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Japanese Internment Camp Victim, 'Father' of Missouri Vocational Education to Receive Honorary Degrees

MU will award 2,089 degrees at winter commencement ceremonies

Dec. 9, 2008

Story Contact:  Christian Basi, (573) 882-4430,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – In 1942, Robert Naka was forced to leave the University of California-Los Angeles where he was a sophomore engineering major. Naka, along with 120,000 other Japanese-Americans, was taken to a Japanese internment camp for what was intended to be the duration of World War II. Instead, after nine months, he was relocated to the University of Missouri.

More than 46 years later, the University of Missouri alumnus will be awarded an honorary degree for his lifetime of work in national security and his philanthropy. Naka will join B.W. Robinson, known as the “father” of vocational education in the state of Missouri, in receiving the award, one of the highest honors a university can bestow.

 After nine months at the Japanese internment camp, the American Friends Service Committee, also known as the Quakers, relocated Naka to the University of Missouri. Naka earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from MU in 1945 and spent most of his professional career working for the United States Air Force where he developed the technology used in U2 spy planes. 
 Under Robinson’s leadership, Missouri developed 53 vocational education programs throughout the state. Naka and Robinson will receive their honorary degrees at the Graduate School’s commencement ceremony at 8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 19 at the Hearnes Center.

 Throughout the commencement weekend, 1,931 individuals will receive degrees from MU. The university will award 1,409 bachelor’s degrees, 673 graduate degrees and seven professional degrees.

 “We are confident that these new graduates will join the 239,000 current Mizzou alumni in making a difference in cities across the globe,” said Ann Korschgen, vice provost for enrollment at MU.

 Notable speakers at this year’s commencement ceremonies include:
• Gary Forsee, president of the UM System, will speak at the College of Agriculture Food and Natural Resources commencement ceremony at 3 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 20 in the Hearnes Center.
• Jay Nixon, governor-elect of Missouri, will deliver a virtual address for the MU Online commencement ceremonies, which will go live on Tuesday, Dec. 16 at

EDITOR’S NOTE: A detailed schedule of events and biographical information on Naka and Robinson are attached. For more information on the commencement ceremonies and Columbia accommodations, please visit
Schedule of Events

NOTE: The Schools of Law, Medicine and Health Professions and the College of Veterinary Medicines do not hold December graduation ceremonies. Students from those academic units participate in May ceremonies. Students in the School of Social Work will participate in the College of Human Environmental Sciences ceremony.

Tuesday, Dec. 16
Online Commencement
Speaker: Jay Nixon, Governor-elect of Missouri

Friday, Dec. 19
Sinclair School of Nursing
1 p.m.
Jesse Auditorium, Jesse Hall
Speakers: Judith Fitzgerald Miller, Sinclair School of Nursing Dean
Harold Williamson, Interim Vice-Chancellor for Health Services
Sarah Graves, Tim Urhahn, Amy Vogelsmeier, students

College of Education
3:30 p.m.
Jesse Auditorium, Jesse Hall
Speaker: Barbara Bambini, Teacher at Seckman High School

Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business
4:30 p.m.
Hearnes Center
Speaker: Susan Cejka, Managing Partner Grant, Cooper & Associates

School of Journalism
6 p.m.
Jesse Auditorium, Jesse Hall
Speaker: Brian Storm, President of Media Storm

Graduate School
8 p.m.
Hearnes Center
Speaker: Brady Deaton, Chancellor
Robert Naka, Honorary Degree Recipient
B.W. Robinson, Honorary Degree Recipient

Saturday, Dec. 20
Honors Ceremony
8:30 a.m.
Jesse Auditorium, Jesse Hall
Speaker: Robert Collins, Professor of History

School of Natural Resources
11:30 a.m.
Jesse Auditorium, Jesse Hall
Speaker: Larry Potterfield, CEO MidwayUSA

College of Arts and Science
12:30 p.m.
Hearnes Center
Speaker: Kristin Hawley, Assistant Professor of Psychological Sciencies

College of Engineering
2 p.m.
Jesse Auditorium, Jesse Hall
Speaker: Robert Naka, Honorary Degree Recipient

College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources
3 p.m.
Hearnes Center
Speaker: Gary Forsee, President UM System
Note: School of Natural Resources will be held separately

College of Human Environmental Sciences
4:30 p.m.
Jesse Auditorium, Jesse Hall

School of Social Work
4:30 pm.
Jesse Auditorium, Jesse Hall
Note: Graduating students from the School of Social Work will graduate in the College of Human Environmental Sciences ceremony.

Sunday, Dec. 21
ROTC Commissioning of Officers
1:30 p.m.
Stotler Lounger, Memorial Union North

Honorary Degree Recipients

Robert Naka

In 1942, Robert Naka was a pre-engineering sophomore at the University of California-Los Angeles when he and more than 120,000 other Americans of Japanese descent were interned for the duration of World War II. After nine months of imprisonment, the American Friends Service Committee, or Quakers, found Naka a home at the University of Missouri through the Japanese American Student Relocation Council.
Two years later, in 1945, Naka received his bachelor’s of science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Missouri. He went on to earn his master’s degree from the University of Minnesota and his doctorate from Harvard University.
After completing his education, Naka achieved a successful career in the electrical engineering industry. During the 1970s, he served on the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, where he served as a consultant for some of the advanced satellite systems that were under development.

Naka was one of the most trusted Americans in the nation when he was chosen to supervise the National Reconnaissance Office, a secret spy satellite organization. He is referred to as the "Father of Stealth Technology" for his work in developing the technology for the famous U-2 spy plane. Naka also served as chief scientist for the U.S. Air Force.

Naka is a dedicated humanitarian. In 1988, when President Ronald Regan signed into law a bill that would pay reparations to Japanese Americans who were interned during WWII, Naka took his reparation check of $20,000, added $10,000 of his own money, and donated it. Half of the money went to the Quakers who had helped him, and half went to MU for undergraduate scholarships. Nearly 40 students have benefited from Naka’s gift.

He and his wife, Patricia, also established the F. Robert and Patricia N. Naka Professorship in Electrical Engineering. The professorship provides professors with research support and equipment, professional development, teaching materials, travel, staff support and a salary stipend. Currently, Curt Davis, director of the Geospatial Intelligence Center in the MU College of Engineering, is the Naka Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering

In September 2008, Naka donated $250,000 to build a new infusion center at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass. The Patricia Neilon Naka Infusion Center, which was named in memory of Naka’s wife who passed away in 2007, will provide infusions of medications for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, patients with blood disorders, patients requiring intravenous antibiotics, or individuals taking medications for pain management.

He is the recipient of the Missouri Honor Award to Distinguished Service in Engineering, the Exceptional Service Medal for the U.S. Air Force (four times), the MU Faculty Alumni Award and the 2005 Alumni Achievement Award from the University of Minnesota. He is a member of the Explorer’s Club at the Fellow Level and the National Academy of Engineering.

Naka lives in Concord, Mass. He has four grown children.

Beauford Wayne “B.W.” Robinson

Beauford Wayne “B.W.” Robinson became superintendent of the Rolla School District while still a student himself. In the early 1950s, as he was preparing to write his dissertation at the University of Missouri College of Education, MU President Elmer Ellis asked Robinson to become superintendent of the struggling Rolla School District rather than complete his degree, a position he readily accepted.

 Robinson remained the superintendent of schools in Rolla until 1964 when he accepted a position as Missouri’s Director of Vocational and Technical Education. Under Robinson’s leadership, Missouri developed 53 vocational education programs throughout the state. Establishing these programs required addressing several issues, including scheduling, transportation and budgetary concerns that necessitated the cooperation of numerous separate school districts.

Throughout his career, Robinson developed the certification requirements for Missouri teachers, authored the Missouri plan for vocation education, fostered the development of curriculum guides for teachers, and worked to expand the role of women in vocational education. He also was a member of the State Vocational Education Advisory Committee.

 In 1982, Robinson was awarded the Missouri Vocational Association’s Distinguished Honor Citation. He retired in 1985 as director of Vocational and Technical Education to become a doorkeeper and tour guide for the Missouri senate.

 A member and former president of the MU Alumni Association, Robinson has been recognized with the Distinguished Alumni Award. He also is a member of the Mizzou’s Mystical 7 Honor Society, and in 1987, he was named outstanding citizen by the Jefferson City Chamber of Commerce.

 Tim Lewis, professor and associate dean in the MU College of Education, said Robinson is a “lifelong educator and advocate for the children and youth of Missouri.” Calling him the “father of vocational education in Missouri,” Jo Behymer, associate professor emeritus of business education at MU, said that the preeminence of the university and the state in vocational education is largely attributed to Robinson.

In March 2008, KOMU-TV called Robinson “a legend in and around the state capitol” and praised his numerous accomplishments, adventures and friendliness. In Rolla, Mo., where Robinson spent years working to improve education, the B.W. Robinson State School was named in his honor.