MISSOULA – The University of Montana will award two Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters during its May 13 Commencement exercises. The awardees are UM’s longest-serving president, the late George M. Dennison, and World Bank Group Senior Manager Jennifer F. Isern.
On March 10, the state Board of Regents approved the plan to present both Dennison and Isern the honorary doctorates. Isern also will serve as Commencement speaker for the 2017 graduating class.
“I can’t think of two people more deserving of these honors,” said UM President Sheila Stearns. “George Dennison was a monumental figure in UM’s history, and Jennifer Isern is an alumna who has become a giant in international finance.”
Dennison served UM with distinction for more than 20 years. He was a staunch proponent of the liberal arts and sciences, an avid Griz fan and fiercely dedicated to excellence in education. Dennison earned both his B.S. and his M.A. from UM in 1962 and 1963 respectively. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 1967. After that, he served in various faculty and administrative positions at the University of Washington, the University of Arkansas, Colorado State University and Western Michigan University, before returning to UM in 1990 as president.
His tenure as president was a time of sustained growth and accomplishment for UM. Student enrollment increased nearly 50 percent. He built a culture of philanthropy across campus and among UM alumni and friends, increasing the campus endowment from $17.3 million to $120 million. He completed two fundraising campaigns for buildings, scholarships and other campus needs. The University added 1.3 million square feet, which equates to 20 percent more total usable space. He also led the effort to create the Montana Campus Compact, a statewide coalition to further campus-based public service, founded the Montana Commission on Community Service and was a charter signer of the American Colleges and University Presidents Climate Commitment.
He was nominated for the honorary doctorate in the fall, after the publication of his book “Montana’s Pioneer Naturalist: Morton J. Elrod.” Dennison died Jan. 3 after a battle with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. He was 81.
Isern is a native of Lewistown and earned her B.A. in political science from UM in 1989. While at UM, she served as the Associated Students of UM president and Montana Model UN secretary general. She also worked as a legislative adviser during the 1987 Montana legislative session. Since graduating, she has stayed engaged with her alma mater through service on the board of advisers to the vice president for student affairs and as one of the founding members of the Davidson Honors College advisory board.
While at UM, Isern received a Truman Scholarship, and after graduation, she pursued her Master of Public Administration from Princeton University. She then went on to receive a Doctorate of Business Administration from Nova Southeastern University and is a CFA charterholder.
Isern has 29 years of experience in development in more than 65 countries, including 21 years with the World Bank Group. Since October, Isern has served as manager for the Finance and Markets Practice of the World Bank Group, working across East Asia and the Pacific, and she is based in Hanoi, Vietnam. She manages the Asia team to develop the financial sector with focus on policy advice for governments and central banks, financial sector stability measures, financial infrastructure, long-term finance, capital markets development, and expanding access to finance for households and businesses. From June 2014 to October 2016, she worked as manager for the International Finance Corporation portfolio of the Finance and Markets Practice across South Asia and East Asia-Pacific Region, and was based in New Delhi, India. From 2009 to 2014, she served as regional manager for the Access to Finance Advisory for the IFC in South Asia, also based in New Delhi. Previously, Isern worked as lead microfinance specialist at CGAP from 1996 to 2009, where she served as member of the senior management team, manager for CGAP’s work in Africa and China, and manager of CGAP’s network of regional representatives globally. Prior to joining CGAP, Isern was the regional technical adviser for economic development in West and Central Africa with CARE International, and she founded and managed financial institutions while living in Niger (1990-1991) and Togo (1992-1996). From 1988 to 1992, Isern consulted with public and private sector clients including USAID in Costa Rica and Senegal, UNDP in New York and AT&T’s international division. She has authored more than 50 publications on financial sector development and broader development issues.