2016 Honorary Degree Recipients
The Honorable Sonia Sotomayor
Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa
Undergraduate Commencement Speaker
The Honorable Sonia Sotomayor is the 111th Justice to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, and the first Hispanic and third woman to ascend to the nation’s highest judicial body.
President Barack Obama appointed her in August 2009 following her distinguished career of service in the courts. She served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1998 to 2009 and as a U.S. District Court judge, Southern District of New York, from 1992 to 1998. She began her legal career as an assistant district attorney in New York from 1979–1984 and was at the law firm of Pavia & Harcourt where she litigated international commercial matters in New York City from 1984–1992.
Justice Sotomayor is also recognized and cherished for sharing her personal story and serving as a role model to millions of Americans. Born in Bronx, New York, her best-selling memoir, My Beloved World, captures her life growing up in the housing projects of New York and the challenges she faced and overcame.
Justice Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1976. She earned a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1979, where she served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal.
Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa
Graduate Commencement Speaker
Richard Tapia is a mathematician and professor in the Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University. Internationally known for his mathematics research, Tapia is also an acclaimed champion of diversity in higher education.
President Barack Obama awarded Tapia the National Medal of Science, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on scientists and engineers. Presented in 2011, the award was in recognition of outstanding contributions to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical, engineering, behavioral and social sciences. Tapia is the first Latino to receive this prestigious award.
Due to his innovative outreach, student recruitment and teaching practices, Rice University is a national leader in the preparation of women and underrepresented minority doctoral degree recipients in science, engineering and mathematics.
The first in his family to attend college, Tapia earned his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles.
The Honorable Judge Frank Caprio
Chief Municipal Court Judge, City of Providence
Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa
A first-generation American from humble beginnings, Frank Caprio’s commitment to public service and education has been demonstrated throughout his life and career.
After earning a bachelor’s degree from Providence College, Caprio simultaneously taught American history at Hope High School, coached the school’s wrestling team, and commuted to Suffolk University School of Law every night. He earned his J.D. in 1965 and is now a senior partner at Caprio and Caprio in Providence. His stature as a respected attorney, fair-minded jurist and higher education leader vividly illustrate the promise of the American Dream.
Appointed as Providence Municipal Court Judge in 1985, Caprio is well known as host of the courtroom, educational, entertainment show “Caught in Providence,” that airs on network television. Caprio has been guided by the wisdom of his parents and has brought keen thinking, sound judgment, compassion, and a dose of levity to the courtroom.
In 1993 Caprio was appointed to the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education and as served as chair for eight years. His experience as the first college graduate in his family inspired him to make higher education accessible and affordable to all. His personal mission and leadership have expanded the power of education to transform the lives of Rhode Islanders for generations to come.
Dr. Christopher DiMaio ’62
Former U.S. Navy Officer, Retired Psychiatrist
Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa
A resident of Aptos, Calif., Dr. Christopher M. DiMaio showed tremendous bravery and provided courageous service to this nation during the Vietnam War. A medical officer in the 3rd Marine Division in Phu Bai/Hu and Quang Tri City, he was the battalion surgeon for the Marine 1st of the Ninth, the famous “Walking Dead,” unit that suffered a 90 percent casualty rate. He received many of the military’s highest honors in recognition of his service.
Since that time, DiMaio has worked relentlessly to improve conditions within the veteran community. From his early recognition, understanding and treatment of what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder, to the development of means to address issues faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender veterans, DiMaio has been one of the veterans’ strongest supporters. He is an active Santa Cruz County Veterans Court volunteer.
DiMaio was drafted into active service after graduating from the University of Rhode Island in 1962 and enrolling in Georgetown University medical school. He completed his residency while at the Cornell Division Bellevue Hospital and North Shore Hospital. After his tour of duty, he completed his psychiatry residencies at the Pacific Medical Center, San Francisco, the County Mental Health Center, San Diego, and a fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Scientific Researcher and Educator, School of Math, Science and Engineering, Central New Mexico Community College, and Fellow Emerita, U.S. Army Research Laboratory
Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa
Melanie Will-Cole is a renowned researcher, author, inventor, and innovative educator. She served for 27 years as a research physical scientist at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, where she attained the distinction of ARL Fellow, an honor bestowed on only 1 percent of the technical workforce. Will-Cole’s research talent is matched only by her passion for teaching and mentoring diverse groups, especially women, in the physical sciences. To achieve this, Will-Cole joined the faculty of Central New Mexico Community College in 2015.
Although her formal education resides in geoscience, BS (University of Miami), MS (Iowa State University) in geochemistry and doctoral studies in geochemical-oceanography at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography, Will-Cole has since become one of the leading expert in electronic materials physics. Her research in complex oxide thin-film electronic materials established the scientific foundation for the development of the Army’s software-defined reconfigurable radios and phased array antennas, both of which are critical technologies for solider survival on the battlefield.
Will-Cole’s scholarship includes an H-index of 27, 140 referred journal articles, 276 invited presentations, 5 book chapters, 9 U.S. patents, 4 disclosures and 2 licensed patents. Among her dozens of honors, Will-Cole received the 2008 Society of Women Engineers Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of her achievements and sustained contributions to the engineering field.