University News

Three Honorary Degree Recipients for 2021 Commencement

May 5, 2021

At the college’s 180th Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 22, 2021, Denison University will award honorary degrees, Doctor of Science, honoris causa, to three key partners from The Ohio State University who have provided critical expertise and support in helping Denison—and the state of Ohio—navigate COVID-19 successfully: Dr. Peter Mohler, Dr. Alison Norris, and Dr. Abigail Norris Turner.

“Denison, the State of Ohio and the wider world owe a huge debt of gratitude to Dr. Mohler, Dr. Norris, and Dr. Norris Turner,” says Denison President Adam Weinberg. “Locally, they helped Denison navigate through enormous challenges this year to successfully manage COVID on our campus. They also demonstrated the importance and power of higher education, producing crucial research that is helping society understand and address a global pandemic. We are very proud to now call them Denisonians.”

These honors will be bestowed in addition to the honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, Denison will award to The Very Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas ’79, author and nationally recognized theologian. Douglas will serve as the virtual keynote speaker at the ceremony.

More about Dr. Peter Mohler, Dr. Alison Norris, and Dr. Abigail Turner Norris.

Peter Mohler, Ph.D.

Interim Vice President of Research, The Ohio State University
Chief Scientific Officer, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
Vice Dean for Research, The Ohio State University College of Medicine
Director, Dorothy M. Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute

Peter Mohler, Ph.D., has been with The Ohio State University since 2011 and serves as the interim vice president for research at The Ohio State University, chief scientific officer of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, vice dean for research in the Ohio State College of Medicine, and director of the Dorothy M. Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute.

While leading medical research at The Ohio State University, Dr. Mohler worked with teams of creative Ohio State faculty, staff, trainees, and partners, including Battelle and the State of Ohio, to address and solve a broad range of issues during the pandemic. These included the creation of COVID-19 testing solutions, therapeutic trials, and new diagnostic platforms for the benefit of the citizens of Ohio. While directing all COVID-19 research operations, including approximately 150 different COVID-related research projects, Dr. Mohler and Ohio State teams helped drive discoveries and solutions to COVID problems in real-time. This included the rapid set-up of a massive testing operation that served not only Denison, but the state department of health and county health departments across the State of Ohio. Dr. Mohler and colleagues have also worked with partners across the country and world to introduce these diagnostic and therapeutic innovations more widely.

Dr. Mohler and his Ohio State colleagues have also been diligent in reaching out to smaller, lower-resourced hospitals and organizations across Ohio, working to address and help solve testing-access disparities within underserved communities. They have also provided testing help and resources to Detroit, Chicago, New York City and Ethiopia.

With the help of Dr. Mohler and his colleagues, Denison University had access this past year to the most current COVID-19 research and developments. He helped design Denison’s testing protocol, and by connecting Denison to Ohio State’s testing operation, ensured that Denison always had access to high-quality tests and fast results.

Abigail Norris Turner, Ph.D.

Professor, The Ohio State University
College of Medicine and College of Public Health

Dr. Abigail Norris Turner, an infectious disease epidemiologist at The Ohio State University College of Medicine and College of Public Health, has spent nearly 20 years characterizing the behavioral, clinical, and immunological factors associated with the acquisition of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Her work, carried out in partnership with government and community collaborators, has explored the health concerns of multiple vulnerable populations in a range of settings in the United States and internationally. She has published more than 100 papers, and her research programs and initiatives at The Ohio State University have been awarded extensive funding support from federal research agencies.

With the onset of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, Dr. Norris Turner pivoted to focus her research on the epidemiology of COVID-19, to develop better understanding about virus prevalence, transmission, and risk. In collaboration with and in service to the Ohio Department of Health, Dr. Norris Turner led an influential statewide study measuring COVID-19 prevalence in Ohio. Her current public health research is designed to expand COVID-19 testing and vaccination among vulnerable populations across the state, and is also examining the effects of pandemic-related interruptions to critical healthcare. Dr. Norris Turner is also collaborating with colleagues across The Ohio State University to analyze student testing data in order to learn more about the factors contributing to increased risk for COVID-19 in university students.

In addition to robust COVID-19 research on the epidemiology and public health impacts of the virus, throughout this year of service, Dr. Norris Turner has also devoted hundreds of hours to COVID-19 public education. She has advised organizations, agencies, and public officials on COVID-19 management strategies. She has delivered more than a dozen seminars on the epidemiology of COVID-19 in Ohio, across the U.S., and worldwide.

In applying her extraordinary expertise and agility as an epidemiologist, Dr. Norris Turner has exemplified research in action and the study of public health as public service. Denison has been deeply fortunate to benefit from Dr. Norris Turner’s guidance and support in all aspects of COVID management, from data tracking and analysis, to health guidelines and containment strategies, to vaccine education.

Alison Norris, M.D., Ph.D.

Associate Professor, The Ohio State University
College of Medicine and College of Public Health

An associate professor of epidemiology at The Ohio State University College of Public Health and College of Medicine, Dr. Alison Norris uses multidisciplinary methods to conduct research at the intersection of public health and medicine to understand how social factors, public policy, and decision-making influence health events and outcomes. Her research has traversed HIV/AIDS among migrant workers in Tanzania, the reproductive health needs of rural Malawians in southeastern Africa, and the impact of Ohio law and policy on women’s health.

In all these spheres, Dr. Norris’s research and insights have helped shape public health decisions and interventions. Partnering with an interdisciplinary team of scientists and health practitioners at Ohio State and in Malawi, Dr. Norris founded the Umoyo wa Thanzi (UTHA) program (Health for Life) in Malawi, which aims to understand factors associated with diminished health among individuals living in this region. Supported by awards from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Ohio State, the program develops clinical and community-based strategies to respond to health needs.

In the spring of 2020, at the outset of the pandemic, Dr. Norris pivoted to focus her research and to deploy her public health and medical expertise on COVID-19. Dr. Norris served as co-investigator on the statewide prevalence study for the Ohio Department of Health, mobilizing and overseeing teams of field researchers gathering data across the state.

Dr. Norris has focused extensively on the development of COVID-19 management protocols, applying the multidisciplinary tools that have been the hallmark of her research for many years. On top of her research and service to statewide COVID-19 epidemiology work, Dr. Norris helped lead the development of COVID-management protocols for Ohio State, and Ohio public schools, and was instrumental in the development of Denison’s case investigation, contact tracing, data analysis, and containment strategies.

Denison is deeply grateful to Dr. Norris for her partnership and support, and for the notable wisdom she has brought to this work, born from her longstanding interest in how policies and culture shape behavior and health decisions. In applying her extraordinary expertise and agility as an epidemiologist to COVID-19, Dr. Norris has exemplified research in action and the study of public health as public service.

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