MSU to Confer 2 Honorary Degrees at Spring Commencements

Ertharin Cousin

Ertharin Cousin

Sebastiao Barbosa

Sebastiao Barbosa

STARKVILLE, Miss. –Because Mississippi State prioritizes global food-security research and outreach, the university will honor two international famine-relief leaders with honorary degrees.

During the university’s Friday and Saturday (May 16 and 17) spring commencements, approximately 2,800 students will receive academic degrees during the Humphrey Coliseum ceremonies.

Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People this year, is the featured speaker for both programs. She also will receive an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree at the 10 a.m. Saturday graduation.

MSU alumnus and Brazilian native Sebastião Barbosa will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree at the 7 p.m. Friday commencement. After he received master’s and doctoral degrees in entomology from MSU, he helped lead eradication of the Mediterranean fruit fly in South America.

In his current role as head of the cotton unit for the Brazilian equivalent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture — the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corp., or EMBRAPA — Barbosa has implemented agricultural research-cooperation agreements with the U.S. and numerous other nations.

President Mark E. Keenum and other university leaders have worked directly with Cousin and Barbosa as the land-grant institution continues to strengthen ties with WFP and EMBRAPA, as well as the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“The problem of food security is one that will be solved by research universities like Mississippi State,” Keenum said. “If food production does not increase significantly, the number of people living in poverty will increase greatly.

“We are compelled to help feed the word and alleviate suffering, first, because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it is important to our national security,” he emphasized.

As a former USDA under secretary, Keenum has applied his professional experience, as well as three MSU agricultural economics degrees, to guide MSU’s expanding focus on the latest developments in crop production, resource distribution and food security.

“Ms. Cousin has more than 25 years of national and international nonprofit, government and corporate leadership experience focused on hunger, food and resilience strategies,” Keenum said. “In her current role, she guides the WFP in meeting urgent food needs while promoting long-term solutions to food security and hunger.

“She leads approximately 13,500 staff serving over 90 million people in more than 70 countries, and her achievements make her eminently deserving of an honorary degree,” he added.

Cousin holds degrees from the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Georgia School of Law.

Like Cousin, Barbosa has decades of experience addressing food security challenges. He has promoted integrated pest-management principles in more than 50 developing countries during his tenure as the FAO’s officer for worldwide pest management and Latin America plant protection.

As EMBRAPA’s leader, Barbosa helps develop sustainable technologies to increase food supply and protect the environment.

“Dr. Barbosa has applied the graduate education obtained at MSU to a lifetime of fighting global poverty and food insecurity, and he has often cited the university’s role in helping shape his career,” Keenum said. “He is an outstanding representative of MSU and most deserving of this honor.”

More information about commencement is available from the registrar’s office at 662-325-2022 or

Learn more about MSU at

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