Marlene Marie Von Friederichs-Fitzwater

Honorary Degrees


California State University, Sacramento​

Dr. Marlene Marie von Friederichs-Fitzwater, Professor Emerita at California State University, Sacramento is most widely recognized for her work to reduce cancer healthcare disparities. Before her retirement, she was a faculty member and department chair in Communication Studies, where she served with distinction.

During her time at Sacramento State, Dr. von Friederichs-Fitzwater also served as Volunteer Clinical Faculty at the University of California, Davis School of Medicine. When she retired from Sacramento State, she accepted a full-time professorship with UC Davis, where she served as an Associate Professor in the School of Medicine until 2016. There she focused on addressing disparities in cancer diagnosis and treatment, such as differences based on age, ethnicity and income. Even after joining UC Davis, she included Sacramento State faculty and students in her health communication research. Her connections with the Sacramento State campus persist, as faculty and students remain associated with her current work.

In 1989, Dr. von Friederichs-Fitzwater founded the Health Communication Research Institute (HCRI), a nonprofit devoted to reducing healthcare disparities in underrepresented minority groups. She embraced a community-based research approach featuring partnerships among university researchers and those delivering health care to underserved groups. In 2014 Dr. von Friederichs-Fitzwater lost her grandson Joshua, who died homeless. She was inspired to do what she could to ensure that terminally ill homeless men and women were not left to die on the streets without a bed, a bathroom, heat and other comforts that those with homes and means take for granted. She then narrowed the focus of HCRI to address the healthcare needs of the homeless population.

Through her tireless program development efforts, Joshua’s House will open in late fall 2019. The facility will be devoted to serving terminally ill homeless men and women, and is one of the first hospice facilities of its kind in the nation as well as the first on the West Coast. Her work has garnered the support of numerous local leaders, politicians and community healthcare agencies.

Dr. von Friederichs-Fitzwater is committed to helping people live with dignity and hope, even if that hope is simply to achieve a peaceful end to life. Her commitment to Joshua’s House and the Health Communication Research Institute is bringing expert researchers together with community organizers to change lives and bring death with dignity.

In recognition of her impact on access to healthcare and her commitment to the health of our community, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and California State University, Sacramento are proud to confer upon Dr. Marlene Marie von Friederichs-Fitzwater the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.