Kennesaw State University awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters to Ruth Ann Harnisch, a philanthropist whose foundation has supported cutting-edge approaches to gathering and disseminating news.
The honorary doctorate ─ the 14th awarded in Kennesaw State’s 49-year history ─ was bestowed today during the university’s commencement ceremony for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Harnisch, a former journalist with more than 30 years of experience in print and broadcasting, is president of the New York-based Harnisch Foundation, which in 2009 awarded $1.5 million to establish the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State.
“Kennesaw State University is pleased to award this honorary doctorate to Ms. Harnisch,” said Kennesaw State President Daniel S. Papp. “In so doing, we are recognizing the outstanding accomplishments of an exceptional person, known nationally as a philanthropist who truly has made a difference, as well as a ground-breaking journalist.”
A self-described “recovering journalist” and “donor activist,” Harnisch is a proponent of creative philanthropy that produces sustainable social change. She founded The Harnisch Foundation in 1998.
Harnisch said she was drawn to the idea of funding the Center for Sustainable Journalism after reading blogs by Leonard Witt, Kennesaw State’s Robert D. Fowler Distinguished Chair in Communication and the center’s executive director. The center is designed to research and develop ethical and sustainable new ways to produce and distribute news. It is home to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, the only national news website covering juvenile justice. In March, the center announced that it will begin publishing Youth Today, a nationally distributed print and online newspaper targeted to professionals in the youth services field.
“The honor of working with Len Witt and his team is reward enough,” said Harnisch, whose foundation supports other experiments in producing and distributing news and information, as well as collegiate journalism programs. “While I am pleased to receive the honorary doctorate, Kennesaw State’s innovative, cutting-edge experiments in new ways of delivering high-quality information are what is important and what I hope everyone will notice. The Center for Sustainable Journalism is making strides as a leader in a thoughtful conversation that is important for our nation to have about juvenile justice.”
Witt attributes the Center for Sustainable Journalism’s important work to Harnisch’s “intellectual, inspirational and financial support.”
“Thanks to her visionary work, the center can have a lasting impact on the way journalism is practiced and also on the way our most disadvantaged children are perceived,” Witt said. “She is truly deserving of this special honor."
Harnisch started her career at the Buffalo (NY) Courier-Express and worked 17 years as a columnist for the Nashville (Tenn.) Banner. She hosted a radio talk show on WLAC-AM and worked 15 years as a television news reporter and anchor for Nashville’s CBS affiliate.
Harnisch’s career expanded to include her interests in philanthropy and professional coaching. A certified master coach, Harnisch was a founding funder of The Institute of Coaching at Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital. The institute is an outgrowth of the grant-making Foundation of Coaching, which Harnisch created with David Goldsmith in 2006 to support academic research in the coaching field.
In addition, Harnisch supports the “Ideas Worth Spreading” mission of the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) community. She is a founding funder of the TED Fellows program, which brings together world-changing achievers, and a co-founder of SupporTED, an independent program offering pro bono coaching and mentoring to the TED Fellows.
Harnisch is a member of Women Moving Millions, a philanthropic initiative of women who give at least $1 million dollars to non-profits benefiting women and girls. She also holds a Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Baruch College in New York.