Providence College Welcomes Dr. Laurie Santos: Yale University Psychologist to Give Commencement Address

by The Cowl Editor on April 15, 2021


Dr. Laurie Santos will speak on May 20 to the class of 2021. Photo courtesy of Providence College.

by Andrea Traietti ’21 and Hannah Langley ’21

Editor-in-Chief and News Editor

At Yale University, Dr. Laurie Santos, a cognitive scientist and psychology professor, studies some of life’s age-old questions—questions like “What makes us happy?” and “What can we do to achieve the good life?” 

Providence College students have likely encountered these kinds of questions in Development of Western Civilization or philosophy classes, but in the midst of a global pandemic that has stretched over a year now, these questions have come to permeate everyday life as people around the world have searched for ways to find happiness even in difficult moments. 

PC will welcome Santos to campus as the commencement speaker at the College’s 103rd Commencement ceremony on May 20. After a year that often presented challenges and disappointments, Santos’s studies in happiness make her a particularly fitting choice to offer perspective to the graduating class of 2021. 

Santos graduated from Harvard University in 1997, where she received degrees in psychology and biology. Not only did Santos graduate magna cum laude, she was also awarded the annual Psychology Department Undergraduate Thesis Prize. Santos then went on to earn a master’s in psychology at Harvard in 2001, where she focused on cognition and brain behavior—the area in which she would later receive her doctorate in 2003. 

Santos began teaching at Yale University after receiving her doctorate and has since proven a valuable asset to the Yale faculty. After receiving her tenure in 2010, she became Yale’s director of undergraduate studies in psychology from 2010 to 2015. 

In 2018, Santos began teaching a course titled Psychology and the Good Life. It soon became the most popular course in Yale’s history, with about one-fourth of Yale undergraduate students enrolled and 170,000 people from at least 170 countries enrolled in the free online version of the course through Coursera. 

Besides teaching this course, Santos is also the director of Yale’s Comparative Cognition Laboratory, director of the Canine Cognition Center, and head of Yale’s Silliman College. Santos also has her own podcast, The Happiness Lab, which examines recent scientific research on factors that affect human beings’ well-being and happiness. 

Over the course of her academic and professional careers, Santos has earned numerous awards and received prestigious recognition. In 2003, her dissertation received the Richard J. Herrnstein Dissertation Prize. She was awarded the Stanton Prize for outstanding early-career contributions to interdisciplinary research by the Society for Philosophy and Psychology and Yale’s Arthur Greer Memorial Prize for Outstanding Junior Faculty in 2008. Santos was listed as one of the “Brilliant Ten” young scientists of 2007 in Popular Science magazine. In 2010, she gave a TED Talk at the TED Global Conference in the UK. In 2013, she was named a leading campus celebrity by Time magazine. Santos was also featured as the Association for Psychological Science Presidential Symposium speaker in 2011, granted Yale’s Lex Hixon ’63 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences in 2012, and awarded both the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology and a Genius Award from the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey. 

In addition to Santos, four other honorary degree recipients will be recognized at commencement, including: Duane Bouligny ’94, John Chan ’74, Emily Leary, and E. James Mulcahy ’66.

Duane Bouligny ’94 is a managing director in the Leveraged Finance group at Wells Fargo Securities based in San Francisco, CA. Bouligny, who served as a trustee emeritus of the College from 2011-2020 and currently serves on PC’s Career Education Advisory Committee and the PC School of Business Advisory Council, has been a steadfast supporter of PC’s multicultural students. 

He served as co-chair of the first two “Reflecting Forward” weekends in 2017 and 2020, a PC initiative that celebrates the College’s multicultural alumni during a weekend of networking and special events on campus. In 2017, Bouligny and his wife Nancy made a generous gift to PC to name the Bouligny Lounge at the Center at Moore Hall, the College’s arts and multicultural facility designed to help promote diversity, equity, and inclusion at PC. The Boulignys also established the Duane ’94 and Nancy Bouligny Scholarship Fund in 2011 to assist African-American and Asian-American students.

John Chan ’74 is well known throughout Rhode Island and beyond for the food served at his Woonsocket restaurant, Chan’s Fine Oriental Dining—and also for his decades-long support of both famous and upcoming jazz, blues, folk, and cabaret artists and comedians whom he has invited to perform at his restaurant.

Chan gained exposure to both jazz music and the restaurant industry during his time at PC: his roommates, Joseph Small and Nehru King, who had a music show on WDOM 91.3 FM, introduced him to jazz, and he worked as a dishwasher, cook, and server at his parent’s restaurant during college. In 1977, he merged the two when he began introducing live music to Chan’s, which now holds the slogan “Home of egg rolls, jazz and blues.”

Chan was inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame in 2018. He was awarded the Pell Award for Excellence in the Arts by Trinity Repertory Company in 2015 and the Keeping the Blues Alive Award from the Blues Alive Foundation in Memphis, TN in 2011.

Emily Leary, along with her husband Bill ’10Hon, has donated more than $3 million to the College: The Learys have a scholarship fund in their name, give to the annual fund, support capital projects, PC Athletics, and more. 

In 2013, the Learys established the William C. and Emily D. Leary Endowed Scholarship to support students with financial need from Windsor Locks, East Granby, Suffield, Enfield, East Windsor, or Windsor, CT, or a student in need due to a sudden change in financial circumstances. 

Outside of her involvement with the College, Leary has been instrumental in starting and supporting a number of other philanthropic and community projects in Connecticut, where she serves on her parish council, volunteers at a shelter for the homeless in Hartford, and serves as a long-term volunteer and board member of a food kitchen in Enfield. Archbishop Henry J. Mansell of the Archdiocese of Hartford awarded Leary the St. Joseph Medal in 2013 for her efforts on behalf of her parish.

James (Jim) Mulcahy ’66 served as a member of PC’s board of trustees from 2000-2008. He was the inaugural chair of the College’s National Board of Overseers from 2009-2020, of which he is now immediate past chair. Mulcahy is also a member of the Providence College School of Business Advisory Council. The National Alumni Association presented Mulcahy with the Personal Achievement Award in 2016 for his service to the College.

Mulcahy graduated from PC with a degree in economics; he received a Master of Business Administration from Boston College in 1970 and a certificate in advanced management from Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management in 1979.

He began his career with Polaroid Corporation in 1969 and spent the majority of his early career with Dean Witter in Boston. Mulcahy held various roles with Smith Barney, a division of Citigroup Inc., from 1983-2001, and, in 2014, retired from Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, where he was responsible for the oversight of four businesses with assets under management totaling $24 billion. 

With his wife, Kathryn, Mulcahy has endowed two scholarships at PC. The Mulcahy Family Scholarship Fund, established in 1998, supports students from the New York metropolitan area or Cape Cod. The Rev. James Quigley, O.P. ’60 Scholarship Fund, established in 2011, supports Hispanic or Latino students who attended a Catholic high school or are from Central or South America.  

Mulcahy is active in his community, as well, serving as a trustee of Cape Cod Healthcare, which oversees Cape Cod Hospital and Falmouth Hospital, since 2018.

This year’s commencement ceremony for the graduating class of 2021 will take place on Hendricken Field on the Providence College campus on May 20.