Honorary Doctorate Recipients & Commencement Speakers

Spring 2021 Honorary Doctorate Recipients

The honorary doctorate is the highest honor the University can bestow upon an individual.


Honorary Degree Recipient of Business And Commencement Speaker

William A. Franke


During his legendary business career, William (Bill) A. Franke has served as the chief executive officer of an Industrial Fortune 500 forest products company, chairman of a large regional bank, chairman of a large U.S. convenience store company, and chief executive officer of American West Airlines (now integrated into American Airlines).

As managing partner and founder of Indigo Partners, a private equity firm focused on worldwide investments in air transportation, Mr. Franke was the founding chairman of both Airplanes Group, Ltd. and Tiger Airways in Singapore, as well as the chairman of Spirit Airways. At present, he is the chairman of Wizz Air in Hungary, JetSMART Airlines in Chile and Argentina, and Frontier Airlines. Mr. Franke is also a director of Volaris in Mexico and a startup Canadian airline.

Born in Texas and raised in Latin America, Mr. Franke holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Stanford University and an honorary doctorate from Northern Arizona University. Beyond his many professional accomplishments, Mr. Franke is respected as a dedicated mentor to young business people and a generous philanthropist who has made a substantial impact at several institutions, including the University of Montana where both the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation and the Franke Global Leadership Initiative bear his name.


Honorary Doctorate of Law

Bonnie “Sim-Sin” HeavyRunner


One of thirteen children, Bonnie HeavyRunner grew up in Browning on the Blackfeet Reservation. A two-time graduate of the University of Montana, Ms. HeavyRunner received an undergraduate degree in social work and a juris doctorate from the now-named Alexander Blewett III School of Law, where she was the only American Indian law student in her class.

Bonnie HeavyRunner’s career was one of impact. In addition to her numerous and impressive accomplishments as a tribal court judge and prosecutor, educator, and advocate for victims and survivors of crime, she served as the director of the UM’s Native American Studies program and is credited with launching Montana’s first Native American Studies major and organizing the first Kyi-Yo Academic Conference. Ms. HeavyRunner was a leader on the state and national level as a member of the National Indian Justice Board, Montana State Advisory Committee for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and the National Court Appointed Special Advocates Association’s Tribal Court Advisory Committee.

Before her death in 1997 at age 46, Bonnie HeavyRunner was recognized for her unrelenting efforts to support American Indian communities, victims of domestic violence, and other disadvantaged populations.

Afternoon Commencement Speaker

Aislinn HeavyRunner-Rioux


Dr. Aislinn HeavyRunner-Rioux (Blackfeet) is a born and raised Montanan with strong ties to her family and homelands on the Blackfeet Nation. She grew up in Missoula — in large part on the University of Montana campus and Native American Studies Department — helping her mother, the late Bonnie HeavyRunner who launched the state’s first Native American Studies department, in the office, teaching students how to make dream catchers, and cooking and serving food at student events.

Aislinn pursued her own journey in education through earning a bachelor’s degree in criminology/forensic anthropology, master’s degree in applied statistics, and a doctorate in educational leadership — all from the University of Montana. Aislinn earned many prestigious awards and scholarships during her academic career at UM, including the President’s Outstanding Senior Award, UM Diversity Student Award, Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation Native American Graduate Fellow, the Bertha Morton Scholarship and more.

Aislinn is a research and evaluation professional with expertise in applied statistics, evaluation, research, and teaching for diverse audiences. She has more than 15 years of experience working with indigenous communities through quantitative and qualitative methodologies, data analysis and interpretation, representative data visualizations, and evaluation. Today, she is the Vice President for Research and Evaluation with Kauffman & Associates, Inc., a Native woman owned management consulting firm. Aislinn recently moved back to Arlee, MT to be closer to family — especially her 97-year-old grandmother —and enjoy the best things in life, most of all, coffee in the morning with her husband and riding horses with her daughters.

Visit the Provost's Office website for a full list of past recipients.