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Our Stanford Engineering Heroes are profoundly inspirational

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April 11, 2019

For many years now, Stanford Engineering has given annual Heroes Awards to recognize the achievements of alumni and emeritus faculty who have profoundly advanced the course of scientific progress and humanity, and who embody the leadership qualities that inspire engineers to apply their education to have a positive global impact. Past recipients include Fred Terman, Irmgard Flügge-Lotz, William Hewlett, David Packard, and more recently Jensen Huang and George & Alexandra Forsythe. 

Our winners this year are also extraordinary. Later in the year we will have events to honor Barbara Liskov and Ellen Ochoa. Barbara, a Turing Award winner, earned her computer science PhD at Stanford in 1972 and then joined the faculty at MIT. She is well known for inventing the concept of data abstraction, which became the foundation for how nearly all software systems are organized to this day. Ellen received her master’s and PhD in electrical engineering at Stanford in 1981 and 1985. She joined NASA soon after, where she flew aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1983 (becoming the first Latina astronaut), logged nearly 1,000 hours on four separate trips to space, and then became the 11th director of the Johnson Space Center.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hosting a luncheon for our third recipient this year, Walter Vincenti, an emeritus professor of aeronautics and astronautics who will turn 102 on April 20. Walter made extraordinary contributions to the study of supersonic aircraft, the history of technology, and — as the Space Age got underway — understanding high-temperature gas dynamics, which helped make it possible for spacecraft to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere. (You can read more here about Walter’s remarkable career and accomplishments.) It was a wonderful event. Along with Walter, who is remarkable, we were joined by Walter’s son-in-law; Charbel Farhat, the current Aero-Astro department chair; emeriti faculty Art Bryson and George Springer; and Professor Brian Cantwell. Also in attendance was John Willinsky, a professor in the School of Education who leads the university’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society that Walter helped found.

We are deeply honored that Walter, Barbara, and Ellen — and all of our Heroes — are part of the Stanford Engineering family. 

Jennifer Widom

Frederick Emmons Terman Dean, Stanford School of Engineering 
Fletcher Jones Professor in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering