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Ulster University is recognising the talents and outstanding contributions of seven key figures in politics, journalism, entertainment, the arts, and community work as it bestows a series of Honorary Doctorates this summer.

This year’s honourees include former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, County Down born comedian and broadcaster Patrick Kielty, Glamour’s Global Editorial Director for the Americas Samantha Barry and renowned artist, author, and activist Oliver Jeffers, who is honoured during a year of celebrations marking 175 years of the Belfast School of Art at Ulster University.

Serving from 1990-1997, Mary Robinson was the first female President of Ireland and is a passionate advocate for climate action and gender equality, recognised by Ulster University for her international impact on sustainability, climate change and social responsibility. Currently Chair of The Elders, a body of independent global leaders working together for peace, justice, human rights and a sustainable planet, Mary also served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997-2002.

A familiar face to many, Patrick Kielty will visit Ulster University to receive his honorary doctorate this summer while at the height of his career, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the arts. In 2023, the award-winning stand-up comic took on the biggest job in Irish television as the host of RTÉ chat show, The Late Late Show, and also released his first feature film, Ballywalter.

Born in Dundrum, Co. Down, Patrick’s BAFTA nominated My Dad, The Peace Deal and Me saw him named UK Documentary Host of the Year at the 2018 Grierson Awards while his film Patrick Kielty:100 Years of the Union also earned him an RTS Award for best presenter.

As we mark 175 years of the Belfast School of Art at Ulster University, the outstanding contribution to literature and the arts made by Oliver Jeffers, an artist, author, and activist who grew up in Belfast and is an internationally recognised painter, sculptor, and speaker is also recognised. Primarily known for his picture books for children, some of which have sat atop the New York Times Bestsellers List, Jeffers’ work, with its simple and accessible beauty, encourages people everywhere and of every age to reconsider how they see a world that is radically changing and their own role in shaping it for future generations. Oliver has been the recipient of both a BAFTA and an EMMY for Studio AKA’s adaptations of his picture books, Lost and Found, and Here We Are respectively, and was most recently awarded an MBE for Services to the Arts.

Receiving news of his Honorary Doctorate, Oliver Jeffers commented:

“I am proud to be returning to the Belfast School of Art this summer to receive an Honorary Doctorate from Ulster University. 2024 is a momentous year as we celebrate 175 years of the Belfast School of Art, a facility that is intrinsic to the city’s artistic and cultural heritage and where I spent several happy years studying Design for Visual Communication. Now dividing my time between Belfast and New York, this award strengthens my connection with the place where I grew up and I am grateful to Ulster University for the honour. However, I do hope I’m never on a flight when they ask if there’s a doctor on board!"

Also now based in New York, Samantha Barry is Glamour’s Global Editorial Director for the Americas, overseeing content development and consumer experiences across the title’s digital, social, and video verticals. During her tenure, Barry has transformed the annual Women of the Year Awards into an inspirational celebration, championing Glamour’s diverse community of women and leading the publication to record-breaking monthly audiences.

Originally from County Cork, Barry served as Global Head of Social Media at CNN, spearheading the organisation’s 2016 election coverage across social platforms, which received the first ever Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in social media. She is celebrated by Ulster University this summer for her achievements in journalism and using her platform to empower women and girls.

Samantha Barry said:

“I am delighted to have been recognised by Ulster University for my work and so excited to be visiting this summer to join the occasion with thousands of graduates as they celebrate after years of hard work and prepare to embark on their careers. I am pleased to have enjoyed a close relationship with the University, most recently hosting an online seminar with the 25@25 Leadership group as part of the events marking 25 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and I hope to continue supporting the next generation of amazing talent that I know will come from the island of Ireland.”

Also from the world of journalism is Honorary Graduate Eamonn Mallie who is recognised for his significant contribution to journalism and broadcasting. Having reported for Radio Ulster, Downtown Radio and later his own company Eamonn Mallie News Services, Eamonn has interviewed countless world leaders including President Bill Clinton, Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, President Nelson Mandela, Princess Diana and architects of the Northern Ireland peace process John Hume and David Trimble. Now hosting his own annual TV show for UTV, Eamonn has co-authored nine books covering politics, art, and poetry.

Recognised for her outstanding contribution to promoting shared education and empowering women from disadvantaged and deprived areas of Northern Ireland, Betty Carlisle MBE has spent 37 years dedicated to improving the lives of women and their families in north and west Belfast, with 23 of those served as CEO of Shankill Women’s Centre. She has fought tirelessly to achieve the vision of a purpose-built Shared Women’s Centre for the north and west of the city, which will open in June 2024. Betty was recently appointed Chair of the Greater Shankill Partnership and has established professional working relationships with local politicians, government departments and other community organisations. In April 2024, Betty won the prestigious Community Relations Council Exceptional Achievement Award for services to Good Relations.

Another Honorary Graduate celebrated for her outstanding contribution to the local community is Sister Nuala Kelly, who was instrumental to the transformation of St. Louise’s College on the Falls Road Belfast, delivering on her commitment to enable families who had not experienced the opportunities of education to reach their full potential. After leaving formal teaching, Sister Nuala has dedicated her time to supporting homeless charities in Ireland and the United Kingdom and champions the power of gospel values in caring for marginalised communities. At Ulster University this summer, Sr Nuala will be recognised for her outstanding commitment in serving the community and its most vulnerable members regardless of their situation, history, or religious beliefs.

Congratulating this year’s cohort of Honorary Graduates, Ulster University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Bartholomew said:

“Graduation is a special time of year as we celebrate our outstanding graduates as they come together with friends and family to mark their wonderful achievements. We are committed to nurturing the next generation of leaders who will go on to make a genuine difference in their communities and respective professions in the years that follow their time at Ulster University. With that future in mind, it is a joy to celebrate the work of those inspirational and acclaimed local faces already making a global impact and we are thrilled to bestow these Honorary Doctorates. These individuals are leaders in their fields and demonstrate great talent, creativity, and integrity. We hope they will be an inspiration to the whole Ulster University community.” 

The honorary doctorates will be conferred during summer graduations which take place from Monday 1 to Tuesday 9 July across Belfast, Coleraine and Derry~Londonderry.