Topeka Kansas University today announced that Nobel Prize-winning economist Vernon Smith and celebrated opera singer Joyce DiDonato will be awarded honorary degrees at the school's 2014 spring commencement.
"Both of our honorees have contributed to our society, whether by taking us on emotional journeys through song or by advancing our understanding of economic decision making," said KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.
"They are role models for our students, and exemplify the mission of our university and its dedication to serving Kansans and the world," she said.
DiDonato, one of the most acclaimed mezzo-sopranos in the world, will receive a Doctor of Arts for notable contributions to opera. She grew up in Prairie Village and studied vocal education at Wichita State University before training in Philadelphia.
Smith, who shared the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his work in studying microeconomic systems, will receive a Doctor of Science degree for notable contributions to experimental economics. Smith grew up in Wichita and earned a master's degree in economics from KU in 1954 before completing a doctorate at Harvard.
He has credited his success, in part, to having Asperger's syndrome, which he said allows him to look at economic problems differently.
Gray-Little announced the honorary degrees at the Kansas Board of Regents monthly meeting.
In other business, the regents:
— Gave the green light for the KU Endowment Association to be the contracting authority for the proposed $65.7 million business school. A groundbreaking for the six-story facility will be held Friday.
— Authorized the KU Endowment Association to go forward with $3.3 million worth of renovations at the KU Spencer Museum of Art.
— Received an update from Gray-Little on KU's Bold Aspirations strategic plan. One of the goals of the plan was to increase academic performance and diversity. The freshmen class this year has the highest average ACT score in school history at 25.3 and more than one-fifth, 21.8 percent, of class members are minority students.
"This is the most talented and most diverse class in the university's history," Gray-Little said.
After the presentation, Regents Chairman Fred Logan of Leawood praised Gray-Little and her leadership team. "It's just nothing less than outstanding," he said.