More than 1,900 to receive degrees from Mizzou

MU will award honorary degrees to Debbye Turner Bell, a veterinarian, journalist, Miss America Pageant winner and corporate trainer, and Joe G. Dillard, a native Missourian and world-famous fisheries research biologist.

More than 1,900 students will receive degrees during the upcoming winter commencement.

More than 1,900 students will receive degrees during the upcoming winter commencement.

Dec. 9, 2022
Contact: Sara Diedrich, 573-882-3243,

The University of Missouri will soon celebrate the accomplishments of 1,973 students with more than 2,100 degrees at MU’s winter commencement ceremonies. University officials also will honor Debbye Turner Bell, a veterinarian, journalist, Miss America Pageant winner and corporate trainer, and Joe G. Dillard, a native Missourian and world-famous fisheries research biologist, with honorary degrees, the highest honor the university awards.

“The University of Missouri is proud to recognize these students who leave our campus with an education steeped in world-class research opportunities, nationally recognized learning experiences and campus traditions,” said Mun Choi, president of the University of Missouri. “We are confident that our graduates have much to contribute to the state, nation and world. We look forward to watching as they take the lessons they have learned at Mizzou and find success in their chosen fields.”

Of the 2,128 degrees MU is awarding during commencement weekend, 1,515 of them will be bachelor’s degrees, 472 will be master’s degrees and 119 will be doctorate degrees. There also will be 16 education specialist degrees, four law degrees and two medical degrees awarded. Some students will receive more than one degree

“Commencement is a time to celebrate our students with their family and friends and to recognize the hard work and commitment each graduate has made to reach this pivotal point in their life,” said University of Missouri Board of Curators Chair Darryl Chatman. “It’s an honor to be a part of this special occasion.”

In all, students from the graduating class hail from 39 states and 25 countries. There are 483 online students in the December graduating class of 2022.

“No matter where they go next, we know our graduates will continue to be successful,” said Latha Ramchand, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. “We are proud that these well-educated graduates will be joining other Mizzou alumni to help make the world a better place.”

Turner Bell, a veterinarian and former Miss America Pageant winner, will receive her honorary degree at the Missouri School of Journalism ceremony. She is known for her work as a television journalist, including an 11-year stint for CBS News where she was “The Early Show’s” resident veterinarian. Dillard, who is among the most accomplished and celebrated fisheries research biologists in the world, will receive his honorary degree at the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. He had a long and storied career as a fisheries research biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Meet seven soon-to-be-grads and learn how Mizzou has impacted them.

Schedule of ceremonies

Friday, Dec. 16

  • College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources
    • 1 p.m. – Hearnes Center
    • Message from Joe G. Dillard, honorary degree recipient
  • Missouri School of Journalism
    • 2 p.m. – Jesse Auditorium
    • Speaker: Art Holliday, news director at KSDK (St. Louis NBC TV affiliate)
  • College of Engineering
    • 3:30 p.m. – Hearnes Center
  • Sinclair School of Nursing
    • 4:30 p.m. - Jesse Auditorium
    • Speaker: Lori Popejoy, dean of the Sinclair School of Nursing
  • Trulaske College of Business
    • 6 p.m. – Hearnes Center
    • Speaker: Greg Maday, BS BA ’86, chairman and CEO of SpecChem, co-founder of Rock Island Capital, co-owner of Sporting KC

Saturday, Dec. 17

  • Honors College
    • 8:30 a.m. - Jesse Auditorium
    • Speaker: Catherine Rymph, dean of Honors College; University of Missouri President Mun Choi; UM System Curator Robin Wenneker; Maya Gibson, instructor in Honors College; and Eli Rojas, an Honors student
  • School of Health Professions
    • 11 a.m. – Jesse Auditorium
    • Speaker: Delaney Sisk, graduating senior in social work
  • Graduate School – Doctoral, Education Specialist, Masters Degrees
    • 12 p.m. – Hearnes Center
    • Speaker: Chelsea Howland, doctoral marshal
  • College of Arts & Science
    • 3 p.m. – Hearnes Center

ROTC Commissioning of Officers

  • Air Force ROTC
  • Army ROTC
    • 10 a.m.
    • Sunday, Dec. 18 – Tate Hall, Room 22
    • Contact: 573-882-7721
  • Naval/Marine ROTC
    • 1 p.m.
    • Sunday, Dec. 18 - Leadership Auditorium in MU Student Center
    • Speakers: Capt. Chad Ridder, MU NROTC alumnus, and Cmdr. Howard Gray, a retired MU NROTC alumnus
    • Contact: 573-882-6693

For more information on the commencement ceremonies and Columbia accommodations, please visit:

Debbye Turner Bell biography

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Debbye Turner Bell is a veterinarian, journalist, minister, advocate for animal health, Miss America Pageant winner, motivational speaker and a corporate trainer. Her knowledge, experience and compassion have touched the lives of many. Turner Bell has not only established herself as a public figure who is an inspiration to women, girls, students and people around the world, she also demonstrates the value of higher education. Turner Bell might be best known as the first Miss Missouri to be crowned Miss America, but it was her lifelong dream of becoming a veterinarian that led her to the Miss America Pageant — and to the University of Missouri.

Turner Bell earned a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 1991 from MU, using her Miss America scholarship funding to help finance her education. The MU College of Veterinary Medicine awards the Miss America Scholarship to one veterinary student each year in honor of Turner Bell. Before attending MU, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture from Arkansas State University. Today, Turner Bell lives in the New York City area with her husband and daughter.

Turner Bell’s path to MU began with a dream at the age of 13 of becoming a veterinarian. But she knew the cost of the training exceeded her family’s financial capacity. Turner Bell moved from Honolulu to Jonesboro, Arkansas. While there, she discovered that the Miss America Scholarship Program was the largest source of scholarships for women in the world and quickly set her mind to winning the title. She won three local Arkansas pageants, through which she was able to compete in the Miss Arkansas pageant three times, finishing twice as runner-up. She went on to win Miss Columbia, Miss Missouri, and finally in September 1990, she became Miss America.

Turner Bell’s commitment to excellence is reflected in her own life lessons – it took seven years and 11 tries in two states before she was crowned Miss America. Her enduring passion is motivational speaking, and over the years, Turner Bell has spoken to hundreds of thousands of students at countless schools, youth organizations and college campuses, including Cornell University, University of Notre Dame and Auburn University. She has addressed audiences in the corporate, academic and community service arenas. Her topics include personal excellence, determination, goal setting and the importance of a solid education.

Turner Bell has an outstanding service record that includes being an active board member for the National Council on Youth Leadership, the Children's Miracle Network, the Missouri Division of Youth Services, Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club, and the National Advisory Child Health and Human Development Council. She is an advocate and role model for women in STEM and for underrepresented minorities in the veterinary profession. Her character and integrity are reflected in all that she does, as is her Mizzou-made professionalism.

For three years, she served as the lead U.S. news anchor for Arise News, a global cable news network. She hosted a daily evening news broadcast called “Arise America,” and from 1995 to 2001, Turner Bell co-hosted a television magazine program called “Show Me St. Louis.” She was an expert contributor to the show “DOGS 101” on Animal Planet and for 11 years Turner Bell worked as a staff correspondent for CBS News starting in 2001. While at CBS, she was named “The Early Show's” resident veterinarian sharing a wealth of advice about quality pet care. In 2002, Turner Bell garnered an interview with President George W. Bush and his wife at the White House for a Pet Planet segment about the first family’s pets.

While reporting for CBS Evening News, one of her stories provided an in-depth look at the working dogs of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms federal agency for CBS Sunday Morning. Turner Bell also hosted a prime-time television magazine program called "48 Hours on WE.”

Turner Bell has been recognized with numerous prestigious awards, including the MU Black Alumni Organization’s Distinguished Alumni Award, the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award from the College of Agriculture at Arkansas State University, first place for Outstanding Reporting from the New York Association of Black Journalists, the Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and induction into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

Turner Bell has served as an exceptional ambassador for the University of Missouri throughout her career and has returned home to the MU campus as a commencement speaker and, more recently, for her induction into the 2018 Homecoming Hall of Fame. Her drive for excellence is unmatched and will continue to inspire future generations.

Joe G. Dillard biography

Joe G. Dillard, a native Missourian, was born in Chillicothe and raised in Blue Mound. Today, he is among the most accomplished and celebrated fisheries research biologists in the world. With achievements that include authoring several books and becoming a certified fisheries scientist, Dillard has forever enhanced the field of biology.

The first in his family to attend college, Dillard began his journey at the University of Missouri. In 1965, he graduated from MU with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fish and wildlife conservation and embarked on a storied career as a fisheries research biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). He specialized in pond management problems.

During his career with MDC, Dillard held many positions, including extension biologist, fisheries research supervisor, chief of the fisheries research section and fisheries administrative specialist responsible for planning in the Fisheries Division.

From 1983 to 1985, Dillard worked at MU as a fisheries extension specialist. He developed a 4-H project for the production of channel catfish in floating cages, convened the first Missouri Channel Catfish Conference and published the results. His work led to the creation of the current position of Associate Extension Professor in fisheries and wildlife at the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR).

Dillard retired from MDC in 1998 to accept a position as director of MU’s Missouri Watershed Information Network (MOWIN). MOWIN was a collaborative effort between 27 state and federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations, local government, business, industry, individuals and citizen-based watershed interest groups that worked together to locate and access information related to Missouri watersheds.

Dillard subsequently returned to MDC in 2000 to coordinate the development of a database for its fish, forest and wildlife research reports and publications and shared the reports with the Missouri State Archives. In 2012, Dillard volunteered to organize and archive thousands of documents at CAFNR related to the rich conservation history of the state. His efforts to carefully document, archive and collect historical information about Missouri’s history in fisheries science has helped preserve the legacy of CAFNR.

Among his many contributions, Dillard established the Joe G. Dillard Family and Friends Scholarship at CAFNR; authored, co-authored or edited eight books; and mentored many CAFNR graduates in their careers. Additionally, he published 15 research publications, 21 popular articles, 10 information pamphlets and edited three newsletters. He was instrumental in securing more than $500,000 in grants to conduct research on Missouri’s aquatic resources.

While Dillard dedicated his life to preserving Missourians and its natural resources, he also volunteered time toward promoting the fisheries profession and conservation through his participation and leadership in the American Fisheries Society (AFS), where he served as president of the Missouri Chapter (1975), the North Central Division (1984), and the international level (1989).  He was named a Fellow of AFS in its inaugural class of 2015.

Dillard has a passion of paying it forward to future conservationists. He is a dedicated professional who has spent his life giving back. Dillard has received many honors and accolades during his life, and both he and his wife are avid supporters of MU. He has dedicated his life to education and often quoted as saying, “I am so old that I have forgotten the question, but the answer is education!”

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