Biographies of the 2015 honorands

Nine individuals were presented with honorary degrees at Commencement 2015. Here are their biographies.

Since the Commencement of 1702, certain distinguished persons, selected by the Yale Corporation, have received honorary degrees. The Provost announces the name of each recipient, the senior marshal and corporation marshal place a hood over the shoulders of the recipient, and the President reads a citation and confers the degree. Biographies of this year’s honorands follow. Click here to read their citations.

Jeffrey Michael Friedman

Doctor of Medical Sciences

Jeffrey Michael Friedman is the Marilyn M. Simpson Professor and director of the Starr Center for Human Genetics at Rockefeller University. His research into the molecular mechanisms that regulate food intake and body weight led to the discovery of the hormone leptin, which has changed the study and understanding of human obesity.

Friedman grew up in the suburbs of New York City. He entered a six-year medical program, earning his Bachelor of Science degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and, at the age of 22, receiving his medical degree from Albany Medical College of Union University. After completing both a medical and chief residency at Albany Medical Center Hospital, he became a postgraduate fellow and associate physician in the laboratory of Dr. Mary Jeanne Kreek at Rockefeller University. His experiences researching the effects of endorphins in the development of narcotic addiction led to a shift in his career path toward that of a physician scientist. He opted to forego the final steps of his medical training in order to pursue a Ph.D. with James E. Darnell Jr.

After earning his degree in 1986, he continued working in the Darnell lab and soon was appointed assistant professor. In 1991 he was named head of the laboratory. In 1995 he advanced to the rank of professor and in 1999 was appointed the Marilyn M. Simpson Professor. His research has focused on the genetics of weight regulation. In 1994, working with a special strain of genetically obese mice, he identified the defective gene and found that it encodes a hormone that regulates food intake and body weight. He named the hormone leptin, derived from “leptos,” the Greek word for “thin.” The identification of leptin revealed the mechanism by which normal animals and humans control their appetite.

Leptin is a hormone secreted by the adipose tissue, known commonly as “fat cells,” that helps the body to maintain a steady body weight through its ability to control food intake in response to energy expenditure. When leptin is operating normally, an increase leads to an increase in fat and a decrease in body weight. However, Friedman’s research showed that when it is not functioning correctly, it can cause severe obesity. The hormone works by acting on neurons in brain centers that control energy balance to regulate appetite and plays a role not only in changing nutritional states but also in female reproduction, immune function, and the function of other hormones such as insulin. In 2014 leptin was approved as a new treatment for lipodystrophy, a human disorder that causes a severe form of diabetes.

Friedman is currently studying the neural mechanisms by which leptin affects feeding behavior, body weight, and glucose metabolism, and is working to identify other key regulators. The earlier identification of the hypothalamic cells that express the leptin receptor helped pinpoint the precise neuronal effects of leptin and helped lay the foundation for the identification of several mutations that cause human obesity. The Friedman lab has also studied the genetic basis of human obesity first with the U.S. Department of Health on genetic studies on the Pacific island of Kosrae in Micronesia, and more recently with collaborators at Bilkent University in Turkey. Most recently, he and colleagues have developed a new technology using nanoparticles that enables the remote activation or inhibition of nerve cells using radio waves.

Friedman has been an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1986 and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the affiliated Institute of Medicine. He is the recipient of many awards including the 2010 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, the 2009 Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine, the 2009 Keio Medical Science Prize, the 2007 Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal, the 2007 Danone International Prize for Nutrition, the 2005 Canada Gairdner International Award, and the 2005 Passano Foundation Award.

Dean Kamen

Doctor of Engineering and Technology

Dean Kamen is an inventor and entrepreneur whose inventions have benefited countless lives, and a tireless advocate for science and technology education. He has developed innovative products in the medical field such as the first wearable infusion pump, the Segway Personal Transporter, and the iBOT wheelchair. He is also the founder of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an organization dedicated to creating the next generation of leaders in science and technology.

Kamen grew up in Rockville Centre, New York. His father was an illustrator for Weird Science and MAD comic books, and his mother was a teacher. From an early age, Kamen showed an interest in how things worked, and by the time he was a teenager, he was working out of his parents’ basement, designing light and sound systems for local rock bands and museums. He developed the idea for his first medical invention, a wearable drug-infusion pump, while attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) after a conversation with his older brother, a medical student, who observed that patients needing round-the-clock medications had to come to the hospital to receive them. Kamen’s idea was to create a pump that allowed these patients to receive their medications at home rather than in the hospital, thus vastly improving efficiency, productivity, and quality of life. In 1976 he left WPI without graduating and founded the company AutoSyringe to produce and market the pump. In 1982 he sold the company to Baxter International and launched his new company, DEKA Research and Development Corporation.

DEKA employs more than 400 researchers, engineers, and machinists who develop inventions and provide research and development for corporate clients. Notable inventions have included a machine called HomeChoice, which allows kidney dialysis to be administered in the home, and the iBOT stairclimbing wheelchair. In 2001 Kamen introduced the Segway Human Transporter — a self-balancing, electric-powered transportation machine. More recently, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency commissioned DEKA to develop prosthetic arms for injured veterans returning home. Kamen’s latest invention, the Slingshot, can purify water without the use of chemicals or filters by using a process called vapor compression distillation. This low-cost, energy-efficient purifier can provide clean water to water-stressed areas, improving health and sanitation while radically decreasing the chances of disease and death.

In 1989 Kamen founded FIRST to motivate students and inspire them to develop a passion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. FIRST sponsors robotics, Lego, and other technology competitions for more than 400,000 students in more than 80 countries. High school-aged participants are eligible to apply for more than $22 million in scholarships from leading colleges, universities, and corporations. A vocal advocate for science and technology, Kamen also hosted the Planet Green television series “Dean of Inventionin 2010.

He holds more than 440 United States and foreign patents for his inventions. He is a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. His many awards include the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2000, the Lemelson-MIT Prize in 2002, and the James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award in 2013.

Angélique Kidjo

Doctor of Music

Angélique Kidjo is an award-winning singer and songwriter who is dedicated to girls’ education and women’s rights in Africa. Her powerful music — inspired by her Beninese roots and influenced by funk, Caribbean zouk, Congolese rumba, jazz, gospel, and Latin styles — simultaneously conveys her personal pride of place, her love of Africa, and her deep commitment to activism. Named a UNICEF goodwill ambassador in 2002, she actively campaigns to help eliminate gender disparity in secondary and higher education in Africa. She is also the founder of Batonga Foundation, whose mission is to empower young women and girls in Africa through education. Kidjo grew up in a village on the coast of Benin in West Africa, where her father worked at a post office and her mother ran a theater troupe in which Kidjo began performing at the age of 6. She credits her parents for their progressive attitude toward women’s education and for supporting her decision to become a singer. She recorded her first album, “Pretty,” in 1981. As her popularity grew, she became concerned that her independence as an artist would be threatened by the repressive communist government, and she subsequently left her native country for Paris, France. She had no contact with her family until democracy was restored in Benin six years later.

While in Paris she worked in a hotel and as a babysitter while attending the CIM jazz school. She composed music with her future husband, French musician and producer Jean Hébrail, and performed as a backup singer. In 1985 she became the lead singer of the Euro- African jazz-rock band Pili Pili. In the early 1990s she launched a solo career and released a string of successful albums highlighted by collaborations with a diverse array of artists including Branford Marsalis, Carlos Santana, and Alicia Keys.

Kidjo’s music, while rooted in her personal experiences, boldly crosses barriers of language and genre. She is fluent in four languages — Fon, French, English, and Yorùbá — and sings in all of them. She has produced 11 albums and earned two Grammy Awards for best contemporary world album: “Djin Djin” (2007) and “EVE” (2014). “EVE,” which is dedicated to the women of Africa, blends her passions for music and activism, and includes recordings of traditional women’s choirs that Kidjo made during her travels across Benin and Kenya. In 2014 she published her memoir, “Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music.”

She is tireless in her humanitarian efforts, which are often woven into her tour schedule. Her public service announcements in support of children affected by HIV/AIDS and the eradication of polio have brought attention to these issues. She founded Batonga Foundation in 2006 to support girls’ education in Africa by removing obstacles that discourage or prevent them from attending school. Currently operating in Mali, Benin, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, and Ethiopia, Batonga seeks to help girls from the poorest families, and orphans, especially those affected by HIV/AIDS, by offering scholarship and mentorship opportunities, distributing school supplies and clothing, and providing infrastructure for clean water through the installation of latrines, water wells, and hand-washing stations at schools. In 2010 she was named a peace ambassador by the Commission of the African Union. In addition to her two Grammy awards, Kidjo also received Benin’s Commander of National Order of Merit for loyal services to the nation in 2008.

Larry Kramer ’57 B.A.

Doctor of Humane Letters

Larry Kramer is a playwright, author, and AIDS and gay rights activist. Through his writing and advocacy, he became a voice of his generation, and one of the most important figures in the history of gay rights and the struggle against AIDS and associated stigma. His play “The Normal Heart” had the longest run in the history of The Public Theater in New York City.

Kramer was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut and raised in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. His mother was the home service director for the local chapter of the American Red Cross, and his father (Yale 1916) was a lawyer for the United States government.

After earning his degree from Yale in 1957, Kramer moved to London and joined the film industry, working as the assistant to the president of Columbia Pictures and then United Artists. In 1969 he wrote an Oscar-nominated screenplay for the adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s “Women in Love,” a film he also produced.

With the start of the AIDS plague in the 1980s, Kramer began advocating for greater public awareness and increased government action. In 1982 he and five friends founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), which has become the world’s largest private organization assisting people living with AIDS. Discouraged by what he saw as insufficient attention from public officials, he left GMHC to pursue more aggressive tactics. He started ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in 1987, which used negotiations and guerrilla-style protests to advocate for and obtain necessary medical treatments.

His writing provided another outlet for expressing frustration and advocating for change. His play “The Normal Heart,which debuted in New York in 1985, has endured as a poignant portrayal of the early days of the AIDS crisis. In 2011 the Broadway production of the play won the Tony Award for best revival, and in 2014 the HBO production won the Emmy for outstanding television movie.

In 2014 he published the first of two volumes of “The American People,” a novel begun in 1975. His other publications include “Faggots(1978), “Reports from the Holocaust: The Story of an Aids Activist(1989), and “The Destiny of Me(1992). Although his relationship with Yale has included controversy, Kramer has had a lifelong engagement with the university. In 2001 he donated his papers to the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library and launched the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies, funded by a grant from Kramer’s brother Arthur Kramer ’49, ’53 LL.B. The five-year initiative, which brought speakers, visiting lecturers, and additions to library collections, contributed to the development of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual Studies as it exists at Yale today.

Kramer is the winner of the 2013 PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award for a Master American Dramatist. He received the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Award in Literature in 1996 and an Obie in 1993 for “The Destiny of Me.” He has received two Tony Awards: Best Revival (“The Normal Heart,” 2011) and The Isabelle Stevenson Award (2013). He is the first creative artist and the first openly gay person to be honored with a Public Service Award from Common Cause.

Elon Musk

Doctor of Engineering and Technology

Elon Musk is the CEO of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Tesla Motors, Inc. One of the most successful entrepreneurs of his time, he is credited with building transformative companies, beginning with his early successes in developing important Internet  e-services such as PayPal. More recently he has sought to create fundamental change in the transportation industry through the development of Tesla Motors and SpaceX.

Born in South Africa, where his father was an engineer and his mother a model and dietician, Musk showed his innovative and hard-working spirit from an early age. He purchased his first computer at 10 and made his first software sale at 12 — a computer game called Blaster. At the University of Pennsylvania he earned his Bachelor of Arts in economics from the Wharton School and a Bachelor of Science in physics. He planned to pursue a Ph.D. in physics at Stanford University but left the program after only two days to take part in the burgeoning Internet boom. Along with his brother, Kimbal, and others he co-founded Zip2.com, an online city guide that was sold to Compaq, becoming the basis for the search engine AltaVista. Musk is also a co-founder of PayPal, one of the world’s largest Internet payment systems, and served as the company’s chair and CEO until it was sold to eBay in 2002.

In 2002 Musk co-founded SpaceX, where he still serves as chief executive officer and chief technology officer. His goal for SpaceX was to build reliable, low-cost, and reusable rockets in pursuit of multi-planetary habitation. Despite many challenges in the early years, SpaceX became the first company to launch and recover a spacecraft from Earth orbit in 2010. In 2012 the SpaceX Dragon became the first privately built spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station (ISS), replacing the cargo function of the NASA Space Shuttle. As of early 2015 SpaceX Dragons have docked with the ISS five times. The company recently signed a $2.6 billion contract with NASA to fly U.S. astronauts to the space station as part of a commercial crew program.

Musk co-founded Tesla Motors, a company dedicated to supporting the sustainable economy through the production of all-electric cars, in 2003. As CEO and product architect, he and his engineers created revolutionary electric cars that run entirely on lithium-ion battery packs. Tesla delivered its first car to market in 2007, a two-seat electric sports model called the Roadster, which retailed for more than $100,000, went from 0 to 60 miles per hour in less than four seconds, and had a battery pack life of 244 miles, far surpassing any other electric vehicles manufactured at that time. Musk then developed the Model S, a five-seat sedan with a range of 270 miles, which debuted in 2012. The Model S was named best overall car by Consumer Reports in 2014 and 2015, and earned the highest safety rating ever awarded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Board in 2014. In 2014 Tesla made its patents available to the public. In early 2015 Tesla introduced the Powerwall and Powerpack — an automated, compact battery storage system for homes and businesses, respectively, designed to work in conjunction with solar panels and other renewable energy sources.

Musk is also the chair and principal shareholder of the solar energy company SolarCity, one of the largest of its kind in the country. He is the winner of the 2014 Edison Achievement Award and the 2010 FAI Gold Space Medal.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Doctor of Humane Letters

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the coordinating minister for the economy and minister of finance for the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Previously she was managing director of the World Bank Group, one of the world’s most important global financial institutions tasked with providing loans and technical expertise to developing nations. A progressive reformer and dedicated public servant, Okonjo-Iweala has spearheaded efforts to stabilize and grow Nigeria’s economy, battling widespread government corruption and creating greater fiscal transparency and discipline.

Okonjo-Iweala was born in Delta State, Nigeria to parents who were university professors. Her happy childhood was interrupted by the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war in 1967, which forced her family to leave their home, sometimes surviving on one meal a day. At 15, she walked 10 kilometers to take her 3-year old sister, who was very ill with malaria, to the nearest clinic. After the war ended in 1970, the family began to rebuild. Encouraged by her father’s belief in the power of an education and her own sense of adventure, Okonjo-Iweala traveled abroad, earning her Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude in economics from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She joined the World Bank, where she worked as a development economist for 25 years, rising to the position of managing director.

In 2003 she returned to Nigeria, becoming the country’s first female minister of finance. Faced with the task of cleaning up Nigeria’s financial mismanagement and corruption, she developed an office for national debt management and increased fiscal transparency by publishing revenues accruing to different tiers of government in the newspapers, unprecedented steps that gained international attention for their commitment to good governance. Okonjo-Iweala spearheaded negotiations with the Paris Club of Creditors, which led to the elimination of $30 billion in external debt with the outright cancellation of $18 billion. She secured the country’s first-ever sovereign credit rating of BB minus. Nigeria’s growth rate tripled to an average 6% per annum over three years. From June to August 2006 she also served as minister of foreign affairs, the first woman to occupy that position.

She resigned from her position in Nigeria shortly thereafter to serve as a distinguished fellow of the Brookings Institution before returning to the World Bank with a portfolio that included Africa, South Asia, Europe, and central Asia. In 2011 she began her second term as Nigerian minister of finance and coordinating minister of the economy, focusing on ensuring macroeconomic stability and the development of key sectors of the economy to diversify Nigeria away from oil. Okonjo-Iweala has focused on creating jobs for youth, empowering girls and women by engendering the budget, unlocking the housing sector, and building institutions, systems and processes that use technology to enhance fiscal transparency. In 2012 she was one of three candidates to campaign for World Bank president, the first time that the position was ever contested.

Okonjo-Iweala is the founder of two Nigeria-based organizations: the opinion research organization NOI-Polls and the think-tank Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (CSE A). She co-founded the African University of Science and Technology, one of the centers of excellence for science and technology in Africa, and chairs its board. She is the author of “Reforming the Unreformable: Lessons from Nigeria(2012), about her first term as minister of finance, and co-author of two books published in 2003: a biography of Chinua Achebe and a book about the debt strategy in Nigeria.

Okonjo-Iweala has received numerous honors including the 2004 European Hero of the Year Award from Time magazine, which also designated her as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2014. For the past four years she has been listed among Forbes’100 Most Powerful Women and in 2015, she was named one of Fortune’s50 greatest world leaders. She has also earned several honorary doctorates and in 2014 received the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award.

Peter G. Schultz

Doctor of Science

Peter G. Schultz is a pioneer in chemical research and the Scripps Family Chair Professor of Chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute. Schultz has developed strategies and technologies to accelerate the discovery of new molecules with novel properties, and has used these methods to develop new drugs for unmet needs, and new materials for the chemical, electronics and energy industries.

Schultz was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, and attended the California Institute of Technology. While successful academically, he began to wonder about the relevance of coursework and took a leave of absence after his sophomore year. Seeking a relatively radical change, he spent a life-changing year pouring metal and making castings in an aluminum foundry. With renewed energy and clarity of thought, he returned to Caltech and earned his Bachelor of Science in chemistry summa cum laude. He later received his doctorate from the same institution, under the supervision of chemist Peter Dervan.

After a year of postdoctoral training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Schultz began his academic career at the University of California­Berkeley, where he was appointed assistant professor in 1985 and full professor in 1989. He was also a principal investigator at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. In 1999 Schultz joined The Scripps Research Institute where he has established himself by his creativity and the breadth of his research.

Schultz’s discoveries have had wide implications for academic and industry scientists in biomedical and materials research. He has led efforts that have discovered new medicines for cancer, autoimmune and infectious disease and played a major role in developing the field of regenerative medicine. He has pioneered the methods to synthesize and analyze the properties of new solid state materials thousands of times faster and more economically than previously practiced. Schultz is also a leader in the area of synthetic biology. Recently his laboratory has created living organisms in which the natural constraints of the 20 amino acid genetic code are removed, making it possible to create new biomolecules and even single and multicellular organisms with properties that would not have otherwise been feasible.

Over the course of his career, Schultz has founded nine biotechnology companies that have been pioneers in addressing the challenges in energy, materials, and human health. From 1999 to 2010 he founded and served as director of the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF), a leading biomedical research institute. The more than 600 staff members at GNF work to develop new treatments for a myriad of diseases, including cancer, and cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. In 2012 he founded the not-for-profit California Institute for Biomedical Research to help advance the development of drugs for unmet needs and neglected disease through partnerships with academia, foundations and industry.

He has trained more than 300 scientists and co-authored over 600 scientific publications. His many awards and accomplishments include the 2005 Arthur C. Cope Award of the American Chemical Society, the Paul Erhlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Award (2002), the Wolf Prize in Chemistry (1994), the Solvay Prize (2014), and the Alan T. Waterman Award, NSF (1988). He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the affiliated Institute of Medicine.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

Doctor of Humanities

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is University Professor and a founding member of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University. A scholar of postcolonial theory, she is considered one of the world’s leading Marxist-feminist deconstructionists, focusing her efforts on those who are marginalized by history. Since 1986 she has also been active in support of rural education and in feminist and ecological social movements.

Spivak was born in Calcutta, West Bengal, India where her father was a physician and her mother worked for charitable causes. She attended Presidency College, Kolkata, where she earned her degree in English, graduating first with first-class honors in 1959. Borrowing money so that she could travel to the United States, she attended Cornell University, where she earned her doctorate in comparative literature. Her first book, written for young adults, because she already felt the distance between the undergraduate and the critical text, was “Myself Must I Remake: The Life and Poetry of W.B. Yeats(1974).

In 1976 she distinguished herself in her field for her translation of “Of Grammatologyby Jacques Derrida with a monograph-length introduction. This volume is credited with introducing the theory of deconstruction generally to the United States and to the Anglophone world. Deconstruction — a philosophic approach that explores the ethnocentric assumptions implicit in European philosophy, social theory, anthropology, and other disciplines — has been a force in intellectual history since the 1970s.

Spivak has examined the roles of women and other powerless groups in formerly colonized countries such as India and published the landmark essay “Can The Subaltern Speak?which explored the inability of the powerless to be heard by those in power. The strict definition of the word “subaltern” is a junior officer in the army or “one who only takes orders,” but, following Antonio Gramsci, the term has been used for marginal social groups to be distinguished from wage labor. In her essay Spivak argued that when the subaltern expresses resistance clearly, he or she cannot be heard by the elite. Her other major publications include “Outside in the Teaching Machine” (1993), “A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Towards a History of the Vanishing Present” (1999), “Other Asias” (2008), and “An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization” (2012).

She began her teaching career at the University of Iowa in 1965, working there for 12 years before moving on to the University of Texas-Austin. She then taught at Emory University as the Longstreet Professor of English and at the University of Pittsburgh as its first Mellon Professor in English. She joined the faculty at Columbia University in 1991 and was named University Professor in 2007, the highest title bestowed upon faculty at Columbia; she was the first woman of color to receive this honor.

After receiving the 2012 Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy in the field of Thought and Ethics, she donated the bulk of her $730,000 cash award to the foundation she established in 1997, the Pares Chandra and Sivani Chakravorty Memorial Foundation for Rural Education, which, enhanced by all of her current and posthumous assets, will fund primary education for children of the rural subaltern. She currently funds six primary schools in the state of West Bengal in India out of her own income, and provides continuous training for local teachers and landless croppers. She travels to India as often as possible to continue this work.

Spivak is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees and in 2013 received the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award in India.

Janet Louise Yellen ’71 Ph.D.

Doctor of Social Science

Janet Louise Yellen is chair of the Board of Governors of the United States Federal Reserve System and heads the Federal Open Market Committee, the system’s principal monetary policymaking body. Yellen is the first woman in the 100-year history of the country’s central banking system to serve as chair. She began her four-year term as chair in February 2014. A respected scholar on issues of macroeconomic policy, specializing in unemployment, Yellen is also the Eugene E. and Catherine M. Trefethen Professor Emeritus of Business Administration at the University of California-Berkeley.

Yellen was born and educated in Brooklyn, New York, where she was editor of her high school paper and valedictorian of her graduating class. She attributes her early exposure to finance to her mother, a teacher whose Depression-era upbringing inspired her meticulous management of the family’s finances and regular review of the stock market. Yellen attended Brown University and quickly found herself drawn to the field of economics, which she believed provided a logical platform for helping people. As a senior in college, she attended a talk by Yale economics professor James Tobin. Impressed by his social justice approach to economics and motivated by his commitment to combining scholastic achievement with public service, she applied to the graduate program in economics at Yale. After graduating summa cum laude from Brown with a degree in economics in 1967, she relocated to New Haven where she subsequently earned her Ph.D. in 1971.

She became an assistant professor at Harvard University and then spent a year as a consultant to the division of international finance of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. There she met her future husband and frequent academic collaborator, economist George Akerlof, who would later win a Nobel Prize in economics. Yellen taught at the London School of Economics and Political Science before taking a position as assistant professor in the School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley, where she has emeritus status.

In 1994 she was nominated by President Bill Clinton to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, headquartered in Washington, D.C. As the central bank of the United States, the Federal Reserve conducts monetary policy to help foster low unemployment and stable prices. The Federal Reserve, along with other federal and state agencies, also supervises and regulates banks and financial institutions to promote safety and soundness in the financial services industry. In 1996 Clinton appointed her chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, a position she held through 1999 before returning to UC-Berkeley. She served as president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, from 2004 to 2010. There she distinguished herself by her keen understanding of the economy.

She returned to Washington, D.C. to assume the role of vice chair of the Board of Governors in October 2010. As before, she was recognized for her sound judgment, ability to build consensus, and her dedication to conducting policies that would foster growth in the U.S. economy to help improve the lives of all Americans. In 2014 she was nominated by President Barack Obama to succeed Ben S. Bernanke.

Yellen is a member of both the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has received honorary degrees from Brown University and Bard College, is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Economic Association, and was a Guggenheim Fellow.

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