Two strong supporters of higher education will be honored when nearly 2,200 graduates receive their diplomas during Northern Arizona University’s fall 2009 commencement exercises.

Robert Millis

Robert Millis

Robert L. Millis, director emeritus of Lowell Observatory, and James C. Ramos, chairman of the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians, will be awarded honorary degrees of humane letters at ceremonies scheduled for Friday, Dec. 11, in the Skydome.

Millis will speak at the 10 a.m. ceremony for the colleges of Arts and Letters; Business; Engineering, Forestry and Natural Sciences; and Social and Behavioral Sciences. Ramos will speak at 3 p.m. before the colleges of Education and Health and Human Services.

Astronomer Millis was a member of the Lowell Observatory staff from 1965 and director of the institution from 1989 until his retirement earlier this year. During his directorship, Lowell Observatory substantially increased its staff and built major new facilities including the Steele Visitor Center, the John M. Wolff instrument facility and the 4.2-meter Discovery Channel Telescope now approaching completion near Happy Jack.

Millis’ research has concerned primarily the smaller bodies of the solar system: asteroids, comets, planetary satellites and Kuiper Belt objects. In 1977, he and James Elliot discovered the rings of Uranus; in 1986 Millis and David Schleicher discovered periodic variation in the activity of Comet Halley. In 1988, Millis joined forces with Elliot and other colleagues to prove the existence of an extended atmosphere on Pluto.

James Ramos

James Ramos

He is past chairman of the Division for Planetary Sciences (the world’s largest organization of planetary astronomers) and has served on a variety of NASA and National Science Foundation advisory and oversight boards, panels and committees. He is a member of the board of Science Foundation Arizona and has previously served on the boards of United Way of Northern Arizona, the Arizona Arts, Sciences and Technology Academy, and Flagstaff Forty. He became executive director of Flagstaff Forty in July.

Elected chairman for the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians in 2008, Ramos has a deep commitment to the preservation of California Indian culture. He is co-founder of the cultural awareness program at San Manuel and serves as director of the California Indian Cultural Awareness Conference held annually at Cal State San Bernardino. Recognizing this commitment, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him to the California State Native American Heritage Commission in January 2008 for which he is currently chairman.

A successful entrepreneur, Ramos is a proven civic leader in the San Bernardino community and has served on the boards of a number of groups and organizations promoting business, economic and social opportunities, including the San Bernardino County Museum Association, Home of Neighborly Services and the KVCR Foundation for Education.

Ramos continues to work with the tribe’s agenda of community involvement by reaching out to the surrounding communities and local governments to work collaboratively on issues that improve the quality of life for all citizens. Ramos spearheaded the donation of $2 million for NAU’s Native American Cultural Center.