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CCI Alumnus Receives UT Honorary Degree

A two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author and science journalist received an honorary doctorate during the spring College of Communication and Information commencement ceremonJohn Noble Wilfordy. 

John Noble Wilford, a 1955 journalism graduate, received an honorary doctorate of letters and science at the 4:30 p.m., Wed., May 7 ceremony at Thompson-Boling Arena. 

The ceremony marked UT Knoxville’s sixth honorary degree as approved by the UT Board of Trustees at its winter board meeting.

Wilford began his career in 1956 as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, where he covered general assignments and medical news. He joined Time magazine in 1962 as a contributing science editor. He joined The New York Times staff as a science reporter in 1965 and served as a national news editor before being named director of science news in 1975. He retired from The Times as a senior science correspondent in 2009 but still writes occasional pieces, mostly on archaeology and paleontology. 

“Mr. Wilford’s words have allowed people around the world to experience history in the making, from traveling to the moon to discovering new planets,” Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek said. “His dedication to creating and sharing knowledge is at the heart of what we value at UT. And while he has made a profound impact on the world of science journalism, he has never forgotten his alma mater—generously donating his time, talent and treasure to UT.” 

The renowned journalist wrote The New York Times’ front-page story about the first walk on the moon, which has become the most widely used account of the historic event. He covered all three Apollo missions for the Times. Wilford won a Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for his reporting of science and space exploration, and again in 1987 as part of the reporting team that covered the space shuttle Challenger disaster. 

“Mr. Wilford is widely regarded as the best science journalist over the last 40 years and is our college’s most distinguished alumnus,” CCI Dean Mike Wirth said. “His devotion to covering science and helping non-scientists gain a better understanding of the scientific world makes him most deserving of this distinguished honor.”

A native of Murray, Ky., Wilford went to Grove High School, just across the state line in Paris, Tenn. After earning his journalism degree from UT, he received a master’s in political science from Syracuse University and served in the U.S. Army for two years, stationed in West Germany. 

He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has authored numerous books including “We Reach the Moon,” “The Mapmakers,” “Mars Beckons” and “The Mysterious History of Columbus.” He coauthored “Cosmic Dispatches.”

The Aviation-Space Writers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Space Press Club, among many other organizations, have honored him with top awards.

Wilford is an emeritus member of the College of Communication and Information’s Board of Visitors and was the first to hold the UT Knoxville Chair of Excellence in Science Journalism.

He also served as a distinguished lecturer for the college and has provided the Alfred and Julia Hill Distinguished Lecture. In 2009, the college gave him its highest alumni honor, the Donald G. Hileman Distinguished Alumni Award.