Campus Life

Three Individuals to Receive Honorary Degrees at USU's 134th Commencement

Utah State University welcomes three distinguished individuals to receive honorary degrees during its 134th graduation ceremony.

Those receiving degrees are Linda Skidmore Daines, a USU graduate and one of the first women managing directors at Goldman Sachs; Karen Morse, a former chemistry professor, college dean and provost at USU, and president emerita of Western Washington University; and Julie A. Robinson, Chief Scientist for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters. The trio were originally slated to receive honorary degrees in 2020 as USU celebrated its Year of the Woman.

Due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, USU has revised its 134th commencement ceremony in Logan and at all graduation events at its statewide campuses this spring. A general virtual commencement ceremony will be broadcast Wednesday, May 5, at 7 p.m. via YouTube, visit for details.

Robinson is the commencement speaker.

USU President Noelle Cockett said honorary degrees are one of the most important ways the university has to recognize people for the commitment and sacrifices they have made to make positive changes in the world.

“All of these individuals have made their marks in a number of ways and in a number of fields, but all of them deserve honor for their passion and determination to serve others,” she said.

LINDA SKIDMORE DAINES (Honorary Doctorate Recipient)

Daines is known for her passion for two worlds: the arts and business. An alumnus of Utah State University, she has risen to the upper echelons of high finance through her work at Goldman Sachs, but she has always retained her love of the arts and humanities.

A native of Logan, Utah, Daines majored in cello performance at USU and married Richard F. Daines. Together they moved to New York City where she worked at The Spence School, a leading private girls school, as a music teacher and music department chair. Her passion for self-education continued as she studied under Claus Adam of the Juilliard String Quartet and performed with The New Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra. While raising three children, she also pursued a master’s in arts administration and obtained an MBA from Columbia University.

In 1984, Daines joined Goldman Sachs and in 2001 became one of the first female Managing Directors in Private Wealth Management at the firm. Over her 35-year career at Goldman Sachs, she has advised significant families, foundations, endowments, private companies and pensions on their investments.

She serves as a trustee of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, The School of American Ballet, and The Utah Journalism Foundation. She also serves on the Board of Cache Valley Bank, the National Advisory Council for Brigham Young University and on USU’s Leonard Arrington Council and the Dean’s Advancement Council at the Caine College of the Arts.

Throughout her career in business and her pursuit of community impact, Daines has maintained extensive involvement with USU’s Caine College of the Arts, committing her time and resources to scholars in all fields. Her dedication to preserving and celebrating history and heritage provides students a role model of passion, generosity, and community impact.

KAREN MORSE (Honorary Doctorate Recipient)

Morse is a proven leader thanks to an illustrious career that included numerous accolades from the scientific community due to her expertise in chemistry, but also because of her work alongside many peers to change the status of women on the university campus.

From a career beginning as a research chemist at the Ballistic Research Lab at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, and culminating in her serving as the first female president of Western Washington University, Morse has been known as a trailblazer and inspiration for women pursuing science careers in academia.

Morse joined Utah State University’s Department of Chemistry in 1968 as a part-time lecturer, one of only two female faculty in the College of Science at the time. Her time at the university would create many opportunities to lead in a time of great change. During her quarter of a century at USU, Morse was named the first female department head of chemistry, one of just three women in the United States at the time serving in that capacity in the area of the sciences; was the first female dean of science, the only female dean of science at a research university; and was the first female vice president and provost of academic affairs.

Throughout her career in academia, Morse continued to pursue and further her chemistry research. She has three patents to her name, has been published extensively in the field of chemistry, and was actively involved with the American Chemical Society and the National Science Foundation, serving on numerous committees, boards, and review panels. In April 1997, Morse received the Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Award, one of the American Chemical Society’s highest honors. She is also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Involvement with female colleagues early on in her career led Morse to become an advocate for issues facing women in academia. She became an integral part of the USU Status of Women Committee in order to help improve the standing of female faculty and students. Morse’s role as a mentor to fellow women on campus, including female students, would play an ever-increasing role throughout her life. Early in her career, she served as faculty advisor to the newly formed female physics students club, still in existence today as the USU Women in Physics Group. This passion would lead Morse and her husband Joseph, who served as director of Honors and as an associate professor of chemistry, to create the Morse Scholarship at USU, an endowment to assist future generations of students in the Honors Program. Later, at Western Washington University, Morse established the Karen W. Morse Institute for Leadership at Western Washington University to provide opportunities for students to learn about and develop their leadership potential through academic courses, professional speakers and a collaborative learning and leading experience.

During Morse’s tenure as president from 1993 to 2008, Western Washington University experienced tremendous growth – of the campus, the faculty, and the student body – while elevating its national reputation. She credits her success as a leader to the foundation Utah State University provided for her, particularly with its focus on student involvement in scholarly activity and excellence and commitment in the classroom.

JULIE ROBINSON (Commencement Speaker, Honorary Doctorate Recipient)

What do humans need to survive? Air, water, nutrients, shelter, sleep? At first glance, it’s a short and seemingly simple list. Yet, ensuring all of these needs are met becomes increasingly complex at closer observation – and, beyond the familiar confines of our planet.

Utah State University alumna Julie A. Robinson, as Chief Scientist for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters, grapples with these questions on a daily basis. She has been a leader throughout her career and is known for her perseverance and curiosity.

In 1985, as a senior at Pocatello, Idaho’s Highland High School, Robinson persisted in her plans to attend college despite financial hardships at home. She remained hopeful as she planned to pursue full-time work to fund her delayed educational plans. A call from Utah State University came, with an offer for a four-year, full tuition Presidential Scholarship.

In Logan, the Honors student chose chemistry and biology as majors and immersed herself in undergraduate research. As an undergraduate, she participated in research before undergraduate research was formalized and as common as it is today, which provided a critical foundation for her career path and professional success. Key mentors, including the late Joseph K.-K. Li, along with Karen and Joseph Morse, encouraged her to pursue graduate study. She earned a doctoral degree in ecology, evolution, and conservation biology from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1996.

Beginning her career with Lockheed Martin in the Image Science Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center, Robinson would go on to lead major NASA-sponsored scientific projects and facilitate a distribution network for global maps of coral reefs in the developing world.

Within two years of joining NASA as a civil servant at Houston’s Johnson Space Center in 2004, Robinson was named deputy ISS program scientist. As a leader in the space agency’s interdisciplinary process, she has grabbed the reins to prioritize countless research ideas and distill an integrated approach from concept to design, assembly, and use. Her professional experience is highly interdisciplinary and has included virology, analytical chemistry, genetics, statistics, animal behavior, field biology, Earth science and remote sensing.

In 2007, Robinson became the International Space Station Program Chief Scientist and is now at NASA Headquarters as the Chief Scientist for Human Exploration and Operations. She provides science advice at the highest levels of the agency, promoting exploration research and demonstration strategies onboard the ISS and other human spaceflight platforms. She founded the ISS Program Science Forum, made up of her counterparts from each ISS partner agency, increasing international collaboration and effective use of ISS by scientists from more than 100 countries. In 2011, Robinson was awarded the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal.

Robinson stands side by side with scientists and engineers at NASA who work synergistically and are driven by a passion for understanding the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of the universe. Her passion will drive advancements in human space travel, and allow people to explore and thrive beyond the Earth.

For more information on USU’s 134th Commencement, visit the commencement website at

Linda Skidmore Daines, Honorary Doctorate Recipient.

Karen Morse, Honorary Doctorate Recipient.

Julie Robinson, Commencement Speaker, Honorary Doctorate Recipient.


Emilie Wheeler
News Director
University Marketing and Communications



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