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2024 Honorary Degree Recipients

The University of Utah is proud to announce the following honorary degree recipients during the 2024 University Commencement ceremony. 

Catherine “Cathie” Roper Meldrum

meldrum honorary degree recipientDoctor of Humane Letters

Catherine “Cathie” Roper Meldrum knows that making a difference in the world doesn’t happen in a day. “You do it over time and it adds up,” she said.

That philosophy has guided the Meldrum Foundation’s remarkable legacy of philanthropy that continues to benefit educational endeavors, the arts and cultural activities and humanitarian programs.

Meldrum, a Salt Lake City native, attended Olympus High School and then the U on a needs-based scholarship. Her mother was a teacher and, following in her footsteps, Meldrum received a degree in elementary education. What does she remember from those days? A campus that required lots of walking, something today’s students can relate to, and performing as a member of the “Utahans,” now the Utah Dance Team, at football and basketball games.

It was at the U that Meldrum met her husband, Peter. A favorite “date night” was watching a show at Pioneer Memorial Theatre, which would become a lifelong activity. She graduated in 1969 and, after Peter graduated in 1970, they married.

They spent time in Alabama and Pittsburgh while Peter served in the Army and then returned to Salt Lake City. Peter, who passed away in 2018, co-founded and served as CEO of Myriad Genetics, which developed the first commercial test for the breast cancer gene.

Meldrum worked for several years as a substitute teacher in Pittsburgh and as a third-grade school teacher in Utah before pausing her career to care for their son, Christopher. Once he reached school age, Meldrum spent nine years as a preschool teacher.

The couple established the Meldrum Foundation with the goal of supporting education, artistic and cultural activities and humanitarian programs.

Their gifts include an endowed professorship in the Department of Chemical Engineering, scholarships honoring their parents at the U and Westminster University, a scholarship for first-generation students, and the creation of the Meldrum Theatre and renovation of Meldrum House, where Pioneer Theatre Company’s visiting artists, directors and designers stay.

“We started with our parents and thought let’s keep doing this,” Meldrum said, adding that creating scholarships, particularly for first-gen students, “is very useful to a lot of people and makes us feel good. Once one person is going then someone else in the family wants to do that, too. Sometimes you build on the success of your family members.”

Meldrum serves on Westminster University’s Woman’s Board and has been an active member of the Philanthropic Educational Organization for 50 years and belongs to Chapter E in Utah. Meldrum’s advice to graduates? “Do what you love to do, then it doesn’t feel like working.”

Pamela J. Atkinson

Doctor of Humane Letters

Atkinson honorary degree recipient Pamela J. Atkinson grew up in extreme poverty in London and when she was 14, she decided there were two ways to leave poverty behind forever: marry a rich man or get a good education.

“I never did meet a rich man,” she said. So, education it was—which would eventually lead to Atkinson’s work on the kind of poverty she experienced as a child. “I’ve learned along the way, when you make plans, it just gives God a good chuckle.”

Atkinson’s efforts to help Utahns who are homeless, refugees or poor led one former governor to dub her the “Mother Teresa of Utah.” She has said simply that helping others was what she was meant to do.

Atkinson was the first in her family to graduate from high school. She went to a local nursing school and then, after working for some years, added a nursing degree from the University of California and a master’s degree from the University of Washington, where she studied sociology and business.

Atkinson’s devotion to community service began when she and two of her three children volunteered to serve Christmas dinner with the Salvation Army in Seattle.

She came to Utah to work for Intermountain Health Care as an assistant administrator for patient care, eventually rising to vice president for community initiatives. Once she retired, community service became Atkinson’s full-time avocation. “I retired from IHC, but I didn’t retire from life,” she said.

Atkinson has served as a special advisor to five Utah governors, including current Gov. Spencer Cox, who declared Feb. 24, 2023, as “Pamela Atkinson Day” in appreciation for her service.

“She treats everyone with the same amount of respect whether she’s in the halls of the legislature meeting with some of the most powerful people in our state or in the Rio Grande district with those who feel left behind, and who have stopped believing even in themselves,” Cox said in a Deseret News story about the event.

Atkinson was instrumental in founding the Lincoln Family Health Center, the Intermountain Neighborhood Clinic and the Rose Park Family Health Center. Today, two clinics and two housing centers, all focused on serving displaced and low-income Utahns, bear her name. The Pamela Atkinson Homeless Trust Fund, overseen by the state, collects donations distributed to organizations throughout Utah that serve individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

Atkinson is an elder in the Presbyterian Church and serves on numerous boards, including the State Homeless Coordinating Committee, Envision Utah, the Utah Coalition Against Pornography and the State Refugee Advisory Board. She previously served on the State Board of Regents, the State Board of Education and the Utah College of Applied Technology Board. She also continues to collaborate with nonprofit and governmental organizations that serve homeless people and families in Utah, refugees and low-income Utahns.

“The more you learn, the more you can do,” she said. “It’s doesn’t have to be a huge project. A pair of socks and a hat makes a difference.”

Steven G. Parker 

Parker honorary degree recipient Doctor of Engineering

Steven G. Parker has a long list of “firsts” and “bests” in the field of computer science, where he is celebrated as one of the most talented researchers in the world. Today, he is the vice president of professional graphics at NVIDIA, a semiconductor company that makes high-end graphics processors used in video games, editing, 3-D rendering and artificial intelligence and machine learning applications.

But when Parker was a child, few would have predicted the phenomenal success in his future.

Parker grew up in Oklahoma and did fine in elementary school; middle school was another matter. He excelled in mathematics, but after his teachers refused to let him work ahead in the subject, Parker’s interest in school ebbed. He started skipping school, instead teaching himself about electronics and computers. He never graduated from high school.

But his brilliance had flourished, cultivated by his passion for learning and for computer science. Parker took the ACT exam, received an outstanding score and was admitted to the University of Oklahoma, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, with a specific interest in computer graphics.

While visiting his grandparents in Salt Lake City, Parker became acquainted with the University of Utah’s pioneering work in computer graphics and decided to pursue a doctoral degree at the U. He quickly became the technical genius behind the creation of visualization algorithms used to create movies of huge flames and explosions by the Center for the Simulation of Accidental Fires and Explosions, a project funded by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Strategic Computing Initiative.

He was the first graduate student at the U to receive a prestigious Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship. In 1998, Parker received a Best Paper Award at the IEEE Visualization Conference, the most prestigious international research conference in scientific visualization. That same year, he was a finalist for the Computer World/Smithsonian Award, vying with the chief technology officer at Microsoft and other senior computer science researchers for the recognition.

After graduating in 1999, Parker joined the faculty, teaching and overseeing the computer visualization aspects of the C-SAFE project, which was the portion the Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs could use to enhance their own simulations.

He continued to receive major awards for his work, including the Honors Medal from Computer World (2003); another Best Paper Award (2006); and selection as one of the “People to Watch” by HPCWire, a high-performance computing magazine. At one time, he was concurrently managing 10 major research project grants.

In 2005, with backing from a Utah State Centers of Excellence Award, Parker created the Center for Interactive Ray-Tracing and Photo Realistic Visualization, which led to a start-up company called RayScale. NVIDIA Inc. acquired the company in 2008 and set-up a NVIDIA Research Center in Utah, with Parker as director.

In an address given in March 2023 at the 50th anniversary of the computer science department, Parker offered five pieces of advice for students: keep pushing the U to be a special place; chase both depth and breadth; embrace parallelism at multiple scales; build something ambitious—bigger than yourself; and recognize you stand on the shoulders of giants.

Although no longer on the U faculty, Parker maintained his affiliation with the U, serving on the Engineering National Advisory Council for six years and providing influential support where and when needed by the college. He and his wife MeriAnn have made major donations to support the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute and the John and Marcia Price Computing and Engineering Building.

“His dedication to pushing the boundaries of technology resonate with the university’s vision of making a positive impact on society through education and research and aligns with the university’s ethos of innovation,” said Rich Brown, engineering dean.

Last Updated: 4/13/24