Biographies of the 2014 honorands
Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, Doctor of Engineering & Technology
Sir Timothy Berners-Lee is a computer scientist and 3COM Founders Professor of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As the inventor of the World Wide Web, he has created one of the most globally influential methods of collaborative communication and information access in recent history.
Born in London to two mathematicians, Sir Timothy grew up in a very mathematical environment. As a child, he created make-believe computers out of cardboard boxes, and in his teenage years, he experimented with circuitry and transistors. He studied physics at Queen’s College, University of Oxford, graduating with honors in 1976.
While working as a consultant software engineer in 1980 at CERN, the international organization for the study of particle physics based in Geneva, Switzerland, Sir Timothy observed the need for a more effective method of information-sharing in a highly collaborative scientific environment. Using hypertext, he developed for his own use “Enquire,” the first program to create and store links within and between files. Although it was never published, “Enquire” paved the way for his development of the World Wide Web at CERN in 1989–90.
The World Wide Web is an interface that allows information to be published, retrieved, and read by any individual with access to the Internet by connecting data files or Web “pages” containing related content, held on servers and arranged by unique Universal Document Identifiers (now known as URLs).
After introducing the World Wide Web at CERN, Sir Timothy released it on the Internet to the broader scientific community in 1991. He also created the first Web site, which explained how to develop pages and link information, and he defined URLs, HTTP, and HTML, which label Web page information, classify the protocol used for navigation, and describe the language or code in which pages are written and displayed.
See more Commencement stories, photos, and videos.
In 1994 Sir Timothy released the World Wide Web to the public, free of royalties or patents. That same year he joined MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science (now Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory), where he founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an organization that oversees and creates protocol to ensure fair Web practices. He is a powerful advocate for a democratic, open Web that is internationally accessible. He believes the Web has the potential to generate solutions to some of humanity’s largest problems. Not only has the World Wide Web forged a network of information, but it has also created a network of minds, through which people from across the globe can interact and collaborate.
He serves as director of the WWW Foundation, created in 2008 to “fund and coordinate efforts to further the potential of the web to benefit humanity.” In addition to his professorship at MIT, he is a professor in the Electronics and Computer Science Department at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom. The recipient of many honors, including a MacArthur Fellowship, Sir Timothy was chosen as one of the 100 most influential people of the twentieth century by Time magazine in 1999. An Officer and a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, he was awarded the Order of Merit, Great Britain’s highest civilian honor, in 2007.
Rita Dove, Doctor of Letters
Rita Dove is an acclaimed poet, author, and Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia. One of the most recognized writers in contemporary American verse, she is the youngest person to have held the position of United States Poet Laureate.
Born in Akron, Ohio, Ms. Dove was a voracious reader from a young age. Her parents kept a large library, and she was struck by the power of words. She began writing her own stories and poems around the age of ten and graduated among the top one hundred high school students in the country, earning the title of Presidential Scholar and a trip to the White House. Although she enrolled at Miami University as a prelaw student, her passion for creative writing led her to change her major to English. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1973, spent a year in Germany on a Fulbright scholarship, and completed an M.F.A. at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1977. Ms. Dove taught at Arizona State University from 1981 to 1989, when she joined the faculty at the University of Virginia. She has earned fellowships from such institutions as the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, and she served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1993 to 1995.
Inspired by her personal life, family history, and historical events, Ms. Dove’s work often provides an intimate look at different human experiences. Her first publication, the poetry collection The Yellow House on the Corner (1980) is written from the perspective of American slaves. Thomas and Beulah, for which she won a Pulitzer Prize in 1987, is based on the lives of her maternal grandparents, who lived during the Great Migration. Within specific historical moments, Ms. Dove captures ordinary struggles, the moments and events in an individual’s life that tend to get lost among the greater narratives of history.
Ms. Dove’s other publications include the poetry collections Grace Notes, Museum, Mother Love, On the Bus with Rosa Parks, American Smooth and Sonata Mulattica, a book of short stories, a book of essays and a novel. Her play, The Darker Face of the Earth, which premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 1996, has been performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and at the Royal National Theatre in London, England. In 1998 the Boston Symphony premiered her song cycle, Seven for Luck, with music by John Williams, at Tanglewood. The editor of The Penguin Anthology of 20th-Century American Poetry, she also serves as an advisory editor or board member of numerous publications, including TriQuarterly, The Gettysburg Review, and American Poetry Review.
In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, Ms. Dove is the recipient of many honors, including the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities (1996) and a Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal (2009). In 1996 she received the Charles Frankel Prize (now National Humanities Medal) from President Clinton, and President Obama presented her with a 2011 National Medal of Arts, the highest award the United States government bestows on artists. Ms. Dove has served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and is a member of numerous honorary societies, including the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Ramachandra Guha, Doctor of Humanities
Ramachandra Guha is one of the most eminent voices of Indian social and cultural history. Throughout his career, he has transcended easy categorization, serving as an author, educator, environmentalist, sports fan, historian, biographer, and widely respected commentator on politics and society.
Mr. Guha was born in the sub-Himalayan town of Dehradun, where his father was a director at the Forest Research Institute. His mother was a high school teacher. He earned degrees in economics from St. Stephen’s College in New Delhi and the Delhi School of Economics and a doctorate in sociology from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta. His thesis on the history of the Chipko movement led to his seminal 1989 text, The Unquiet Woods: Ecological Change and Peasant Resistance in the Himalaya.
Mr. Guha has captured the history and culture of the subcontinent in more than a dozen books. He is particularly known for his detailed biographical sketches, which also serve as historical portraits of Indian society. Among his works are A Corner of a Foreign Field: The Indian History of a British Sport (2002), which documents one player’s cricket career in the context of the Indian caste system; the critically acclaimed India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy (2007), which was named a Book of the Year by The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Economist; How Much Should a Person Consume?: Environmentalism in India and the United States (2016); and, most recently, the first volume of a two-volume biography of Mohandas Gandhi, Gandhi before India (2013). He has also edited Makers of Modern India (2010) an anthology of the writings of the great thinker-activists who shaped modern Indian history.
Aside from his books, Mr. Guha is also one of India’s most recognized and admired columnists. His columns cover a wide range of topics, including the economic and social fault-lines in India. Pushing for a deeper focus on democracy, he has written a book and many essays on the tribal people, who are often oppressed and displaced due to conflicts over natural resources. Mr. Guha wrote a regular column for The Hindu, one of India’s leading national daily newspapers, from 1997 to 2009, and his essays and opinions appear in many international publications, including The Times, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Nation, and The Times Literary Supplement,
Mr. Guha has taught at Yale University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Oslo, the Indian Institute of Science, and the London School of Economics, where he held the Philippe Roman Chair in History and International Affairs in 2011–12. He also served as a fellow at Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin and a senior fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi. He is a trustee of the nonprofit New India Foundation, which supports scholarship on the history of modern India.
Mr. Guha’s honors include a Leopold-Hidy Award, presented by the Forest History Society and the American Society for Environmental History (2001); the R.K. Narayan Prize at the Chennai Book Fair (2003); the Malcolm Adiseshiah Award for excellence in the field of development studies (2007); and the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award in the nonfiction book category for India after Gandhi (2007). In 2008 Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines named him to their list of the world’s 100 top public intellectuals. Mr. Guha received the Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian award, in 2009.
Daniel Kahneman, Doctor of Social Science
Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel laureate and Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus and professor of psychology and public affairs emeritus at Princeton University. His studies of decision making and judgment have transcended scientific fields, impacting cognitive science, behavioral economics, and psychology.
Mr. Kahneman was born in 1934 to Lithuanian parents in Tel Aviv and spent most of his young life in Paris. His childhood was a tumultuous one; his father was briefly detained at a Jewish internment camp, and his family moved several times to escape Nazi persecution. After his father’s death, his family returned to Palestine. Mr. Kahneman earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and mathematics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1954.
Drafted into the Israeli army, he served as a member of the psychology branch of the Israel Defense Forces, aiding in a systematic evaluation of soldiers by identifying those with leadership qualities and recommending them for advancement based on the results of a performance test. After reviewing data from the officer-training school, however, Mr. Kahneman discovered that the predictions he and his colleagues had made about the recruits were often wrong. Coining the term “illusion of validity” to describe the discrepancy between the statistical data and the observation-based predictions, he created a new interview format based on personality traits. The new system proved more successful in predicting which jobs would best suit new recruits, and the experience became foundational to his interest in and understanding of human cognition.
Mr. Kahneman completed his army service in 1956 and earned a fellowship from the Hebrew University to pursue graduate studies abroad. He received a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1961. Returning to teach in the Psychology department at the Hebrew University, he met Amos Tversky, with whom he would collaborate on discoveries that challenged existing theory of human thought. Through their work in the study of heuristics, the shortcuts used in decision-making processes, they identified systematic biases that people use to make choices. Overturning the presiding economic theory that people think and act as “rational agents,” the two showed that individuals instead make non-logical determinations that fluctuate depending on whether the information they are given is presented as sure gains or losses. Most often, they discovered, individuals display “loss aversion,” preferring to avoid loss rather than risk gain. Many of their publications, which provided a framework for understanding how non-rational decision making followed systematic patterns of thought, are now considered seminal texts in the fields of economic theory and psychology.
Mr. Kahneman joined the faculty at Princeton in 1993. In addition to the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002—an honor he claims to share with Dr. Tversky, who died in 1996—his awards include the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2013), the nation’s highest civilian honor; the Talcott Parsons Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2011); and the American Psychological Association’s Award for Lifetime Contributions to Psychology (2007). In 2011 he published the best-selling book Thinking, Fast and Slow, an in-depth account of the two “systems” of human thought that impact decision making. He is a member the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Psychological Association, and the National Academy of Sciences, among others.
Elliot M. Meyerowitz, Doctor of Science
Elliot Meyerowitz is George W. Beadle Professor of Biology at the California Institute of Technology and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Known for his pioneering work with Arabidopsis thaliana, he is a leading expert in plant biology whose work has revolutionized the field of modern plant science.
Mr. Meyerowitz was first exposed to laboratory research as an undergraduate at Columbia University, where he earned an A.B. in 1973. His experience working in the laboratory of Cyrus Levinthal, a pioneer in the field of molecular biology, inspired him to pursue graduate studies. After earning a Ph.D. under Douglas Kankel in biology from Yale University in 1977 and completing a two-year postdoctoral fellowship in biochemistry at Stanford School of Medicine, he joined the faculty at Caltech, establishing a lab where he continued his graduate school research on the fruit fly Drosophila. He also began new research on a small, flowering plant of the mustard variety, Arabidopsis thaliana. After measuring the quantity of its DNA, Mr. Meyerowitz concluded that Arabidopsis, which had the smallest known genome of all flowering plants, was an ideal model for the study of plant development and genetics.
Mr. Meyerowitz became fascinated by the ways in which gene mutations alter plant development, producing different floral patterns. His lab discovered that Arabidopsis flowers begin with identical cells that later differentiate to become the plant’s floral organs—the sepal, petal, stamen, and carpel. Each of these organs has a specific set of identity genes that controls the location of organ development. In order to understand how this process occurs, the lab cloned and mutated organ identity genes to produce plants with many different floral arrangements. Through what is known as the “ABC model” of flower development, Mr. Meyerowitz identified three classes of genes that determine organ identity, explaining that when one of these classes is inactive, the plant’s developmental and floral pattern are altered. The model has thus far proven applicable to all other flowering plants, and the knowledge that plants share the same basic genetic structure has led to such practical applications as the manipulation of genes to enhance crops such as wheat, corn, and other harvested resources. Today, Mr. Meyerowitz and his lab use live imaging and mathematical modeling to conduct further Arabidopsis research, studying the hormones and pathways by which plant cells communicate.
Mr. Meyerowitz’s many awards include the Genetics Society of America Medal (1996), the Richard Lounsbery Award of the National Academy of Sciences (1999), the Ross Harrison Prize of the International Society of Developmental Biologists (2005), and the Balzan Prize (2006). In 2001 he was awarded a Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the Yale Graduate School Alumni Association. Mr. Meyerowitz has served as president of the Genetics Society of America, the Society for Developmental Biology, and the International Society for Plant Molecular Biology. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. In 2007 he was awarded funding from the American Society of Plant Biologists, which he used to establish a plant biology program for California high school teachers to improve the biology curriculum.
Joseph William Polisi, Doctor of Music
Joseph Polisi is president of the Juilliard School, one of the world’s premier institutions for the study of music, dance, and drama. An accomplished musician, educator, and administrator, he is recognized as a key force in the arts world for his efforts to create new and innovative educational opportunities for young artists and his deeply humanistic approach to the teaching of the arts.
The son of the principal bassoonist of the New York Philharmonic, and a gifted bassoonist himself, Mr. Polisi considered pursuing music in college but instead earned a B.A. in political science from the University of Connecticut and an M.A. in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Later realizing his calling, he earned three degrees—Master of Music (1973), Master of Musical Arts (1975), and Doctor of Musical Arts (1980)—from Yale School of Music. Prior to becoming the sixth president of Juilliard in 1984, he served as the executive officer of the Yale School of Music, then as dean of faculty at the Manhattan School of Music and dean of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
Mr. Polisi’s three decades at Juilliard have been transformative ones for the school. Influenced by his own liberal arts background, he has expanded the curriculum to incorporate disciplines other than music. Whereas a Juilliard education of the past focused on training for a high-profile solo career, Juilliard today embraces a more comprehensive pedagogy, with classes in arts and culture, music management, and music technology. Mr. Polisi values the technical virtuosity of musicianship, but he insists that students also learn the importance of soulful performance and communication that extends beyond the stage. This training has prepared students for artistic identities that transcend the solo career to include teaching, advocacy, and management.
Through partnerships with Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera, Mr. Polisi has established new training programs for Juilliard students, and he has initiated exchange programs with Columbia University and Barnard College. He created a Communications Center at the school, focused on improving students’ writing and speaking skills. Mr. Polisi’s particular dedication to outreach finds expression in Juilliard’s extensive educational and community service programs in New York City and in the launch of Juilliard Global in 2011.
Mr. Polisi has performed as a soloist and chamber musician across the country and has produced several recordings. His 2005 book, The Artist as Citizen, is a collection of his articles and speeches, all expressing his firm belief in the arts as a model for social connection and engagement. In 2008 he wrote the first complete biography of William Schuman entitled American Muse: The Life and Times of William Schuman.
In 2007 Mr. Polisi collaborated with the director of Carnegie Hall to create Ensemble ACJW, a two-year fellowship program for young professional musicians devoted to building their careers as performers, teachers, and advocates for the arts. He is an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in London, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a 2010 inductee into the Classical Music Hall of Fame. He received the Musical America Educator of the Year Award in 2005, and in 2012 he was awarded the Samuel Simons Sanford Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the Yale School of Music, for “distinguished service to music.
Michael H. Posner, Doctor of Laws
Michael Posner is professor of business and society at New York University Stern School of Business and the co-director of the center for business and human rights. He served as the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor under Secretary Clinton. A leading human rights expert, he helped found Human Rights First, and served as its executive director and president. For more than three decades he has shaped human rights advocacy and legal strategies on a wide range of issues including torture and interrogation tactics, fair labor practices, refugee protection, and Internet freedom in the United States and abroad.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Mr. Posner first understood the importance of human rights when he learned that a number of his family members were victims of the Holocaust and that his great-uncles served as leaders of the French Resistance. This familial history would become the stimulus for his career. He earned a bachelor’s degree with distinction and honors in history from the University of Michigan in 1972 and a J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law in 1975, spending a semester in Geneva documenting human rights violations under Idi Amin in Uganda for the United Nations. After working briefly at a law firm in Chicago, he was recruited to help found the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, which was later renamed Human Rights First.
During his tenure as executive director and president, Human Rights First became one of the leading organizations dedicated to providing refugee assistance and protection, combating crimes against humanity, and campaigning for approaches to national security efforts that reflect democratic values and the rule of law. He led the establishment of the first and largest pro bono legal assistance program for asylum seekers and proposed the first U.S. law to provide political asylum, which became part of the Refugee Act of 1980. He also drafted and campaigned for the Torture Victim Protection Act (1992), which provides victims of government-sanctioned torture a legal license to sue their torturers in U.S. courts. In 1998 he led the Human Rights First delegation to Rome, where he participated in the ratification of the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In the 1990s Mr. Posner served on the White House Apparel Industry Partnership Task Force, which led to the founding of the Fair Labor Association to promote worker’s rights and corporate accountability in the clothing industry.. He also was a founding member of the Global Network Initiative, a cohort of corporations, non-governmental organizations, and other experts working to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy on the Internet.
From 2009 until 2013, in his role as the state department’s top human rights official, he traveled to more than forty countries, focusing particular attention on China, Russia, Burma and the rapidly evolving changes in Egypt and the Middle East. He also played a key role in US engagement on human rights at the United Nations, and in shaping US policies on Internet Freedom, LGBT rights and in support of human rights activists and other civil society leaders around the globe.
He has taught at Yale Law School and Columbia Law School and in 2013 joined the faculty at NYU, where he founded and codirects the Center for Business and Human Rights, the first human rights center at a business school. He is a regular commentator on human rights issues and has offered opinions in a wide-range of publications.
Anna Deavere Smith, Doctor of Fine Arts
Anna Deavere Smith is University Professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and has an affiliation with the NYU School of Law. An actress, author, and playwright known primarily for her work on stage and television, Ms. Smith has been credited with the formation of a new kind of “documentary theater” in which contemporary and divisive social issues such as racism, class, health care, and illness are explored through the dynamic intricacies of speech.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Ms. Smith spent her childhood acutely aware of the racial tensions that prohibited many from moving beyond their social circumstances. She attended Western High School, the country’s oldest all-girls public high school, which provided her with a strong educational foundation. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English from Beaver College in Pennsylvania, she moved to San Francisco and studied at the American Conservatory Theater, where she earned an M.F.A. in 1976.
After teaching at Carnegie Mellon University, Ms. Smith began to fuse her interests in language and acting. Developing what is now considered her signature journalistic approach to “documentary theater,” she recorded interviews with individuals of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds not typically represented on stage, and transformed her transcripts into monologues that she performed in a one-woman show. This project, which she titled “On the Road: A Search for American Character,” became the impetus for the later works that transformed her career as an artist, performer, and educator.
Ms. Smith describes her performance style as “organic poetry” or “natural theater.” Weaving together monologues from individuals on both sides of the issues she investigates, she artfully juxtaposes her subjects’ class, education, and culture while simultaneously uniting this diverse public within her own singular presence. Her 1992 play Fires in the Mirror, a Pulitzer Prize finalist based on accounts of a racial conflict between members of a Brooklyn neighborhood, embodies that style. Inhabiting more than twenty characters in dress, speech, and demeanor, Ms. Smith performed each monologue verbatim, incorporating every accent, hesitancy, pause, and clink of a coffee mug from her interviews into the script. For Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 she interviewed more than three hundred community members about the race riots that devastated the city following the Rodney King verdict. Ms. Smith worked with PBS to bring both these and other plays to television in order to reach a broader audience.
The author of numerous books and plays, Ms. Smith has also written for publications such as The Drama Review and The New Yorker. Before joining the faculty at Tisch, she was a professor of drama at Stanford University, and she has served as an artist-in-residence and visiting teacher at many institutions, including the Ford Foundation, MTV Networks, the Aspen Institute and the Yale School of Medicine. She has also been seen on television and film, including in the Showtime series “Nurse Jackie” and NBC’s “The West Wing.”
Among her honors are two Drama Desk Awards for Solo Performance, an Obie Award, a New York Drama Critics Circle Special Citation, two Tony Award nominations, and a MacArthur Fellowship. She was awarded the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize in 2012, and President Obama presented her with the 2012 National Humanities Medal last spring.
Ralph Stanley, Doctor of Music
Ralph Stanley is a singer, songwriter, and banjo player best known for his lifelong contributions to mountain and bluegrass music. A pioneering voice of the genre, he has dedicated his decade-spanning career to preserving the music of his Appalachian roots. He performs over one hundred shows a year throughout the country with his band the Clinch Mountain Boys, an ensemble that has included his son and grandson, as well as a distinguished roster of other musicians.
Mr. Stanley was born in 1927 in the Clinch Mountain region of southwestern Virginia. He and his brother Carter learned to play banjo and sing from their mother, who also taught them acapella hymns and traditional Appalachian folk music. Mr. Stanley grew up listening to broadcasts of old-time country music on the Grand Ole Opry on the family’s battery-operated radio. In 1946 after briefly serving in the United States Army, he and Carter formed a band called The Stanley Brothers. Soon, their music was broadcast on WCYB, a five-state radio station in the mid-south. Carter played guitar and sang baritone vocals, while Mr. Stanley contributed in the form of his signature three-finger style banjo playing and high-tenor harmony. Together they defined their own distinctive sound called “old time mountain music.” Infusing their music with hints of the acapella and mountain gospel music learned in their childhood Baptist church, the brothers’ biting harmonies, creative instrumentals, and often somber subject matter became the signature sound of a new brand of bluegrass music. They performed traditional as well as original songs including “Man of Constant Sorrow,” “Rank Strangers,” “Memories of Mother,” and “Life of Sorrow,” all of which have become part of the bluegrass repertoire.
Mr. Stanley considered leaving music altogether after his brother died in 1966, but he decided instead to revive the band, which he toured across the country under the name “Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys.” Instilling more of the lonely, contemplative, sorrowful sound and subject matter into his music, Mr. Stanley has become known for the unmistakable, emotionally-tinged vocals that have marked him as one of the greatest traditional music pioneers. The release of his harrowing and haunting acapella rendition of “O Death” for the soundtrack to the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) gained him a newer and younger fan base and a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.
Mr. Stanley has received the National Heritage Award (1984), the Library of Congress’s Living Legend award (2006), the National Medal of Arts (2006), and three Grammy Awards. For his legendary influence on country, mountain, and bluegrass music, he was inducted into both the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor (1992) and the Grand Ole Opry (2000). In 2014 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
David Swensen, Doctor of Humane Letters
David Swensen is chief investment officer at Yale Universityand an internationally admired investment strategist. At Yale he is responsible for the university’s $22 billion endowment. Mr. Swensen revolutionized the field of institutional investing by developing a model that has been adopted by institutions worldwide. A beloved administrator, professor, and Yale alumnus, he has dedicated his life’s work to securing Yale’s financial future.
Mr. Swensen’s interest in markets began during his childhood in River Falls, Wisconsin, and he attributes his early attraction to finance to listening to market reports on the radio during car rides with his father. As a child, he saved earnings from gifts and odd jobs in order to make his first investment by buying shares in Eastman Kodak. He earned an undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls before attending Yale, where he earned a Ph.D. in Economics in 1980. At Yale he worked closely with Nobel Laureate and Yale professor James Tobin. Upon graduation, Mr. Swensen worked on Wall Street, where he developed new financial technologies and structured the first swap, a currency transaction involving IBM and the World Bank.
Mr. Swensen returned to Yale in 1985 when he was appointed chief investment officer. Taking an eighty percent pay cut, Mr. Swensen has led the university endowment to twenty-nine years of unrivaled returns. He increased endowment support of university operations from $45 million in 1985 to more than $1 billion today. During his tenure, the Yale Investments Office has generated investment returns of $33 billion, monies that have supported the institution’s mission in a multitude of ways. His investment strategy, known as the “Yale Model,” moved away from traditional investments such as stocks and bonds to alternatives such as private equity, venture capital, natural resources, real estate, and “absolute return,” an asset class he coined along with his colleague Dean Takahashi. His efforts have been followed by countless colleges, universities, and other institutional investors.
Mr. Swensen is a lecturer in the department of economics and is lauded for his commitment to educating Yale students, his skills as a mentor, and his engagement with the community. In his work with hundreds of Yale College students and analysts, Mr. Swensen not only promoted intellectual understanding of markets but also emphasized the importance of integrity and character. He takes great pride in developing the careers of his protégés, many of whom have become leading investment officers at major institutions across the country, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Wesleyan University, Bowdoin College, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Hilton Foundation.
In 2012 he was awarded the Yale Medal, the highest award presented by the Association of Yale Alumni for outstanding individual service to the University. In 2009 Mr. Swensen was appointed to President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, known popularly as the Volker Committee. Mr. Swensen has outlined his investment models and strategies for institutions and individual investors in two widely-respected books, Pioneering Portfolio Management: An Unconventional Approach to Institutional Investment and Unconventional Success: A Fundamental Approach to Personal Investment.
He is the recipient of many honors for his work, including a fellowship in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008 and the CFA Institute Award for Professional Excellence in 2009. In 2004 he received the inaugural Institutional Investor Award for Excellence in Investment management. He has served as trustee or advisor to organizations including TIAA, the Carnegie Corporation, the Brookings Institution, the New York Stock Exchange, Major League Baseball, the University of Cambridge, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Ahmed Zewail, Doctor of Science
Ahmed Zewail is a Nobel Laureate and Linus Pauling Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. Credited with the birth of femtochemistry, he brought about a revolution in the understanding of chemical reactions by making it possible to observe the movement of individual atoms using femtosecond spectroscopy.
Mr. Zewail was born in Damanhur, Egypt, and brought up in Disuq. From an early age, he was drawn to scientific discovery, and he dreamed of one day becoming a university professor. He received a bachelor of science degree with first-class honors in 1967 from Alexandria University, where he went on to teach undergraduates while continuing research toward a master of science degree. Using spectroscopy, Mr. Zewail developed an understanding of how and why the spectra of certain molecules change with solvents, earning his master’s degree in 1969 in just eight months.
Mr. Zewail moved to the United States to pursue doctoral studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter (LRSM), where he earned a Ph.D. in 1974. His plan to return to Egypt as a professor changed with the six offers he received after completion of his Ph.D. thesis. He accepted a postdoctoral position at the University of California, Berkeley, which soon offered him a prestigious IBM fellowship. This enabled him to extend his research on the spectroscopy of pairs of molecules, called dimers, and the measurement of their coherence. In 1976 he moved to Caltech as an assistant professor. Promoted to associate professor in 1978 and to full professor in 1982, he now also serves as Director of the Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology.
Mr. Zewail’s femtosecond spectroscopy experiments, which began in the 1980s, revolutionized the understanding of the properties of molecules in their transition state, on the brink of a chemical reaction, and the path that they take to form new molecules. Previously, it was believed that their speed would make these transformations impossible to study, but Mr. Zewail discovered that injecting a powerful pulse from an ultrafast laser would excite original molecules to a high-energy state. By injecting another weak pulse to detect changes in the molecule, he was able to capture pictures of molecules as they formed intermediates and the final product. These pictures, taken at high speed, allowed scientists to examine the formation and cleavage of chemical bonds in a femtosecond (10-15 s), which is a millionth of a billionth of a second.
Femtochemistry has found applications in multiple disciplines and ushered in a new era of science and medical research. For his seminal work in this field, Mr. Zewail was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1999. His current research has included the development of four-dimensional (4-D) visualization of matter—in space and time—to unravel complexity of physical, chemical, and biological transformations.
Mr. Zewail has authored more than five hundred articles and received more than one hundred international awards, including the King Faisal International Prize for Science (1989), the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Chemistry (1998), and the Albert Einstein World Award of Science (2006). A passionate advocate for science education and diplomacy around the world, he has held numerous visiting professorships and was the recipient of the Top American Leaders Award (2011) from Harvard University and the Washington Post. Mr. Zewail served on President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and last year was asked by the UN Secretary General to join his Scientific Advisory Board.
Huda Zoghbi, Doctor of Medical Sciences
Huda Zoghbi is professor of pediatrics, molecular and human genetics, neurology, and neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine and director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital. Her research in the field of neurogenetics has made significant contributions to the study of neurodevelopment and the understanding of neurodegenerative diseases.
Born in Beirut, Lebanon, Dr. Zoghbi majored in biology at the American University of Beirut and enrolled in its school of medicine in 1975. The breakout of civil war during her first year of medical studies forced her to emigrate, and she earned her medical degree from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1979.
She joined the pediatrics residency program at Baylor College of Medicine, and then during her neurology specialty training she decided to shift her focus from clinical practice to research after encountering patients with unusual neurological conditions. A five-year-old girl with a rare disorder called Rett syndrome made a particular impression on her. The child had mysteriously lost control of her speech and balance, suffered seizures, and experienced symptoms including uncontrollable hand-wringing. Determined to uncover the cause of such devastating disorders, Dr. Zoghbi took a postdoctoral research fellowship at Baylor’s newly established Institute for Molecular Genetics, where she would eventually establish her own lab.
Dr. Zoghbi began her research career studying spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1), a dominantly inherited neurodegenerative disorder caused by dynamic mutations. In 1993, she and Dr. Harry T. Orr identified the gene causing SCA1 and explained that it produces a protein, ataxin-1, that inhibits cerebellar cells from controlling the body’s movements, thereby impeding motor skills. This finding has allowed researchers to begin a search for drugs to decrease ataxin-1 levels and has provided significant insight into more common neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, in which mutant proteins also accumulate within neurons.
Dr. Zoghbi spent sixteen years researching the cause of Rett syndrome and, in 1999, discovered the mutated gene responsible for the symptoms she had seen during her residency. Named MECP2 (methyl-CpG-binding protein 2), the gene lies on the X chromosome and largely affects how mature brain cells function. Using this knowledge, researchers have found that when mutated, MECP2 can cause a variety of neuropsychiatric problems, including learning disabilities, autism, juvenile schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Dr. Zoghbi’s lab has also been credited with the identification of Math1, a gene responsible for the formation of neurons in the cerebellum and spinal cord that aid in balance and spatial orientation of body parts. Abnormal activation of this gene causes growth of granule cells in the hindbrain, which is seen in children who develop medulloblastoma, a type of brain tumor. Dr. Zoghbi’s lab is currently exploring how Math1 controls elements of the neural circuit critical for neonatal respiration.
Dr. Zoghbi is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine and serves as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. She is the recipient of many honors, including the E. Mead Johnson Award in Pediatric Research (1996) and the Gruber Neuroscience Prize, an international award honoring scientists for discoveries that have advanced knowledge of the nervous system (2011). Most recently, she was awarded the 2013 Pearl Meister Greengard Prize, which recognizes outstanding women in biomedical research, and the 2014 March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology.
Office of Public Affairs & Communications: email@example.com, 203-432-1345