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Wichita State awards first honorary doctorate since 1988 to physician Donna Sweet '70, '72

Stacy and Mark Parkinson at a Fourth of July celebration on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
WSU President John Bardo bestowed an honorary doctorate from Wichita State University on Donna Sweet during fall commencement ceremonies last month.

Donna Sweet was a newly minted physician just a couple years out of medical school when she met a young man who would help change the course of her life.

It was the early 1980s, and the man was among the early population of people in this country with AIDS. A recent transplant to Wichita, he heard about a doctor whose interest in immunological diseases had steered her toward the study of AIDS/HIV.

“He urged me to take a more activist role on behalf of people with AIDS,” Sweet said. “It started as simply an approach to helping him and other people with AIDS get treatment and care. That patient became one of the 1,300 I have now.”

For her 35 years of service to those patients as well as her contributions to health care as a clinical educator, Sweet was selected by WSU President John Bardo to receive an honorary doctorate from Wichita State University. The award, bestowed on Sweet during fall commencement ceremonies last month, marked the first time WSU had granted the academic distinction since 1988. A policy change approved recently by the Kansas Board of Regents paved the way for state universities to award honorary doctorates.

“It is not overstating the matter to say that Dr. Sweet has changed the world with her scholarship and her heart,” Bardo said. “Her outstanding achievements and visionary leadership in the battle against AIDS make her an excellent recipient of this award.”

Sweet, a WSU alumna who earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences in 1970 and a master’s degree in the same field in 1972, called the award an extraordinary honor.

“Wichita State gave me a chance to have a rewarding career and I will always be extremely honored and grateful that I was able to go to school there,” she said.

Sweet is a professor of internal medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine’s Wichita campus as well as a primary care physician. She delivered the fall commencement address, urging students to consider how they can make a difference in the world.


What is an honorary doctorate?

An honorary doctorate is an academic degree that may be conferred upon people of notable intellectual, scholarly, professional or creative achievement, or who have provided extraordinary service to humanity. Candidates must be approved by the Kansas Board of Regents. Wichita State last bestowed the degree in 1988 to Edwin A. Ulrich, for whom the Ulrich Museum of Art is named.