Union College announces Commencement speaker for May 4 ceremony

Published on
April 09, 2013

William “Bill” Starnes, Ph.D., a celebrity in the world of plastics, has been chosen as the featured speaker and honorary degree recipient for Union College’s 2013 Commencement ceremony. His wife, Sofia M. Starnes, will also be the recipient of an honorary degree.

This year’s commencement will take place on Saturday, May 4, at 10:30 a.m. in Union’s Robsion Arena. Starnes will be presented with a Doctor of Science, honoris causa, while his wife, Sofia M. Starnes, will be presented with a Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.

Starnes is currently the Gottwald Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus at the College of William and Mary. However, he is also listed as “Consultant in Polymer Science and Chemistry,” and as editor-in-chief for the “Journal of Vinyl and Additive Technology.” He earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology and his Bachelor of Science in chemistry from Virginia Polytechnic Institute (now Virginia Tech.) Prior to that, he attended Union College, where he took courses in organic and general chemistry.

Starnes has been on faculty at College of William and Mary since 1989, where he has taught chemistry and applied science. He has also held faculty positions at Polytechnic University and University of Texas, Austin. He has worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories and Esso Research and Engineering Company as well.

Most notably, Starnes is considered to be the world’s leading expert in the chemistry of vinyl plastics. His most recent accomplishment was the invention of the Ester Thiol technology for the heat stabilization of vinyl plastics. These are non-toxic, and can be used to replace the hazardous heavy metal compounds, which were previously being used to prevent degradation.

In recognition of his work, he has received numerous honors, including being named as one of less than a thousand individuals worldwide who has the greatest impact on the history of plastics by the Plastics Pioneers Association; named a Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science; listed in Who’s Who in the World and Who’s Who in America; received an Excellence in Innovation Award from the Hampton Roads Technology Council; and in 2008, Starnes joined other notable celebrities when he became the only scientist to be a charter inductee into the Southwest Virginia Walk of Fame.

Alongside her husband, Sofia Starnes will also be recognized at graduation, and will receive a Doctor of Letters, honoris causa. Sofia, who is an accomplished poet, has received numerous recognitions and national awards for her work. She is the current poet laureate of Virginia. Her publications include five books and more than 250 publications of her poems in journals.

Union College’s annual Commencement ceremony is open to the public. For more information, contact the Union College Office of Communications at 606-546-1610.

Union College is a four-year liberal arts institution related to the United Methodist Church.