Delta State University will be celebrating its 80th Spring Commencement, Saturday, May 12 at 10 a.m. inside Walter Sillers Coliseum on campus. As part of the exercises, the University will be awarding honorary degrees to two leaders in the field of higher education – Dr. James (Jim) T. Rogers and Dr. Patricia (Patsy) A. Thrash.
Both Delta State graduates, Rogers and Thrash will be receiving the fourth- and fifth-ever honorary degrees presented by Delta State. Each will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters degree, for which they were unanimously approved by the Institutions of Higher Learning’s Board of Trustees.
The pair has dedicated nearly their entire lives to the advancement of higher education, having served a combined 96 years. Until their retirements, they sat atop two of the nation’s six accrediting agencies in higher education.
“It is amazing that one institution produced two of the most important higher education leaders in the nation,” said Dr. John M. Hilpert, Delta State University President. “Regional accreditation is the critical certification of quality that a university must achieve. At one time, these two Delta State graduates led regional associations that accredit institutions in 30 of the 50 states.
“We are proud of these two successful alumni and thrilled that we can honor them at our Spring Commencement. Furthermore, we are proud of the history of quality education at Delta State University,” he concluded.
A 1955 graduate of Delta State, Rogers earned his bachelor’s degree from Delta State in biology. Following five years of service to the United States Navy, he continued his education at New Orleans Seminary and Florida State University. Rogers served as Dean of Students at Pensacola Junior College before accepting a similar position with Armstrong State College in Georgia.
In 1970, he advanced to the rank of President at Brenau College in Gainesville, Ga., where he oversaw the complete modernization of the 100-year-old institution in all facets of its operation, including curriculum, faculty, admissions, learning resources, student services and development. He would remain in that position for 15 years.
The final stop in his distinguished career was as Executive Director for the Commission of Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – a post he would hold until his retirement in June, 2006. During his tenure, Rogers engineered the implementation of standards on institutional effectiveness adopted in the late 1980s for higher education institutions in the 11 states of the southeastern region and worked with the membership and the Commission’s leadership and staff to institute comprehensive changes in accreditation standards, placing a renewed and in depth emphasis on student learning.
Upon his retirement John T. Casteen, III, president of the University of Virginia, offered, “Dr. Rogers’ retirement will bring to an end one of the most significant careers of our era in higher education. He has brought integrity, fairness, and a profound dedication to quality to the process of improving our colleges and universities.”
Quite similarly, Thrash graduated with honors from Delta State in 1950 with a degree in English. A Boyle native, she also has a master’s and doctorate degree from Northwestern University and a certificate from Harvard University’s Institute for Educational Management. Her academic fields are English, Counseling, and Higher Education.
Before joining the Commission staff, Thrash served with distinction as a faculty member and administrator at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, for 19 years. As Dean of Women for 10 years, she was a leader in the student personnel profession, contributing to professional journals and serving as President of the National Association for Women Deans, Administrators, and Counselors.
In 1972, she joined the staff of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, one of the oldest of the regional accrediting associations; and the largest, serving more than 950 institutions in a 19-state region that includes Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. She was named Executive Director of the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education in 1988, the first woman to head a regional accrediting agency.
As Executive Director she provided staff leadership for the Commission in formulating and carrying out policy for the evaluation and accreditation of more than 950 institutions in the 19-state North Central region and in developing programs and publications to encourage institutional improvement. During her tenure, the Commission was deeply involved in the evaluation of non-traditional institutions, the emergence of assessment of educational effectiveness as a critical component of the evaluation process, and an emphasis on both access and excellence in higher education. The Commission increased the involvement of all member institutions in the self-study, evaluation and accreditation process and expanded the number of women and minorities in its Consultant-Evaluator Corps.
When she retired on January 1, 1997, after 24 years of service, Thrash was named Executive Director Emeritus of the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education and recognized as an honorary member of the North Central Association. Vincennes University in Indiana, Drake University in Iowa and Adrian College in Michigan awarded her honorary degrees in 1997 and 1998. She is listed in Who’s Who in America.
All the while, Thrash continued to support Delta State University, crediting her undergraduate experience as a major force in her personal and professional development. She was named an outstanding alumnus in 1970, commencement speaker in 1991 and gave the Academic Honors Day address in 2002. She served as a member of the Delta State University Foundation Board of Directors from 2001-03. In 1997, she endowed the Weaver Betts Cotton Scholarship in memory of her mother. The scholarship is awarded annually to an outstanding junior or senior woman majoring in English.
Delta State is expected to graduate over 500 students, as part of its 80th commencement exercise.
Every graduate will be issued six tickets for family and friends, and tickets are required for entry. Any audience overflow will be accommodated in the Jacobs Conference Center in Ewing Hall on campus, where family and friends will be able to view the ceremony on a projection screen.
For more information, please contact University Relations at (662) 846-4675.