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University recognises golden alumni and latest honorary graduates – University of Reading

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University recognises golden alumni and latest honorary graduates

Release Date 05 July 2017


A group of inspiring individuals including an Olympic champion, an award-winning writer and illustrator, and a cabinet secretary for the environment will be honoured by the University of Reading alongside thousands of students this week.

Two time Olympic gold-winning rower Alex Gregory will be receiving a special Award of Exceptional Achievement on Thursday afternoon. Gregory, who completed a BSc in Geography in 2006, went on to represent Great Britain winning golds in the coxless four at the 2012 London Olympics and last year in Rio de Janeiro.

Alex said of the award:

“It's a huge honour to be recognised in this way by the university where I spent many happy years. Throughout my years at the University of Reading, and since, I have been shown never-ending support in my sporting endeavours. It means a lot to be receiving this honour and I look forward to celebrating the day alongside this year's graduating students.”

The Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Bell introduced Gregory for the award, saying:

“One of the greatest things about being Vice-Chancellor is that I get to see our students go on to achieve great things.  Alex Gregory is one such student who has many outstanding accomplishments.”


Honorary Graduates

Coralie Bickford-SmithCoralie Bickford-Smith will become a Doctor of Literature at Friday’s ceremony. The London-based author, designer and illustrator graduated from Reading with a degree in Typography and Graphic Communication and now works as a book cover designer at Penguin Books. She received acclaim for her clothbound series with Penguin Classics, influenced by Victorian book bindings.

Her debut book The Fox and the Star, written, illustrated and designed by her, was named Waterstones Book of the Year in 2015 and was one of Time Out’s 100 Best Children’s Books of All Time. Ms Bickford-Smith is working on her second book The Worm and the Bird, which will is due to be published in August 2017.

Ms Bickford-Smith said: “It is hard to express just how much it means to me to be honoured by the University of Reading in this way. Reading’s exceptional environment nurtured my latent talents and gave me the confidence to be pursue a career I could never have dreamed of.”

Also on Friday, Professor Steven Pinker will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Science. Professor Pinker is a world-renowned scientist, an experimental psychologist by training and one of the world’s foremost writers on language, mind and human nature, and was named in Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2004.

Professor Steven Pinker said:

“It’s a thrill to be recognized by a university that has “reading” in its name and that has an entire school devoted to psychology. Now more than ever, we must appreciate the gifts of the written word, and of an understanding of human nature, in improving the human condition.”

Professor Pinker is one of three recipients of the Albert Wolters distinguished honorary professorship along with world-renowned linguists Professor Noam Chomsky and Professor Ellen Bialystok.


Climate research 

Cabinet Secretary Judi WakhunguProfessor Judi Wakhungu will be made Doctor of Science on Wednesday. She was made Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of the Republic of Kenya in 2013.

An avid environmentalist, Professor Wakhungu inspired the burning of Kenya’s ivory stockpile in 2016, and in 2017 banned the use of plastic bags in the country. After completing her studies in geology and energy resources management in the US and Canada, Professor Wakhungu was widely published on subjects including science and technology, agriculture and food security, biodiversity and natural resource management and energy and water security, before moving into government.

Professor Wakhungu said: "I'm humbled by the honour that the University of Reading is conferring on me. I admire the University for its excellence in teaching in environmental science & earth systems."

Professor Wakhungu’s expertise and passions reflect those of the University of Reading’s Walker Institute, which seeks to support the development of climate resilient societies worldwide. The University is also proud to be a global organisation, delivering degree programmes in Africa, Asia, the Caribeean and continental Europe and with students from around 150 different countries. Soon, almost 20% of its students will be studying outside the UK.

Professor Alan Thorpe will be made a Doctor of Science on Thursday. He was an academic in the University of Reading’s Department of Meteorology from 1982, working as Head of Department from 1996 to 1999. He is now scientific adviser to the world Bank, the World Meteorological Organisation and Spire Global, and remains a visiting professor at Reading.

Professor Alan ThorpeProfessor Thorpe’s research focuses on predicting convective storms, extra-tropical weather systems and climate. He was awarded an OBE in 2016 for services to environmental science and research, and has won the Royal Meteorological Society’s LF Richardson and Buchan Prizes for published meteorology research.

He was key to the development of perhaps Reading’s greatest contribution to meteorology - ‘Potential Vorticity Thinking’, which aids our understanding of extreme weather systems. As Director-General of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) in Reading, he oversaw crucial predictions made by its respected weather forecasting systems, such as that Hurricane Sandy would hit New York in 2012, six days before it did.

Professor Thorpe said: “I am delighted to be receiving an honorary degree of Doctor of Science from the University of Reading. Since 1982, I have seen the Department of Meteorology grow in size and stature and it remains one of the world’s best. Its research on weather, climate change and allied fields is recognised as being of the highest quality with huge societal impact; indeed environmental science at Reading is a real strength.

“My time at Reading enabled me to flourish as a scientist and it was a launch-pad for the other roles I have had during my career – and for this I am extremely grateful and appreciative.”


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