NUI Galway has today named the four recipients of its 2015 honorary degrees.

The four, who will be conferred this Friday (12 June), are: Áine Brazil, vice chairman of Thornton Tomasetti, New York, USA; Billy Lawless, Chicago-based Galway-born businessman and vice-president of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights; Svante Pääbo, Swedish biologist and director at the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany; and Phillip Smyth, director of the Shannon College of Hotel Management.

NUI Galway president, Dr Jim Browne, said each has made an outstanding and distinctive contribution to the diverse fields of engineering, public life, genetic science and the international hospitality industry.

Brazil will be conferred with a degree of doctor of engineering (honoris causa). In a career of over 30 years with Thornton Tomasetti, the Galway native has been responsible for the design and construction of high-rise buildings, air-rights projects with long-span transfer systems, and a mix of educational, institutional, healthcare and hospitality projects. She was the first president of the Structural Engineers Association of New York. She got her bachelor of engineering from NUI Galway, and a masters degree in structural engineering from Imperial College in London.

Lawless will receive a degree of doctor of laws (honoris causa). Having started his career in the hospitality business, Lawless emigrated to Chicago in 1998 and opened a number of businesses and formed the Chicago Irish Pub/Restaurant Association in 2001. He has been a member of the executive committee of the board of the Illinois Restaurant Association since 2010. He founded the Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform, is vice-president of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, a founding member of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, a member of the National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Council and co-chair of the Immigration Committee. He has also served as co-chairman of the Galway Chicago Sister Cities Committee since 1998. Last month, he became a freeman of the City of Galway.

Pääbo, who will be conferred with a degree of doctor of science (honoris causa), Svante is regarded as one of the founders of the field of paleogenetics. He has worked extensively on the Neanderthal genome and has developed techniques that allow DNA sequences from extinct creatures such as mammoths, ground sloths and Neanderthals to be determined. He was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and has received numerous awards.

Finally, Smyth will receive a degree of doctor of laws (honoris causa). A graduate of NUI Galway, he served as an officer in the Irish Army for 17 years reaching the rank of Commandant and serving with the United Nations in Lebanon. He worked as a lecturer in the Military College and was involved in the training of non-commissioned officers. Since taking over the directorship of Shannon College in 1989, he has developed the college from a small private hotel school to a recognised college of the National University of Ireland. Under his direction, the Shannon College of Hotel Management is set to be incorporated into NUI Galway, remaining at its Shannon Airport location. Smyth is a fellow of the Irish Hospitality Institute and was recently appointed to the council.

Previous recipients of NUI Galway honorary doctorates include Nelson Mandela, Hilary Clinton, Christy O’Connor Snr and Jnr, Enya, Anjelica Huston, Fionnuala Flanagan and Margaret Atwood.