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Brenda Alston-Mills, Ph.D., ’66, will address students, families, faculty, and staff as the keynote speaker at Lycoming College’s 174th commencement on Saturday, May 14, 2 p.m., on the Fultz Quadrangle. In recognition of her distinguished, extensive and inspiring contributions to higher learning as a faculty member, student adviser, researcher, administrator and trustee, the College will award Alston-Mills with an honorary Doctor of Laws, L.L.D., during the ceremony.
Alston-Mills is an emerita trustee for Lycoming College and a biology professor emerita at North Carolina State University. As a respected alumna, she came to be known as an ambassador for Lycoming College Prep, a program that brings high-achieving, first-generation rising seniors from across the nation to the Lycoming campus for a hands-on introduction to the liberal arts, college life, and mentoring programs that help them pursue a post-secondary education.
Born in Philadelphia and educated in the public school system, Alston-Mills graduated from Philadelphia High School for Girls and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry at Lycoming College. She continued her education at Michigan State University receiving both a master’s degree and a doctoral degree in zoology with a major emphasis in physiology.
A strong interest in culture led Alston-Mills to attain a minor in French language and to study in Pau, France. She traveled to the Caribbean, Ghana, Brazil, Venezuela, Norway, England, Scotland, Italy, and Spain. Her travels and understanding of other cultures allowed her to be a strong mentor for students from all countries and backgrounds. Her knowledge of languages, coupled with her academic training, enabled her to pursue studies in the biology of mammary glands as it relates to breast cancer research, and to share her philosophy of teaching and her research nationally and internationally.
At the beginning of her career at Camden County College in New Jersey, Alston-Mills saw first-hand that many students seemed unable to absorb information in class. As she began to investigate, she found that it was not due to lack of intelligence, but rather lack of opportunity. “That put me on a path toward working with women and underrepresented groups in science. As I became more educated in the matter, the whole concept of equity and equal access to information emerged as the primary reason these lower-income students were having difficulty at the college level,” she said.
It was then that Alston-Mills began morphing into a social scientist, and the whole concept of social justice and equity quickly became a passion, leading her to Michigan State University, where she served as associate dean and director in the Office of Organization and Professional Development for Diversity and Pluralism. “To teach is to learn,” she said. “No matter the class, students always manage to say things that are ‘ah-ha’ moments for me.”
Alston-Mills was recognized by the College in 2001 with the Dr. James E. Douthat Outstanding Achievement Award for alumni. Lycoming College’s Black Student Union awarded her the Black Alumni Achievement Award in 2018 in special recognition of her achievements. In addition to her service as a Lycoming College Trustee, she served on the Alumni Association Executive Board from 1989-1995.
Dr. Rutul J. Dalal to receive Honorary Doctor of Sciences
Dr. Rutul J. Dalal, chair of Infection Prevention and Control, and program director of Infectious Diseases at UPMC North Central Region, will also receive an honorary degree at this year’s commencement ceremony.
Dalal joined the medical staff at UPMC North Central Region in 2013. He is on the medical staff faculty at the Family Medicine Residency Program and has chaired multiple task forces charged with preventing blood stream, catheter, surgical and other infections. In addition, Dalal spent two years as an associate professor of medicine at the Commonwealth Medical College. He is president-elect of the medical staff at UPMC Williamsport.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dalal has led UPMC’s efforts to diagnose, treat and prevent the deadly virus, working tirelessly to coordinate care and directly treat thousands of patients. Dalal also chaired the UPMC Covid-19 Containment Task Force and was the spokesperson for media outlets, schools, and local governments. As Lycoming College and other organizations in the region developed and executed COVID-19 plans, he provided invaluable expertise, advice, and counsel.
In recognition of his excellence as a physician and the extraordinary service rendered to the College and to the citizens of Northcentral Pennsylvania during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lycoming College will award Dalal an Honorary Doctor of Sciences.
Fayla Guerin to deliver Senior Greeting
Graduating senior Fayla Guerin, a corporate communication major with a minor in film and video arts from Baltimore, Md., will deliver a greeting from the senior class at the ceremony. She was selected for this honor by the Senior Class Officers, and the faculty and staff who serve on the Senior Greeting Selection Committee.
Guerin’s leadership on campus includes her serving as treasurer of Student Senate during her junior year, and as president during her senior year. She has been a strong voice and advocate for the student experience at Lycoming, helping various clubs and organizations navigate pandemic protocols while seeking to maintain student engagement in campus life. As a sister of Gamma Delta Sigma, Guerin served as vice president for her sorority, and worked for Admissions and a campus tour guide.