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Trustees Announce 2013 Honorary Degree Recipients

Andrea Brantzeg Thomas

March 12, 2013 – The University of Utah Board of Trustees today announced the names of three individuals who have been chosen to receive the university’s highest honor—the honorary doctorate degree. The awards will be presented during the annual student commencement ceremony held on Thursday, May 2, 2013, in the Jon M. Huntsman Center beginning at 6:30 p.m.

“The honorary degrees awarded this year share a commitment to the human environment that the university is proud to recognize,” says Keven Rowe, chair of the Board of Trustees’ honors committee. “We are delighted to honor these individuals, two of whom are graduates of the U, and all who exemplify the high levels of achievement and dedication that the degree confers.”

Thomas D. Rees, M.D. will receive a Doctorate in Science. A Utah native, Rees graduated from the U, receiving an M.D. in 1948, then completed a residency and fellowship training in plastic surgery in New York and Great Britain. He went on to a distinguished career at New York University in New York City as a practicing plastic surgeon, educator, author and innovator in his field. Yet his impact and expertise have been felt in the farthest reaches of the globe. In 1957, with two colleagues, he founded the Flying Doctor Service of East Africa. For the next five decades he traveled to East Africa, bringing specialist surgical care to Africa`s most remote areas. The Flying Doctors were the first to bring reconstructive surgery to East Africa, improving the lives of countless children and families experiencing extreme suffering and disfigurement. The Flying Doctors of East Africa continues its work today as part of the African Medical Research and Education Foundation (AMREF), the largest indigenous international non-governmental health organization in sub-Sahara Africa.

Apa Sherpa will receive a Doctorate of Humane Letters. Apa has summited Mt. Everest 21 times—the world record. His first ascent was in 1990 with Peter Hillary, son of Sir Edmund Hillary, and his most recent was in 2011.  Apa was born in Nepal and since 2006 has been residing in Utah with his wife Yangjin and their three children. He created the Apa Sherpa Foundation, which is dedicated to providing educational opportunities for the children of his homeland to help strengthen its future. Two of his recent climbs of Everest have had an educational purpose—the trips were focused on cleaning up Mt. Everest and emphasizing the necessity of exposing the Earth’s fragile nature. Apa has been the team leader on Eco Everest Expeditions that are removing tons of discarded gear and materials being revealed by melting snows on the slopes of the mountain. He has also served as Goodwill Ambassador for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, and in that role addressed the United Nations General Assembly on the impact of climate change in the Himalaya.

Andrea Brantzeg Thomas will receive a Doctorate of Humanities. A Utah native, Thomas received her bachelor’s in mass communications from the U, and later an MBA. She is senior vice president of sustainability for Walmart Stores. Thomas is charged with working to embed sustainability into all aspects of the company’s business. Since joining Walmart in 2007, Thomas has been committed to sustainability, first within the Walmart private label business with responsibilities for global brand, product development and sourcing for the company’s proprietary brands.  She is also director of The Sustainability Consortium, an independent, global organization developing science and tools to support product sustainability across the consumer goods industry. Thomas has been involved in brand management and innovation for over 18 years, including work with The Hershey Company, Pepsico and Frito-Lay. By her own account, growing up in Utah and spending a lot of time in the outdoors cultivated her passion for social and environmental responsibility.