President Janine Davidson, Ph.D., accepted the George Norlin Award during the University of Colorado Boulder’s annual alumni awards ceremony Nov. 3. The Norlin Award, the most prestigious honor bestowed by CU, recognizes outstanding alumni for distinguished lifetime achievements, a demonstrated commitment to excellence in their chosen field and a devotion to the betterment of society and their communities.  

The award is named for former CU President George Norlin, who Davidson noted had a keen understanding of history and of the human potential for both brilliance and barbarism.

MSU Denver President Janine Davidson, Ph.D.

Norlin set a high bar for us university presidents,” Davidson said. The lesson for me is that if we want to be on the right side of history, we must know history. I am more inspired than ever to continue our fight for higher education, inspired to protect the humanities, inspired to defend and promote free speech, inspired to do big things and inspired to keep finding a way.” 

Davidson earned a degree in Architectural Engineering from CU in 1988 and has devoted more than three decades to academic, civilian and military service. Since beginning her career as an Air Force officer and cargo pilot, she has held many roles within the U.S. Department of Defense, including deputy assistant secretary of defense for plans, where she was also awarded the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service. 

Davidson’s military service culminated with her installation as the 32nd Under Secretary of the U.S. Navy, after being appointed by President Barack Obama. At the national level, Davidson chairs the Department of Defense Policy Board and serves on the State Department Foreign Affairs Policy Board, as a National Association of Public Administrators fellow and as a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She previously served as a presidentially appointed commissioner for the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service and for the Commission on the Structure of the Air Force. Locally, she is a director of UMB Financial Corp. and serves on the boards of Colorado Concern, the Downtown Denver Partnership, the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation and the Rose Community Foundation.  

The Norlin Award presentation highlighted Davidson’s leadership of Metropolitan State University of Denver, where she has staunchly advocated for legal status for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients and supported undocumented students, underrepresented students and military and veteran students. She has spearheaded the development of high-quality, career-oriented undergraduate and graduate academic programs, launching the Classroom to Career Hub and overseeing the creation of the MSU Denver Health Institute and the Institute for Public Service. 

“She has championed the role public universities play in holding the line on the American dream, said nominators Gardiner Porter and Laurie Porter during the award presentation. “Her consistent devotion to the betterment of society and our community is articulated by her devotion to our country … but also from her more recent efforts to develop high-quality, career-oriented undergraduate and graduate academic programs at MSU Denver that serve Colorado’s communities and power its economy.”  

Gardiner Porter and President Davidson.

This commitment to education has also included teaching roles at George Mason University, Georgetown University, Davidson College and various military schools. She has also returned to the classroom at MSU Denver, co-teaching a course on the philosophical and legal origins of freedom of speech in the United States.