McGill has made public its choices for this fall’s Honorary Doctorates. Each will be awarded during Fall 2023 Convocation ceremonies on November 20.
During the morning event, the University will present MiMi Aung with the Doctor of Science, honoris causa. During the afternoon Convocation ceremony, the University will confer on artist and McGill graduate Robert Houle the honour of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
Honorary doctorates are McGill University’s highest honours. Recipients are people who have shown exceptional dedication to improving the lives of others, whether through research, art, public service, or philanthropy.
MiMi Aung is a pioneering space engineer. While working for the NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Aung led the creation and flight of the first aircraft to achieve powered, controlled flight on another planet. On April 19, 2021, “Ingenuity” took off in the thin Martian atmosphere and stayed aloft for 39 seconds. In comparison, the first Wright brothers flight lasted 12 seconds within Earth’s known atmosphere. In the last couple of years, “Ingenuity” has flown over 60 successful missions.
Before leaving the JPL, Aung also worked on the Psyche asteroid mission. Its goal is a rendez-vous between a spacecraft and an asteroid, six years from now. Psyche’s closest point to Earth’s orbit will be some 150 million miles away.
In July 2021, Aung closed her 30 years at JPL and became director of technical program management for Amazon’s Project Kuiper. The initiative seeks to increase broadband internet access through an array of satellites in low Earth orbit.
“Ms. Aung’s work reminds us of the combined power of science and imagination,” said Principal and Vice-Chancellor Deep Saini. “Through her intelligence, hard work, and daring curiosity, she has carved her own unique path and has achieved the incredible.”
Houle is a residential school survivor who found his way beyond trauma through painting and drawing. Over the last 50 years, he has become a leading figure of contemporary Canadian art. He has also been a tireless advocate for the recognition of Indigenous artists and Indigenous leadership within academic and cultural institutions.
Houle was the first Indigenous curator of contemporary Indigenous art at the Canadian Museum of Civilization (now the Canadian Museum of History). He was also the first professor of Indigenous Studies at the Ontario College of Art and Design. He is the recipient of many honours and awards, including the Janet Braide Memorial Award for Excellence in Canadian Art History, which he won twice.
“Robert Houle is a role model of great creative talent and courage. He changed the landscape for Indigenous artists, advocating for recognition, equity, and conditions in which they could represent themselves and their cultures and flourish. His impact is truly inspiring,” said Saini.
“We are grateful and humbled that he and MiMi Aung will join our McGill community through the conferral of their honorary degrees, our University’s highest honour.”