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Horner and Williams Receive Honorary Doctorates

Apr 15

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Beacon News

Horner and Williams Receive Honorary Doctorates

April 15, 2024

Beacon College will confer honorary doctorates on two national learning disability advocates at its Commencement Exercises on Saturday, May 11, at 11 a.m. at the Brownwood Hotel & Spa.

Beacon News

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Behind the college’s Anthrozoology building stands a large agave plant that has entered its “death bloom” stage.

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New VPAA Reilly

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Incoming Beacon College vice president for academic affairs Dr. Kevin Reilly understands that to avoid disrupting a good thing, it’s going to take a lot of input from the people who are already on the ground.

Student News

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Even with student clubs shrinking at universities throughout the country, Beacon student clubs thrive and offer students a chance to build community through the various student-led clubs and organizations.


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During the winter holiday season, Beacon College's Brittany Strozzo served as a teacher for Project Discovery in the United Arab Emirates.

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Dungeons and Dragon Club members soaked up the Renaissance Faire gusto as they were captivated by combat and stage shows, sampled faire fare, shopped vendors, and participated in a scavenger hunt.

In The Media

“A World of Difference” Earns Gold in Global Anthem Awards

February 1, 2024

Beacon College’s monthly PBS show “A World of Difference: Embracing Neurodiversity” scored gold (and silver) in the 3rd Annual Anthem Awards.

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Service, Passion for Students Highlight O’Toole’s Legacy

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Marlene O'Toole, an award-winning former Florida lawmaker, education advocate, nonprofit leader, and former IBM manager, passed away.

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Sensory Room Latest Supportive Wrinkle Helping Students to Success

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A new Sensory and Mindfulness Room is set to open this month at Beacon's Counseling and Wellness Center.


Love of Books Unites Beacon Couple in a Chapter of Romance

February 1, 2024

Beacon College has a handful of married couples working on campus, but to celebrate Valentine’s Day, we’re profiling one couple’s extraordinary international tale.

John “Jack” R. Horner and Dr. Richard O. Williams to Receive Honors and Serve as Commencement Speakers

Beacon College will confer honorary doctorates on two national learning disability advocates at its Commencement Exercises on Saturday, May 11, at 11 a.m. at the Brownwood Hotel & Spa.

“We are privileged to celebrate the profound influence of Dr. Williams and Mr. Horner with honorary doctorates of humane letters,” said Beacon President George J. Hagerty. “Their contributions on behalf of people with learning differences have been truly transformational. The scope and impact of their work can only be characterized as extraordinary.”

Honorary degrees are awarded by the Board of Trustees of Beacon College and will be conferred by the college president during Commencement Exercises at the Brownwood Hotel & Spa in The Villages starting at 11 a.m. This year, the College will award 94 bachelor’s degrees and 24 associate’s degrees.

John “Jack” R. Horner

After finding his first dinosaur bone when he was eight years old, John “Jack” Horner is now recognized as a world-renowned paleontologist best known for his groundbreaking research on dinosaur growth. In addition to his paleontological discoveries, Horner served as the technical adviser for the first five “Jurassic Park” films and was a partial inspiration for one of the lead characters of the franchise, Dr. Alan Grant.

Aside from his scientific discoveries that transformed the paleontology field, Horner’s life story has the potential to transform the societal understanding of what can be accomplished by neurodivergent people. Despite his struggles through school, he still held tight to his dreams, which he knew he could fulfill if allowed to pave his own path. Horner’s passion for paleontology and expertise in fossil curation eventually landed him a role as a technician at Princeton University’s Natural History Museum. It was there that an assessment finally helped him make sense of his academic struggles: he was dyslexic. But Horner’s learning differences gave him a competitive edge as his innate talent for “thinking outside the box” led to many successful research projects.

In Montana in the mid-1970s, Horner and his research partner discovered the first dinosaur eggs and embryos ever found in the Western Hemisphere. Their findings provided the first-known evidence of nesting and parental care among dinosaurs, establishing Horner’s career. Since then, he has published more than 100 professional papers, eight books (including children’s books) and numerous journal articles. He retired in 2016 from Montana State University and the University’s Museum of the Rockies, where he served as regent’s professor and curator of paleontology, respectively. After his retirement, the MacMillan Foundation honored his work with a multimillion-dollar endowment for the John R. Horner Curator of Paleontology Chair at the museum. Currently, Horner is a lecturer at Chapman University and a research associate at the University of Washington’s Burke Museum.

Richard O. Williams, Ph.D.

A molecular biologist by training, Williams earned his bachelor of arts and a doctor of philosophy in biology from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master of science in finance from George Washington University. He spent 25 years in medical sciences in academia, doing research and teaching at the University of London, the Pasteur Institute in Paris, the University of Karlsruhe in Germany, and the World Health Organization in Africa. He is also the author of 85 peer-reviewed research articles on the molecular genetics and microbiology of infectious diseases. Williams also has managed and consulted for more than 35 years in the startup and development of 15 pre-public biotechnology companies, three of which are listed on NASDAQ.

While his work as a molecular biologist and entrepreneur is impressive, what is truly exceptional about Williams is his devotion to autism research, which has greatly benefited families navigating the journey of learning differences.

After his 8-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, Williams began reading all that he could find on child development and developmental delays. He knew that long-term success for his daughter was possible if the right setting and school could be found. Beacon College proved to be the perfect fit. In 2002, Williams’ daughter earned her degree in human services from Beacon College.

After her graduation, he was elected to the college’s board of trustees, for which he served from 2002 to 2015, including a decade of distinguished service as chair of the board. As chairman of the board, Williams oversaw the tripling of admissions and full accreditation of Beacon College by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, helping the institution become the first college in the nation accredited to award bachelor’s degrees exclusively to students with learning disabilities and ADHD. He also played an integral role in developing new curricula and new degree offerings at the college. After retiring from the Beacon College board, Williams fully devoted his research efforts to exploring various aspects of the autism spectrum, with a special focus on sensory issues.

In the Media

Learning Differently

Featured in Florida Trend Magazine. At Beacon College in Leesburg, students navigate learning differences and disabilities to earn a college degree and prepare for a career.

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How to Navigate College Admissions With a Learning Disability

Featured in U.S. News & World Report. The college admissions process can be overwhelming for any student, but it can be especially challenging for those with learning disabilities.

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College, with Learning Differences

Featured in Campus News. Despite excelling academically in middle and high school, Benjamin Strauss faced challenges due to his learning difference. Yet, his transition to Beacon College, designed for students with learning disabilities, has empowered him to pursue his passion for business management and sports media.

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Best Regional Colleges South Rankings

Featured in U.S. News & World Report. These colleges focus on undergraduate education but grant fewer than half their degrees in liberal arts disciplines. These rankings are split into four regions: North, South, Midwest and West.

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Featured Expert

Dr. A.J. Marsden, Associate Professor of Human Services and Psychology

Dr. A.J. Marsden is a former U.S. Army surgical nurse who now serves as an assistant professor of human services and psychology. She specializes in human development, emotion and attitudes, abnormal psychology, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders, human sexuality, and health psychology. She has been quoted by Good Housekeeping, The Huffington Post, The Atlantic, Psychology Today, The New York Times, New York Magazine, The Associated Press, U.S. News & World Report, and more.


Lighting the Path is Beacon College’s digital newsletter that updates the Beacon community and others with interest in the college’s activities about student successes, alumni news, faculty achievements, and stories about Beacon’s growth, new programs, rankings, and more.

Have alumni news to share? Submit your Beacon College alumni updates, weddings, births, career changes, etc. for consideration in the next issue of “Lighting the Path.”

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Beacon’s faculty experts, our unique teaching model, and our students often are featured in electronic and print media because of the college’s expertise in learning differences and other disciplines.

Reporters who wish to interview Beacon College experts or pursue stories about the college should contact the Office of College Communications at (352) 638-9789 or email dowens@beaconcollege.edu.

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