Pulliam Clock Tower

December 01, 2022

SIU Board of Trustees approve honorary degrees, Distinguished Service Awards

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization based in Montgomery, Alabama, will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree following approval by the SIU Board of Trustees today (Dec. 1). Stevenson is one of five individuals recommended by SIU Carbondale Chancellor Austin A. Lane for honorary degrees and Distinguished Service Awards.

The Equal Justice Initiative, under Stevenson’s leadership, has “won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults.”

The nomination states that Stevenson’s victories in the U.S. Supreme Court include “a 2019 ruling protecting condemned prisoners who suffer from dementia and a landmark 2012 ruling that banned mandatory life-imprisonment-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger.” In addition, Stevenson and his staff have won reversals, relief or release from prison for more than 135 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row and won relief for hundreds of others wrongly convicted or unfairly sentenced.

An author and attorney, Stevenson’s awards include the MacArthur Foundation “Genuis” prize; the ABA Medal, the American Bar Association’s highest prize; the National Medal of Liberty from the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Olaf Palme Prize in Stockholm for international human rights. He is the author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” which was adapted into the 2019 film “Just Mercy.” Stevenson is a graduate of the Harvard Law School and the Harvard School of Government.

Others who will be honored at commencement in May 2023 or at a future commencement are:

Dr. Julie Panepinto, honorary Doctor of Community Health degree

Panepinto is acting director of the Division of Blood Diseases and Resources at the National Health, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health.

A 1991 graduate of the SIU School of Medicine, Panepinto has dedicated her professional career to researching and caring for children with sickle cell disease. The NHLBI provides global leadership for a research, training and education program to promote the prevention and treatment of heart, lung and blood disorders and enhance the health of all individuals.

Concerned that sickle cell disease patients might be disproportionately affected by COVID-19, Panepinto “spearheaded an international registry to collect data which confirmed her fears; sickle cell disease patients were far more vulnerable to the coronavirus than the general population and the death rates were higher,” according to the nomination. While her studies have mostly focused on children with sickle cell, “she has expanded her research to other areas including cancer, diabetes, and asthma.”

Prior joining the NHLBI in June 2021 as deputy director of the division of blood diseases and resources, Panepinto was a professor of pediatrics, hematology, vice chair of Value in Pediatrics and director of the Center for Clinical Effectiveness Research of the Children’s Research Institute at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Children’s Wisconsin, according to the NHLBI website. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree in public health from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.

The late John O’Neal, honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree 

O’Neal, who will receive the award posthumously, was a civil rights champion of the theater and the arts and a Southern Illinois University Carbondale alumnus.

A 1962 graduate in philosophy and English, O’Neal, a prolific writer, playwright and educator, worked as a field secretary and coordinator for the Freedom School Program of the Freedom Summer in Mississippi project in 1964, founded the Free Southern Theater at Tougaloo College in Mississippi in 1963, and in 1980 established its successor, Junebug Productions, named after perhaps O’Neal’s most notable character, Junebug Jabbo Jones. When O’Neal died in 2019 at 78, The New York Times obituary noted “Champion of Theater in the Deep South Dies,” and that O’Neal “cofounded a groundbreaking troupe that brought theater to Black audiences in the South during the civil rights era.” An earlier profile on O’Neal stated his idea “wasn’t merely to expose Black audiences to theater, it was also to get them thinking about their own stories.”

A native of Mound City, Illinois, O’Neal and his brother, Wendell, also an SIU Carbondale alumnus in chemistry, founded the Student Non-Violent Freedom Committee in the summer of 1962 to confront segregation in Southern Illinois and integrate Cairo.

Gregory W. Webb, Distinguished Service Award

Webb has served as vice president for state government relations for Archer Daniels Midland for nearly 15 years.

A 1979 graduate in agricultural economics, a nomination letter states Webb has been at the “intersection of agriculture, manufacturing, economic development and public policy for many years. He’s committed to making Illinois the best place to raise a family and grow jobs. Greg is a trusted and valued voice for lawmakers from both political parties who want to better Illinois manufacturing and agriculture.”

The nomination notes Webb’s commitment to SIU Carbondale, which includes serving on the leadership board for the College of Agricultural, Life and Physical Sciences, and the SIU Foundation board of directors. Webb is an integral part of the state’s Leadership Council for Agriculture Education and chair of the Illinois Manufacturers Association – the oldest state manufacturing association in the United States. He is also active with FFA along with other national, state and regional organizations “where he provides effective counsel and leadership.”

Tammera L. Holmes, Distinguished Service Award

A Chicago native, Holmes has served as president and CEO of Chicago-based Aerostar Consulting Corp. since 2008.

A 2000 graduate in aviation management from SIU Carbondale, Holmes opened AeroStar Avion Institute in 2016. The institute’s goal is to “open doors for youth, in particular, those from underserved and underrepresented communities, to consider a career in aviation or other STEM-focused careers, especially in the aerospace industry,” according to the nomination letter.

Holmes started her career as a summer intern with United Airlines, which led her into the consulting field with a global aviation planning and development firm. During this time, she founded her own program for K-12 students who are interested in aviation careers and leadership training. She has received numerous awards, including the Fly Sister Fly Distinction Award from the Bessie Coleman Aerospace Legacy Foundation and the “Spirit of Flight” Award from the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame. She was appointed to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Youth in Aviation Task Force in 2020 and is education committee chair for the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame.