Students studying outside the library

Alumna Dr. Paige West to be Wofford Commencement speaker

Three honorary degrees to be presented during May 15 event

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Dr. Paige West, Wofford Class of 1991, will speak at Commencement on Sunday, May 15.

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Dr. Paige West, a 1991 Wofford College graduate and now professor of anthropology at Columbia University and chair of the Department of Anthropology at Barnard College, will be the featured speaker at the college’s 2016 Commencement Exercises. The program will be at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, May 15, on the lawn of Main Building.

During the event, some 390 graduates will receive their degrees, and honorary degrees will be awarded to M. Stewart Mungo, a 1974 Wofford graduate and a South Carolina construction and real estate developer; Esther Dyson, founder of the “Way to Wellville” movement; and Dr. John Pilley, professor emeritus of psychology at Wofford and owner and trainer of Chaser, the “smartest dog in the world.”

“Dr. Paige West’s outstanding work in the area of social, cultural and environmental anthropology has placed her at the top of her field nationally and internationally, making us extremely proud that she is an alumna of Wofford College,” President Nayef H. Samhat says. “She is a shining example of what one can accomplish with the excellent foundation of a Wofford education. We are pleased to have her come to campus to share her experiences with our students.”

West joined the faculty at Barnard College and Columbia University in 2001, the year after earning her Ph.D. in cultural and environmental anthropology at Rutgers University.

Her broad scholarly interest is the relationship between societies and their environments. More specifically, she has written about the linkages between environmental conservation and international development, the material and symbolic ways in which the natural world is understood and produced, the aesthetics and poetics of human social relations with nature, and the creation of commodities and practices of consumption.

Since the mid-1990s West has worked with indigenous people in Papua New Guinea. She is the author of three books and the editor of five more. She also has published many scholarly papers.

In 2002, West received the American Anthropological Association’s Anthropology and Environment Junior Scholar award for her work; in 2004, she received the American Association of University Women Junior Faculty Fellowship and the American Council of Learned Societies Faculty Fellowship; in 2006, she received the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Fellowship; and in 2007, she was named a fellow by the Association of Social Anthropology in Oceania. In 2008, she founded the journal Environment and Society: Advances in Research, which is published by Berghahn Books; she also serves as editor. In 2012, she became the chair of the Ecology and Culture University Seminar at Columbia. Recently, she has served as the chair of the Association of Social Anthropology in Oceania and is the past president of the Anthropology and Environment Society of the American Anthropological Association.

In 2013, West delivered the Leonard Hastings Schoff Memorial Lectures at Columbia University. Last year, she became the co-director of the Pacific Climate Circuits project at the Center for the Study of Social Difference at Columbia University. This year, she was named a Distinguished Scholar by the National Social Environmental Synthesis Center and an adviser to the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) Science for Nature and People Initiative (SNaP).

In addition to her academic work, West is the co-founder and a board member of the PNG Institute of Biological Research, a small NGO dedicated to building academic opportunities for research in Papua New Guinea by Papua New Guineans. She also is the co-founder of the Roviana Solwara Skul, a school in Papua New Guinea dedicated to teaching at the nexus of indigenous knowledge and western scientific knowledge.



Mungo 135wideM. Stewart Mungo, a native of Columbia, S.C., earned a bachelor of arts degree in government from Wofford in 1974, then joined the family business begun by his father, a burgeoning home construction and real estate development firm now known as Mungo Homes.

Working alongside his father and later his brother, Steven Mungo, a 1981 Wofford graduate, they built Mungo Homes into a recognized national leader in the home construction and land management business. The company has developed more than 25,000 home sites and was the first developer in the area to include rolled curbs, garages and neighborhood amenities as a standard.

Mungo was the youngest person ever inducted into the South Carolina Housing Hall of Fame, entering in 2000, and Mungo Homes frequently is recognized for its innovative neighborhood development. In 2012, Builder magazine selected the Mungo firm as “America’s Best Builder,” and the Columbia region’s Home Builders Association gave Mungo its Gordon Harrison Award, which is based on the highest of ethical standards.

Mungo and his family have been highly engaged and generous philanthropists at Wofford and around the state and region. For more than 40 years, no significant Wofford fundraising effort has taken place without generous leadership and support from Mungo and his family. At Wofford in the early 1990s during the effort to attract the Carolina Panthers to make Wofford their home for preseason training camp, Mungo stepped forward with a gift to fund the space in the new football stadium that would become the President’s Box for entertaining college guests at Gibbs Stadium. He and his family have provided significant support for scholarships and in recent years have funded space to house the college’s area for career guidance, entrepreneurial leadership and professional development, The Space in the Mungo Center, on the campus.

Mungo joined the Wofford Board of Trustees in 2001, concluding his term in 2013. In that time, he offered invaluable leadership in the areas of facilities planning and management, chairing the board’s Committee on Facilities.

Mungo and his wife, Deloris, are recognized leaders in environmental stewardship, are huge champions for animals and their safety, and are longtime leaders of the Harvest Hope Food Bank in the Columbia area. They are the parents of two grown children, Matt and Mary, both Wofford graduates.


Dyson 135wideEsther Dyson has been named by Forbes magazine as one of the most powerful women in American business, and she is equally highly regarded in the worlds of technology and philanthropy. Born in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1951, Dyson is the daughter of prominent mathematician Verena Huber-Dyson and physicist/futurist writer Freeman Dyson. Her father worked at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, where Dyson grew up – accustomed to having Nobel laureates at the dinner table.

She entered Harvard University at age 16, graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in economics in 1972. In her early career, she wrote for Forbes and was a Wall Street securities analyst specializing in electronics and technology. In 1980, she founded EDventure Holdings, a pioneering information technology and new media company. Shortly thereafter, she took over an electronics industry newsletter and renamed it Release 1.0, which eventually became an industry leader in discussing topics around the then-evolving Internet. By the late 1980s, Dyson became an active investor in Eastern European technology ventures, became co-chair of the National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council, and head of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. In the latter role, she has helped mediate and inform public policy regarding privacy, encryption, trust and the assignment of Internet domain names.

In 2013, Dyson, already a legend in the world of information technology, founded an organization known as HICCup, an initiative devoted to the improvement of health and quality of life within select communities of 100,000 people or fewer across the United States. HICCup launched a competition called “The Way to Wellville” in order to work in collaboration with local institutions within five communities each year to identify five health metrics and to work to improve statistics strategically and collectively over a five-year period. In 2014, Spartanburg was chosen as one of the communities to participate in this important initiative. Spartanburg’s metrics include: obesity prevention, care for the uninsured, health for the insured, kindergarten readiness and community pride. Wofford students are participating in this project in collaboration with other community partners.

Dyson’s work already is having a positive impact on Spartanburg, where she is a frequent visitor, as the “Way to Wellville” competition has put the community in the national spotlight for a number of investors.


Pilley 135wideAt the remarkable age of 87, Dr. John Pilley is still teaching and learning. Born in 1928 in Memphis, Tenn., Pilley earned the bachelor of arts degree from Abilene Christian University in 1950, the bachelor of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1955, the master of arts degree from Stetson University in 1964, and the master of science and Ph.D. degrees in psychology from Memphis State University in 1969.

Pilley’s career has included stints in Presbyterian ministry and school guidance before moving into college teaching while in graduate school in Memphis. He joined the faculty of Wofford College in 1969 in the Department of Psychology and enjoyed a career of 27 years here before retiring in 1996. As professor emeritus, Pilley has remained active in mentoring students, writing and research, and his most celebrated project – Chaser the border collie, known as the “smartest dog in the world” – has helped to propel Pilley – and Wofford College – to unprecedented levels of national and international visibility and fame.

Pilley was a popular Wofford professor who, among other things, helped students to understand and be introduced to the natural world and to the study of human behavior. An avid outdoors enthusiast, Pilley helped to found a student organization composed of lovers of the outdoors, and especially those with an affinity for whitewater kayaking. He famously has remained in close contact through the years – and decades – with former students and has performed their marriages, baptized their children, and filled the role of lifelong teaching mentor.

Among Pilley’s great interests was animal behavior, and how humans can engage with animals. He often was seen working with dogs – his personal pets, exercising and training them around the Wofford campus and involving students in his work. In 2011, already a decade-and-a-half into “retirement,” Pilley and Wofford psychology professor Dr. Alliston Reid published new research about the language abilities of Chaser. This article began a flood of attention on TV, the radio, magazines and newspapers as well as with the scientific community. In his research, Pilley was and still is quick to give significant credit to Wofford College as a unique place for a first-rate education and where one can attain outstanding and meaningful achievements in life.

The article about Pilley and Reid’s work with Chaser, demonstrating that she recognized and understood more than 1,000 words, led to numerous television appearances, including the “TODAY Show” and “60 Minutes” with Anderson Cooper. In 2011 alone, according to Google, “Chaser” and “Wofford College” were linked together in stories and blogs more than 80,000 times around the world in at least 46 languages. Articles and mentions in publications continue in 2016. In 2013, Pilley worked with author Hilary Hinzmann to publish a book, “Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words,” which became a New York Times bestseller. Hinzmann became a devotee of Pilley in the process of writing the book, a project that took more than a year. He writes: “I, too, have benefited from John’s mentoring. Our collaboration challenged and enabled me to grow as a writer-editor and person in a way that few other experiences in my life and career have done. In my opinion, John Pilley exemplifies the best of the academy and the best of humanity, and fully merits an honorary degree in recognition of a lifetime of service to science and students at Wofford College.”