Irish advocate for intellectual disabilities research receives honorary degree

April 10, 2017

Dermot Desmond, renowned Irish business leader and philanthropist, will receive an honorary doctorate of humanities from Michigan State University on May 5, 2017.

Along with long-time success in banking and financial markets, Desmond is deeply committed to improving lives for individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism. He has played a central role in facilitating the international DOCTRID Research Institute, which includes MSU as a founding institution and led to a growing interdisciplinary program on campus: Research in Autism, Intellectual Disabilities and other Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (RAIND).

University Distinguished Professor of rehabilitation counseling and RAIND co-director Michael Leahy, who helped nominate Desmond, has been involved in developing partnerships in Ireland for 10 years, starting with RESPECT and the Daughters of Charity Disability Support Services.

For over 20 years, Desmond has been board chairman of RESPECT, which provides support and funding for Daughters of Charity. Recognizing the power of research to open new doors for individuals with intellectual disabilities, he created DOCTRID with the late Sister Martha Hegarty (an alumnus of the rehabilitation counseling program at MSU) in 2010. The coalition now includes 20 higher education institutions in the U.K., U.S. and Ireland committed to finding solutions for the barriers faced by people with disabilities, including new assistive technologies.

“The leadership he has demonstrated in the development of this unique initiative is without comparison,” said Leahy. “It represents one of the first examples in Ireland of true collaborative research initiatives across the major universities that has the capacity to significantly impact the quality of life of those individuals with intellectual disability and autism on a global scale.”

Faculty and students in the MSU College of Education and throughout the university have received many opportunities to engage in cutting-edge research and training through participation in DOCTRID. When the institute received a grant from the European Union Marie Curie COFUND program worth 9 million euros, DOCTRID appointed 25 postdoctoral researchers from around the world to join the effort. Leahy and his colleagues were able to establish the Hegarty Fellows Post-doctoral Program, which has funded nine fellows who conduct research while being colocated at MSU and one of the partnering Irish universities.

In 2013, the MSU Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies established RAIND to create a coalition of scholars to working with each other, and with colleagues around the world through DOCTRID, to make an impact on the lives of individuals with autism and intellectual and other neurodevelopmental disabilities and their families.

“Many skilled research administrators have played a role in establishing this unique international partnership, but it was the vision and strong leadership of Mr. Desmond that was the ultimate catalyst,” Leahy said.

Desmond will interact with students, staff and faculty from RAIND and the College of Education during a reception from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m. May 5, 2017 in 507 Erickson Hall (620 Farm Lane). He will receive the honorary doctorate during the MSU advanced degree ceremony at Breslin Center, starting at 3:30 p.m.


More about Dermot Desmond

Dermot Desmond founded International Investment and Underwriting, based in Dublin, Ireland, in 1995.

Through his private investment company he has a substantial number of investments in a variety of businesses worldwide. In 2000, Desmond established Daon, a company that designs, develops and markets secure biometrics and identity software technology systems. Daon’s headquarters is based in Washington, D.C.

Previously, Desmond founded National City Brokers in 1981, which he developed into Ireland’s leading independent stockbroker. In 1987 he promoted the establishment of a financial services center in Ireland. Today it is a vibrant part of the Irish economy and is host to half the world’s top 50 banks and top 20 insurance companies.


Read the MSU news release for information about graduate commencement speaker Darren Walker and others receiving honorary doctorates from the university this year.