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Maxwell Alums to Receive Honorary Degrees at 2022 Commencement

April 29, 2022

SU News

An innovative leader in health care and philanthropist, and an outstanding public administrator and a champion of democracy are among those who will be awarded honorary degrees by Syracuse University during Commencement exercises Sunday, May 15, at the stadium.

Howard “Howie” Phanstiel ’70 B.A. (PSc)/’71 M.P.A., past chairman and CEO of PacifiCare Health Systems and a Syracuse University Life Trustee, and Gloria Somolekae ’94 Ph.D. (PA), senior research fellow and head of the governance unit for the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis, will be recognized during Commencement exercises for their distinguished accomplishments in their professional careers and in service to others.

Nina V. Fedoroff ’66, a molecular biologist who has contributed to the development of modern techniques used to study and modify plants and an Emeritus Evan Pugh Professor of the Pennsylvania State University, and Thomas Magnanti ’67, former dean of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) School of Engineering and Institute Professor and professor of operations research at the MIT Sloan School of Management will also receive honorary degrees.

Howard “Howie” Phanstiel ’70, G’71
Doctor of Humane Letters

Howard Phanstiel

Phanstiel has held leadership roles in the public and private sectors, in the areas of health care, banking and finance, transforming organizations and programs, always focused on progress and the public good. Phanstiel earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University and a master of public administration from the Maxwell School. He is past chairman and CEO of PacifiCare Health Systems, one of the nation’s leading consumer health companies that eventually merged with UnitedHealth Group.

Earlier in his career, as a state financial executive in Wisconsin and Illinois, he supported efforts to expand homestead property tax relief for seniors and to provide home financing assistance to low- and middle-income consumers. He also provided leadership to overhaul the states’ financing systems. At the federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Phanstiel provided executive leadership in the formation of the administrative infrastructure for a new federal agency, the Health Care Financing Administration, now known as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Phanstiel joined PacifiCare Health Systems as executive vice president and chief financial officer in July 2000. In late 2000, he was named to PacifiCare’s board of directors, and was appointed president and chief executive officer. In February 2004, PacifiCare’s board of directors elected Phanstiel chairman and CEO. In December 2005, he led PacifiCare in its merger with UnitedHealth Group prior to retiring in April 2007. In recognition of the company’s efforts to become a leader in corporate governance Phanstiel received the Director of the Year Award from the Forum for Corporate Directors.

During his tenure at PacifiCare the company transformed into a leading consumer health organization by providing consumers more choice and enhanced information regarding physician and hospital cost and quality. He also refocused the company’s brand to produce a consumer health enterprise to serve the unique health care needs of widely diverse communities. Under Phanstiel’s leadership the company also established several diversity initiatives regarding recruitment and development of colleagues of widely diverse backgrounds. As a result of these efforts, Phanstiel and PacifiCare have been honored by such groups as the National Committee for Employer Support of the U.S. National Guard and Reserve, Seven Seals Award for Patriotic Employers, FORTUNE Magazine’s “50 Top Employers for Minorities,” the Orange County Black Chamber of Commerce, LatinaSTYLE’s “50 Best Companies for Latinas,” Hispanic magazine’s “Corporate 100/Best Places for Hispanics” and Asian Enterprise magazine’s “Best Companies to Work for Asian Americans.”

A staunch supporter of Syracuse University, along with his wife, Louise, a Board of Trustees member, Phanstiel has served the University and its students through his leadership roles on University committees, and as co-chair of the University’s second major Capital Campaign, which raised over a billion dollars. He has served as a mentor to students, including financial support to more than 80 Phanstiel Scholars through an innovative program designed to recognize students who engage in community service along with their academic pursuits. In support of faculty, the Howard G. and S. Louise Phanstiel Chair in Leadership was established by the couple. More recently, the Phanstiels provided support to the Forever Orange campaign for the student-athlete experience as part of an Athletics fundraising initiative—in tribute to the late Floyd Little ’67, H’16. His philanthropy also extends into a range of causes for the arts and health care, including a new emergency room medical center on Long Island’s East End.

Gloria Somolekae G’94
Doctor of Humane Letters


A barrier-breaking academic in her home country of Botswana and a dedicated public servant, Somolekae has been a leader in women’s rights, democracy and development in Botswana and throughout southern Africa. Somolekae, who earned a Ph.D. in public administration from the Maxwell School, was the first citizen of Botswana to earn a Ph.D. in public administration, and the first woman in the Department of Political and Administrative Studies at the University of Botswana—a trailblazer as one of only a small number of women in academics at the university at the time.

Somolekae earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration and political science from the University of Botswana and Swaziland in 1981. She then earned a master’s in public policy and administration at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague in 1983, before coming to Syracuse.

After her studies, Somolekae returned to Botswana where she became a senior lecturer at the University of Botswana. She then worked in various policy advisor and director roles for foundations in Botswana, including as a policy advisor on rural development for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, before entering government service. The president of Botswana appointed her first to a position in the 10th Parliament of Botswana, and then to the position of deputy minister of finance and economic development. It was another first for the nation—the first woman to serve in a senior position in the Ministry of Finance. She was tasked by the president to review the country’s rural development; the Somolekae Report led to major policy shifts in the country’s rural development programs.

Along with her public service, Somolekae has had a deep presence in leading civic engagement projects, helping to energize voters and engage more citizens in politics in Botswana. She co-founded and directed the “Democracy Project” in Botswana, which was organized to help preserve and strengthen democracy through education of the public on their rights and responsibilities in a democracy and monitor elections. She was a board member of the organization Emang Basadi, which successfully challenged a number of laws that discriminated against women, and helped conceptualize the organization’s effort to encourage women to get involved in politics.

Currently, she serves as senior research fellow and head of the Governance and Administration Unit in the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis. She is working to build capacity in governance, advocating for evidence-based policymaking.

In recognition of her public service and engagement with the citizenry, she was awarded the Presidential Order of Honour by His Excellency the President of the Republic of Botswana, the highest civilian honor in Botswana, in 2008; was named one of Botswana’s 50 Inspirational and Formidable Women by W.A.V.E. as part of Botswana’s independence celebrations in turning half a century in 2016; and was named by the All Africa Council of Churches, based in Kenya, as an Eminent Persons for Peace in Africa.

Please visit the SU News website to read the full story, "Syracuse University to Award 4 Honorary Degrees at 2022 Commencement."

Published in the Summer 2022 issue of the Maxwell Perspective

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