Singh, Camarenas to receive honorary degrees
Newman Professor Emeritus (Biology) Surendra Singh, Ph.D. and Gene and Yolanda Camarena were awarded Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa degrees at the Newman University Spring 2015 Commencement, May 16.
The university awards honorary degrees to notable and accomplished members of the extended Newman community whose life and work reflect exemplary dedication to one of the university’s four Core Values: Catholic Identity, Culture of Service, Academic Excellence, and Global Perspective.
Through his longtime service as teacher, mentor and program developer, Professor Emeritus Surendra Singh, Ph.D., exemplifies the Newman University Core Value of Academic Excellence.
Singh is known and revered throughout the Newman University and Wichita health care communities for his many accomplishments, service to Newman students, and important contributions to the academic, scientific and health care education development at Newman. Over a teaching career that spanned 45 years – all at Newman University – Singh worked with colleagues to establish a highly respected Department of Biology, and provided leadership in the development and implementation of 10 degree programs at Newman in science and allied health, including radiologic technology, respiratory care, health care administration, occupational therapy and sonography.
Singh started the pre-med program at Newman, which since 1969 has consistently placed 90 percent or more of Newman pre-med students who applied into medical schools. Over the past 10 years, the rate has averaged more than 96 percent. Newman graduates regularly place well, also, in applications to other health care graduate programs such as chemistry, optometry and physical therapy.
Singh also created the Investigative Summer Science Program, which brings high school students to Newman for two weeks each summer to explore careers in science and health care. Building on the success of the program, Singh created the Hispanic Scholars and Native American Scholars Programs, which give students in those populations experiences that encourage them to graduate from high school and pursue a college education, particularly in the sciences. In order to implement these programs, Singh has received grants from over a dozen local, regional, and national foundations, totaling well over $500,000.
Singh is known for his passion for helping students succeed, and his warmth, kindness and generosity of spirit. He has published internationally on scientific- and education-related topics, and won many honors, including the Cardinal Newman Medal, the Cardinal Newman Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Outstanding Education award from the American Association for Higher Education. In 2013, the Wichita Business Journal named Singh a “Health Care Hero” in the Lifetime Achievement category.
Singh retired from full-time teaching in 2014, and was named Professor Emeritus (Biology). Through his work in preparing students for successful and meaningful careers over the past four and a half decades, Singh has fulfilled the Newman mission of empowering graduates to transform society.
Gene and Yolanda Camarena exemplify the Newman University Core Value of Culture of Service through their work to support educational opportunities for Hispanic students. The Camarenas have actively supported educational opportunities for Hispanic youth for many years. Having benefited from scholarships they received in their youth, they have worked to ensure that future generations of Hispanic students receive similar opportunities.
They established the Adelante (Spanish for “moving forward”) Scholarship at Butler Community College in 2010 to help Hispanic students earn an associate’s degree. In 2011, the Camarenas extended the Adelante Scholarship to Butler Community College students who transfer to Newman University to complete a four-year degree. The Camarenas have also established the Camarena Adelante Foundation, which supports Hispanic scholarship programs nationwide.
Gene Camarena is on the Board of Directors for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, the largest philanthropic organization in the country for providing scholarships to Hispanic college and graduate students. Gene currently serves on the Board of Advisors for the University of Kansas Entrepreneurship Program and is a regular supporter of Hispanic youth education programs and organizations in the Wichita area. He also serves on the Holy Savior Catholic Church Development Committee, and teaches a class on Business Basics at Holy Savior Catholic Academy. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Business Administration from the University of Kansas, and a Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard Business School. His business holdings include Pizza Hut restaurants and Marriott Hotels and rank in the top 150 largest Hispanic owned businesses in the United States.
Yolanda Camarena has built a solid career in higher education administration. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from Wichita State University. From 1979 to 1983, she served as Director of Admissions for Newman University, and from 1998 to 2007 she served on the Newman Board of Trustees. In 1983, Yolanda was named Associate Director of the Master in Public Policy Program at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. While at the Kennedy School she completed work on a master’s degree in Public Administration, and helped found the Journal of Hispanic Policy, a respected resource for Hispanic policy research.
Yolanda has also been an active community volunteer. She has served on several education-related boards, and directed the Future Latino Leaders of Wichita program for Hispanic youth. She is one of the founders of the Hispanic Scholars program at Newman University, and is currently president of the Board of Directors for the Kansas Hispanic Education & Development Foundation. She also serves on the Butler Community College Foundation Board of Trustees, the Grants Committee of the Wichita Community Foundation, and is the chair of the Schools and Scholarship Committee at Harvard University.