary degree in recognition of outstanding achievement and distinction in a field or activity consonant with the University’s mission.

Graham was born in 1948 in South Africa where his family had fled from Germany. Very soon after that, they emigrated to the United States of America and Graham was brought up in the south side of Chicago.

The family was poor and Graham remembers a challenging childhood in which there was not enough food on the table and he had to work long hours to supplement the family income.

Even as a child, Graham recognised that the only way out of this situation was education and he worked hard academically to become the first person in his entire family network to go to university.

He gained his bachelors and masters degrees from Iowa State University and his PhD from Northwestern in Chicago becoming a professor at a very young age.

He is a distinguished researcher with over 100 scholarly publications including 10 books as a family sociologist and demographer.

His first leadership post was at age 28 and at the age of 30 he found himself as Associate Dean of the College of Health and Human Development following the dismissal of the Dean, a post that he held for three years.

Dr Spanier was on the faculty at Penn State from 1973 to 1982 and then took further leadership positions at Stony Brook University in New York State before becoming Vice-Provost for Academic Affairs at Oregon State, then Chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and finally being appointed President of Penn State in 1995 at the age of 47, a position he holds to this day.

While talent and hard work have helped to forge Dr Spanier’s career, putting students at the centre of everything Penn State does has also led to him becoming a legend on campus and beyond.


Further information

The full oration and official photographs are available on request.
Please contact Philippa Walker for further information.
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