Jim Ansara
James Ansara ’82 receives an honorary degree from President Biddy Martin on May 24, 2015

Doctor of Humane Letters

James Ansara is the founder and chairman of Shawmut Design and Construction, one of the country’s largest construction management firms. After attending Amherst, he started the company with just two employees and quickly grew it into one of New England’s most successful start-ups. Ansara served as Shawmut’s president and CEO for 18 years before selling it to his employees in 2006, assuming the role of chairman and turning his attention to philanthropy. With his wife, Karen, he established The Ansara Family Fund with the mission to address the root causes of poverty, primarily in Latin America. In 2008 the Ansaras became involved with Partners in Health (PIH), the Boston-based global health organization.

In 2009 Ansara began volunteering full-time with PIH in the development of a 100-bed community hospital in rural central Haiti. When an earthquake devastated the country in 2010, Ansara applied his philosophy of “boots-on-the-ground philanthropy,” first working to reopen the largely destroyed hospital in Port-au-Prince and then designing and building a state-of-the-art, 240,000-square-foot teaching hospital for PIH. The Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais has been recognized internationally for its innovative, sustainable solutions and capacity for advanced medical care. It was built for just $17 million, a fraction of the cost to build a similar hospital in a developed country. Boasting one of Haiti’s first wastewater treatment plants, a solar-powered electrical supply and Haiti’s first computerized tomography scanner, the project served as a major source of economic development in the region, employing more than 1,000 Haitians. Throughout the building process, hundreds of subsistence farmers were also taught new skills through partnerships with retired American construction workers.

In 2013 Ansara established Build Health International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building additional medical facilities in Haiti and other developing countries. Currently Ansara is also PIH’s director of global infrastructure and works to develop projects in Haiti and several countries throughout Africa. He approaches each one with the goal of ensuring operational sustainability following construction, despite the limited resources within each community.
James and Karen live in Essex, Mass., with their five children.


audio Hear talks given by the honorary degree recipients over Commencement Weekend.