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Eberly News Blog

16 May

Helen Holt, West Virginia’s first female secretary of state, to receive honorary degree

U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, D-New Jersey, will deliver the address at the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences’s doctoral and master’s degree commencement ceremony this Sunday.

The ceremony will double as a family affair as his mother Helen Holt, West Virginia’s first female secretary of state, will receive an honorary degree.

“Representative Holt has an outstanding set of accomplishments in science, innovation, government and leadership and has become a forceful and effective voice in support of education, health and social justice, alternative sources of energy and international arms of control,” Dean Robert H. Jones said.

Rep. Holt is a resident of Hopewell Township, N.J., and has represented central New Jersey in Congress since 1999. Born in Weston, W.Va., he inherited his interest in politics from his parents. In addition to his mother’s political career, his father Rush Holt Sr. was the youngest person ever elected to the U.S. Senate, at age 29.

Holt serves on the Committee on Natural Resources, where he serves as the ranking member on the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, and on the Committee on Education and the Workforce.

In 2011, Holt beat Watson, IBM’s computer system, in a simulated round of “Jeopardy!” at an event to promote innovation. He holds the distinction of being a five-time champion on the program.

From 1989 until he launched his 1998 congressional campaign, Holt was assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, the largest research facility at Princeton University and the largest center for alternative energy research in New Jersey.

Holt earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Carleton College in Minnesota, and earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in physics at New York University.

During her marriage to Rush Holt Sr., Helen Holt was his principal adviser. After his death in 1955, she was appointed to fill his unexpired term. She was appointed secretary of state in 1957, becoming the first female to serve in the position. Following her two-year tenure as secretary of state, Holt served as assistant commissioner of public institutions. In 1960, President Eisenhower appointed her to create a program establishing standards that would eliminate unsafe, inefficient nursing homes. Through Holt’s mortgage insurance program at the Federal Housing Administration, and later the Department of Housing and Urban Development, she established nationally high standards for the care of the elderly and oversaw the construction of 1,000 modern long-term healthcare facilities with more than 100,000 beds. She was reappointed by six subsequent presidents.

Holt’s honors and accomplishments include officer roles with the American Association of University Women, Zeta Mu Epsilon, Tri-Delta, Business and Professional Women’s Clubs and Executive Women in Government. She was selected Daughter of the Year by the West Virginia State Society and received the International Year of the Woman Achievement Award. She also received West Virginia Woman of the Decade and was recognized as one of the Fifty Women who have Made a Difference by the International Association of Women.

Born in rural Illinois in 1913, Holt studied at Stephens College and the Marine Biological Laboratory. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in zoology from Northwestern University and was inducted into Sigma Xi. She taught biology at National Park College in Forest Glen, Md., and Greenbrier College for Women in Lewisburg, W.Va.

The doctoral and master’s degree commencement ceremony is 10 a.m. Sunday, at the Creative Arts Center.

Students and their families are encouraged to visit the Commencement website for event updates, as well as information about photography, lodging and traditions.

For more information, contact University Relations/News at 304-293-6997.

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