Global leader in study of HIV/AIDS to speak at Commencement

Publication Date

Dr. Deborah L. Birx, a renowned international expert in the field of HIV/AIDS, will be the featured speaker at Union's 220th Commencement, College officials announced today.

Approximately 525 students in the Class of 2014 will receive degrees during the ceremony, scheduled for 10 a.m. Sunday, June 15, on Hull Plaza. Birx will receive an honorary doctorate of science degree.

Since 2009, Birx has been the director of the Division of Global HIV/AIDS in the Center for Global Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In January, President Obama nominated her as an ambassador at large and U.S. global AIDS coordinator. The Senate recently confirmed her appointment and she was sworn in April 4. The position oversees the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief within the U.S. Department of State. She will also oversee the U.S. relationship with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the world’s largest public health financier. She is the first woman to hold the post.

Her visit is part of the College’s focus on wellness this year.

“We are very pleased and proud that Dr. Deborah Birx has agreed to speak at this year’s Commencement,” said President Stephen C. Ainlay. “She is a much respected leader in global health and news of her selection as U.S. global AIDS coordinator has been universally praised. We celebrate her many accomplishments and contributions and are excited about the difference she will undoubtedly make in her new role.”

From 2005 to 2009, Birx was director of the CDC’s Global AIDS Programs for the National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention. She served on active duty in the U.S. Army for 29 years, retiring in 2008 with the rank of colonel. As an Army officer, she was director of the U.S. Military HIV Research Program and director of the Division of Retrovirology at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

She was honored with the U.S. Meritorious Service Medal and the Legion of Merit Award for research and leadership in the field of HIV/AIDS.

Birx has published over 220 manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals, developed and patented vaccines and is the author of nearly a dozen chapters in scientific publications.

She has served as an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina, a consultant to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and an assistant professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

Birx received a B.S. from Houghton College and an M.D. from Penn State University.

The College will also award an honorary doctorate of science degree to Morris E. Fine, the Walter P. Murphy Professor Emeritus of Materials Science and Engineering in Service at Northwestern University. Fine is known for his contributions to the field of physical metallurgy, and his 1964 book, Introduction to Phase Transformations in Condensed Systems, is considered a classic in the field. He was nominated by Rebecca Cortez, associate professor of mechanical engineering.