May 12, 2016 Interior Design Alumna, Gensler Managing Principal Receives Honorary Degree

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, awarded its eleventh honorary degree to Robin Klehr Avia, a leader in the world of design and alumna of the College of Architecture and Design.
Robin Klehr Avia, regional managing principal and chair of the executive committee of the Board of Directors for Gensler, the global design firm, received an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts on May 13, 2016, during the college’s commencement ceremony at Thompson-Boling Arena.   Click here to watch the commencement video, including the conferral of the degree and Avia’s commencement address.
About Robin Klehr Avia
Robin Klehr Avia
Robin Klehr Avia earned her degree in interior design from UT in 1976. She is a regional managing principal and chair of the executive committee of the board of directors for Gensler, one of the world’s leading architecture and design firms with 5,000 practitioners networked across 46 locations.
“Over her 38-year career, Robin Klehr Avia has established herself as a driving force in the world of architecture and design,” said Scott Poole, dean of the College of Architecture and Design. 
Avia oversees the firm’s Northeast and Latin America regions, which employ more than 1,000 people from offices in New York City, Boston, Morristown, Toronto, Sao Paulo, Costa Rica and Mexico City. Gensler is ranked as the No. 1 firm in the world by “Architectural Record” and has been the No. 1 interior design firm – ranked by “Interior Design Magazine” – for 30 years. 
She has directed award-winning projects that include the New York Times headquarters and Condé Nast’s headquarters at One World Trade Center.
She has received numerous design awards including Business Week/Architectural Record Award, the International Interior Design Association’s Decade of Design Award and top national awards from the Society of American Registered Architects. Avia’s work has appeared in numerous publications including Interior Design, Contract Design, Architectural Record and World Architecture. She was recently profiled in The New York Times.
The UT alumna is on the National Board of Girls Inc. and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council board. She is a trustee emeritus of the Dwight-Englewood School and serves on the advisory board for the New York School of Interior Design. She is a past member of the National Board of the International Interior Design Association and was elected to its prestigious College of Fellows in June 2000.
UT honored Avia with an Alumni Professional Achievement Award in 2012. She is an advocate and mentor to many UT architecture and design graduates who now hold key positions with Gensler. 
Also receiving an honorary degree this year was Fred Smith, founder and CEO of FedEx.  Smith received an honorary Doctorate of Business at the Haslam College of Business commencement on May 16, 2016.  The UT Board of Trustees approved the two degree proposals at its fall meeting held Oct. 9, 2015, in Knoxville.
About Fred Smith
Smith is the founder, chairman and CEO of FedEx Corporation, the top global courier delivery services company in the world. The $45 billion a year global transportation, business services and logistics company is the largest publicly traded company headquartered in Tennessee. 
Smith was born in Mississippi and moved to Memphis in his early years. He lived in Memphis prior to attending Yale University and earning a degree in economics. Smith outlined a business model for an overnight delivery service designed to accommodate time sensitive shipments for a college term paper and received only an average grade.
After graduation, Smith served in the U.S. Marine Corps for three years, completing two tours of duty in Vietnam and receiving the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. He left the Marines in 1970 to focus on his term paper idea. In 1971, he founded Federal Express in Memphis. 
“He created a company that is a brand recognized worldwide, a company widely acclaimed as a high quality employer providing income and significant growth opportunities to its nearly quarter of a million associates around the globe,” said Steve Mangum, dean of the Haslam College of Business. 
“It is difficult to underestimate the importance of FedEx to the viability of the Memphis community and the Tennessee economy. Its corporate presence certainly helps place Tennessee on the economic map of the U.S.,” Mangum said. 
By 1999, the company was the largest overnight shipper in the world. Today, FedEx serves customers in more than 220 countries and territories. The company is recognized around the world for its customer service, employee satisfaction, commitment to diversity and social responsibility.
“Even though Mr. Smith was told that his idea for an overnight delivery service could not be done, his innovative vision for FedEx has single-handedly changed the way the world does business,” Mangum said. 
Smith is co-chairman of the Energy Security Leadership Council, a trustee for the U.S. Council for International Business and a member of the Business Roundtable. He has served on the board of St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and the Mayo Foundation. 
Smith has received numerous awards including the Global Leadership Award from the U.S.-India Business Council, the George C. Marshall Foundation Award, the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy and the Circle of Honor Award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation.
He learned to fly a plane at age 15 and is a member of the Aviation Hall of Fame. He has served as co-chairman of both the U.S. World War II Memorial Project and the campaign for the National Museum of the Marine Corps. 
To read about past UT honorary degree recipients, visit