Four recommended for honorary degrees at Winter Commencement


( Update: The Board of Regents approved these honorary degrees at its Oct. 18 meeting.)

A renowned computer scientist and transgender advocate, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, an internationally recognized business executive, and one of academic medicine’s most respected leaders are scheduled to receive honorary degrees at Winter Commencement 2018 on the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus.

Lynn Conway, U-M professor emerita, computer scientist, electrical engineer, inventor and a transgender activist, will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree and deliver the commencement address at 2 p.m. Dec. 16 at Crisler Center.

Also receiving honorary degrees are Rita Dove, Doctor of Fine Arts; James Hackett, Doctor of Laws; and Elizabeth Nabel, Doctor of Science.

The degrees are pending approval by the Board of Regents at its meeting Thursday.

Lynn Conway

Photo of Lynn Conway
Lynn Conway

Conway, professor emerita of electrical engineering and computer science, and an internationally recognized transgender advocate, is renowned for her significant contributions to computer science. These include the development of a unified structural methodology that demystified the silicon chip design process and triggered the very-large-scale integration (VLSI) revolution in Silicon Valley.

Conway was born in Mount Vernon, New York. While she was raised as a boy, Conway identified as a girl from a young age. After earning her Bachelor of Science degree in 1962 and a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering degree in 1963 from Columbia University, she joined IBM Research. In 1965, she invented dynamic instruction scheduling (DIS), a method to issue multiple out-of-order instructions per machine cycle, a fundamental breakthrough in computer architecture.

In sharing her personal story, Conway tells how IBM fired her in 1968 as she began her gender transition. After her transition, she established a new identity and became a successful woman engineer, working first at Memorex Corp. and then at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, where she did her VLSI systems work.

Many thousands of chip designers learned their craft from “Introduction to VLSI Systems,” which Conway co-authored with California Institute of Technology professor Carver Mead. Later, as assistant director for strategic computing at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, she created the meta-architecture and led the planning of the Strategic Computing Initiative, a major research program aimed at building a technology base for the development of machine intelligence.

Conway joined U-M’s faculty in 1985, with a research focus on visual communications and control. As an associate dean in the College of Engineering, she contributed to numerous research and instructional initiatives, including the building of the Media Union, and retired from the university in 1998.

The following year, as computer historians began uncovering her role in DIS development, she decided to share her transgender history. Since then, Conway has worked to protect and expand the rights of transgender people and to illuminate and normalize gender variance and gender transition processes through her widely accessed website.

Conway, who lives with her engineer husband, Charles Rogers, is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Among other accolades, she is the recipient of the Franklin Institute John Price Wetherill Medal, the University of Pennsylvania Harold Pender Award, the Secretary of Defense Meritorious Achievement Award, the Society of Women Engineers National Achievement Award, the Computer Pioneer Award of the IEEE Computer Society, the Computer History Museum Fellow Award and the James Clerk Maxwell Medal of the IEEE and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Rita Dove

Photo of Rita Dove
Rita Dove

Dove, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia, and former U.S. poet laureate, is known for the lyricism and beauty of her writing.

Born in Akron, Ohio, Dove read avidly as a child. She visited the White House as a Presidential Scholar during her senior year in high school, the first of several occasions she was honored by an American president.

She graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1973 from Ohio’s Miami University, studied at Universität Tübingen in Germany as a 1974­-75 Fulbright fellow and earned her Master of Fine Arts degree in 1977 from the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop.

A member of the University of Virginia faculty since 1989, Dove was named U.S. poet laureate in 1993 — the youngest poet and the second woman to earn this honor. She traveled widely during her two-year term, sparking interest in the literary arts with her public appearances. She served as poet laureate of Virginia from 2004-06.

Dove launched her career with her poetry collections, “The Yellow House on the Corner” (1980) and “Museum” (1983). She won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for “Thomas and Beulah,” a verse sequence reflecting on the lives of her maternal grandparents. Her fourth poetry book, “Grace Notes,” won the 1990 Ohioana Book Award.

Michigan Quarterly Review has published Dove’s work on several occasions, including her poem “Arrow,” an excerpt from her novel “Through the Ivory Gate” (1992) and several poems from her book-length saga, “Sonata Mulattica,” (2009), winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award.

Other collections include, “Mother Love,” (1995); “On the Bus with Rosa Parks,” which was a 1999 New York Times Notable Book of the Year; and “American Smooth” (2004). Her “Collected Poems: 1974-2004” was a 2016 National Book Award finalist and won the NAACP Image Award in Literature. She authored the short story collection, “Fifth Sunday” (1985), essays under the title “The Poets World” (1995) and the play “The Darker Face of the Earth” (1994), which was performed at Washington’s Kennedy Center and London’s Royal National Theatre.

Dove has written lyrics for noted composers like Tania León and John Williams. She edited “The Best American Poetry 2000” and “The Penguin Anthology of 20th-Century American Poetry.” Dove currently serves as The New York Times Magazine’s poetry editor.

President Bill Clinton presented Dove with the 1996 National Humanities Medal, and President Barack Obama awarded her the 2011 National Medal of Arts. She is one of only four authors ever to receive both medals. Other accolades include the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal and the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities.

Dove is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.

James Hackett

Photo of James Hackett
James Hackett

U-M alumnus James Hackett, president and chief executive officer of Ford Motor Co. and retired president and CEO of Steelcase Inc., is recognized internationally for his transformational leadership.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Hackett earned a Bachelor of General Studies degree in 1977 at U-M, specializing in finance, and played center under football coach Bo Schembechler.

After starting his career at P&G, Hackett joined Grand Rapids-based Steelcase, a leader in the office furniture industry, in 1981. Starting in sales and marketing, he rose through the ranks and became president in 1994 at age 39, one of the youngest Fortune 500 CEOs in America. Hackett led Steelcase through a series of transformations that positioned it to thrive in a rapidly evolving global market. He helped the company transform the way people work, moving from cubicles to open, collaborative workspaces.

After retiring from Steelcase in February 2014, Hackett was named U-M’s interim athletic director that fall. He oversaw the completion of the physical transformation of the athletic campus, negotiated a multiyear apparel contract with Nike — the largest in U-M history — hired football coach Jim Harbaugh, and played an integral role in the appointment of Donald R. Shepherd Director of Athletics Warde Manuel in 2016.

A Ford board member since 2013, and president and CEO since 2017, Hackett is guiding yet another transformation — the automaker’s transition to a car and mobility company. Under his leadership, Ford is redefining the American car of today while also creating a mobility ecosystem of tomorrow that will connect downtown Detroit, Ford’s Dearborn headquarters, the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti Township, and U-M’s Ann Arbor campus.

During his career, Hackett served on the boards of Northwestern Mutual, Fifth Third Bank, the National Center for Arts and Technology, and the Institute of Design Board of Overseers at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

He has generously supported U-M for more than four decades, including service on the advisory boards of the Life Sciences Institute and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. He and his wife, Kathy Hackett, support Ford School students through two sustaining endowments — the Lee C. Bollinger Award for second-year students and the James and Kathy Hackett Family Fellowship Fund.

The Hacketts also support U-M Depression Center programs to raise awareness and reduce the stigma around depression and related illnesses on campus and in the community.

When two lawsuits challenged the use of race in U-M admission policies to achieve a diverse student body, Hackett helped enlist 100 companies to join one of two defining amicus briefs supporting the university’s diversity ideals, which the Supreme Court upheld in 2003.

Elizabeth Nabel

Photo of Elizabeth Nabel
Elizabeth Nabel

Nabel, president of the Harvard University-affiliated Brigham Health, and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School since 2010, ranks among academic medicine’s most respected leaders.

A gifted biomedical researcher and wellness advocate, Nabel joined U-M’s Medical School faculty in 1987 and became director of the Cardiovascular Research Center in 1992. She made history with her 1997 appointment as U-M’s first woman chief of cardiology.

A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Nabel earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1974 from St. Olaf College, her medical degree in 1981 from Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, and completed her internal medicine and cardiology training at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

As head of Brigham Health, Nabel is responsible for patient care, research, education and community missions at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital and the Brigham and Women’s Physician Organization. She also leads Brigham Health’s $1.5 billion life-giving breakthroughs campaign.

Nabel has made substantial contributions to the understanding of the molecular genetics of cardiovascular diseases, including clarifying fundamental processes of cell division and growth of vascular smooth muscle cells in blood vessels. The author of more than 250 scientific articles, she holds 17 patents, has co-edited two books on coronary artery disease and has served on several journal editorial boards.

In 1999, Nabel was appointed scientific director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health, where she established a research study for genes related to chronic diseases, including cardiovascular, as part of the long-running Framingham Heart Study.

As the institute’s director from 2006-09, Nabel leveraged a $3 billion research portfolio to establish pioneering programs in genomics and stem cells, stem and progenitor cell biology, and translational research. She also launched the Red Dress Heart Truth campaign to raise heart awareness in women and advocated in Congress for increased biomedical research funding.

Nabel is co-founder of the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases, an alliance of health research institutions that support research and outreach activities to treat and prevent chronic non-communicable diseases in developing countries. In 2015, the National Football League appointed her its first chief medical adviser.

Nabel serves on the boards of Ariadne Labs, the Boys & Girls Club of Boston, the Broad Institute, and Moderna Therapeutics, and previously has served on the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Medical Advisory Board.

She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the Association of American Physicians, the National Academy of Medicine and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Among other honors, Nabel is the recipient of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Bostonian Award, the Association of American Physicians’ George M. Kober Medal, and several American Heart Association awards.



  1. Rachael Igbawua
    on October 19, 2018 at 5:58 am

    I really enjoyed reading about these four amazing individuals. Thank you for writing such a wonderful introduction.

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