Lisa Marsh Ryerson


Lisa Marsh Ryerson
Doctor of Social Services

Citation presented by Joyce Bylander
Vice President and Dean of Student Life

Conferring of the degree by Neil Weissman, Interim President

It was a pleasure getting to know Lisa Marsh Ryerson through my research for this citation. Ryerson, a native of Jamestown, N.Y., is a woman of passion and compassion. I found we had several things in common: We both grew up near lakes. (I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio; she in Jamestown, to the southeast, which means that she might know something about lake effect snow.

Currently, she is the president of the AARP Foundation, the philanthropic arm of AARP, one of the largest lobbying bodies for older Americans. The core mission of the foundation is to give struggling older adults a voice, making them visible and giving them opportunities to thrive. It focuses on issues like health, homelessness and hunger. This work is all about care and compassion. But I am also convinced of her care and compassion because of the other thing we have in common. Ryerson was a college dean—in her case, dean of students at Wells College, her alma mater. She held other posts there before finally being tapped in 1995 to serve as the first alumna president of Wells. She ably served the college and the surrounding community of Aurora, N.Y., for 18 years.

A champion of women’s education, Lisa led campus improvement efforts at Wells and also helped to revitalize the local community of Aurora, N.Y. It is no wonder that after she retired from Wells, she was chosen in 2013 to lead the AARP Foundation.

Ryerson has been involved in many national, state and local organizations. She served as chair of the Women’s College Coalition and led the executive board of the Public Leadership Education Network, both in Washington, D.C. She was a board member of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), and she served as vice chair of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities of New York State.

Ryerson also held many other leadership positions and received accolades and awards for her work. She is touted as someone who has significant experience leading complex organizations. That was certainly true of her work as a college president, and it clearly describes her work in her current position. In 2016 she was the recipient of the SmartCEO Brava Award, which celebrates the distinguished achievements of top women business leaders in the greater Washington, D.C., area.

Lisa is someone who can also do hard work and can make difficult decisions for the greater good. This was certainly true when, as a product of a women’s college and a champion of women’s education, she led Wells College’s transition to coeducation. As difficult as I am sure that decision was, it repositioned a place that she loved and helped ensure its viability for future generations. She demonstrated that she understood, as she has so eloquently said, “the changing landscape of what education is, what education should be, who our learners are and how American higher education has and will continue to transform in this changing marketplace of needs.”

From her childhood days of working at McDonald’s and her early ambitions to become an attorney, Lisa Marsh Ryerson has lived up to her values of service and advocacy for people who need it.

Interim President Weissman, for her dedication to the common good, for her visionary leadership in higher education and in the wider community, for her concern for some of the most vulnerable in our society, I am honored to present to you Lisa Marsh Ryerson for the honorary degree of Doctor of Social Services.



Lisa Marsh Ryerson, upon the recommendation of the Faculty to the Board of Trustees, and by its mandamus, I confer upon you the Degree of Doctor of Social Services, honoris causa, with all the rights, privileges and distinction thereunto appertaining, in token of which I present you with this diploma and cause you to be invested with the hood of Dickinson College appropriate to the degree.