Helen Engle and Thelma Gilmur Receive Honorary Degrees

May 2, 2011

TACOMA, Wash. – Helen Engle and Thelma Gilmur, co-founders of the Tahoma Audubon Society and two of the leading environmental advocates in the Pacific Northwest, will be awarded honorary Doctor of Science degrees by University of Puget Sound. The honors will be presented at the liberal arts college’s 2011 Commencement Ceremony in Baker Stadium on campus, Sunday, May 15. The ceremony is open to graduates’ families, the public, and the media, and will take place from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Tickets are not required.

The Commencement address will be given by Cecilia Muñoz, deputy assistant to President Obama and White House director of intergovernmental affairs (see link below). Muñoz will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Carlos Barajas ’11 will be the student Convocation speaker and Taylor Firman ’11 student Commencement speaker. Professor Mott Greene will give the faculty address at Convocation, with a talk titled “Not Just For Money.”

Helen Engle (pictured right) and Thelma Gilmur (left) will each receive the Doctor of Science, honoris causa, for their lifelong work devoted to the protection and enjoyment of wilderness areas and the promotion of urban green spaces. The two honorands are models of democratic citizenship, having made substantial contributions to the livability of our region, the health of our ecosystems, and the community involvement of our citizens, all of which were pursued with intellectual curiosity, active inquiry, and independent critical thinking.

The Tahoma Audubon Society, launched in 1969, has become one of the most influential and effective environmental groups in the South Sound over the past 40 years. It has been instrumental in securing designated wilderness areas, setting aside parks and open spaces, introducing policy advances, and promoting conservation education programs.

Helen Engle, raised in Oakville, Wash., graduated from Tacoma General Hospital School of Nursing. While raising a large family, she became founding president of Tahoma Audubon Society, and later served as president of the Washington Environment Council, a group that convenes environmental groups to prioritize environmental legislation and political strategy. Engle helped found Citizens for a Healthy Bay in Tacoma, and People for Puget Sound, which addresses issues of the Salish Sea. She has served for 30 years on the Wildlife Diversity Advisory Council with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Her experiences involved working with native tribes, farmers, business leaders, and legislators. Locally she was involved in efforts to address pollution concerns stemming from the ASARCO smelter.

Thelma Gilmur, who was raised on a farm in Alder, Wash., graduated from Pacific Lutheran University and passed on her love of nature as a Girl Scout leader and teacher at Lister Elementary School in Tacoma. She has been a champion of urban green spaces, helping to save Swan Creek from plans to turn it into a landfill site and leading the effort to create the China Lake Nature Area in honor of the historic Chinese encampments in the area. Gilmur helped preserve Tacoma’s Snake Lake, Adriana Hess Wetland Park in University Place, Morse Wildlife Preserve in Graham, and the pond and woods that now bear her name as Thelma Gilmur Park in Fircrest. She has been active in groups including the Tahoma Audubon Society, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, and Washington Environmental Council.

Cecilia Muñoz (pictured left), one of the highest-ranking Hispanic officials in the White House, oversees the relationships between the Obama administration and state, local, territorial, and tribal governments. The position involves her in policy debates around key issues such as health care and immigration reform. She is a nationally acclaimed advocate for civil rights who has spent more than two decades working on issues involving civil rights, education, health, and housing. For the news release on her Commencement address visit: https://www.pugetsound.edu/news-and-events/campus-news/details/848/

Carlos Barajas, from Federal Way, Wash., will graduate with majors in French and Spanish and a minor in mathematics. Barajas is involved in theater productions and chorale, and is a tireless volunteer who has tutored children and adults in Spanish and French, and served with Sea Mar Community Health Centers and Children’s Museum of Tacoma.

Taylor Firman, from Covington, Wash., will graduate with a physics and mathematics double major and a minor in French. Firman has served as a teaching assistant in physics and in leadership roles in the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, and has studied abroad in Dijon, France. An inside linebacker and 2010 captain for the football team, he was named to the All-Northwest Conference and Academic All-America second teams.

Professor Mott Greene is the John B. Magee Professor of Science and Values, Honors Program. He has been at Puget Sound since 1985, and is an affiliate faculty member at University of Washington, Seattle. His research and essays on the origins of modern science bring a fresh appraisal of what the evidence will yield about natural phenomena and modes of thought in the distant past. Greene is a MacArthur Fellow and was named Washington State Professor of the Year in 1996.

For more about the 119th Commencement Ceremony at University of Puget Sound visit: www.pugetsound.edu/commencement

For directions and a map of the campus: www.pugetsound.edu/directions.xml

Press-quality photos of Cecilia Muñoz, Helen Engle, and Thelma Gilmur can be downloaded from: www.pugetsound.edu/pressphotos

Photos on page:  Top right: Helen Engle, by Eric Becker; Above left: Thelma Gilmur, by Jordan Hartman. Nature shots: China Lake Nature Area and Ring-necked duck at China Lake, by Andrew Jacobson. Cecilia Muñoz, courtesy of her office.

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