Commencement / Speaker Information

NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan
2016 Commencement Speaker

Dr. Ellen StofanDr. Ellen Stofan was appointed NASA chief scientist in 2013, serving as principal adviser to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the agency's science programs and science-related strategic planning and investments.

Prior to her appointment, Stofan was vice president of Proxemy Research in Laytonsville, Md., and honorary professor in the department of Earth sciences at University College London in England. Her research has focused on the geology of Venus, Mars, Saturn's moon Titan, and Earth. Stofan is an associate member of the Cassini Mission to Saturn Radar Team and a co-investigator on the Mars Express Mission’s MARSIS sounder. She also was principal investigator on the Titan Mare Explorer, a proposed mission to send a floating lander to a sea on Titan.

Her appointment as chief scientist marks a return to NASA for Stofan. From 1991 through 2000, she held a number of senior scientist positions at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., including chief scientist for NASA’s New Millennium Program, deputy project scientist for the Magellan Mission to Venus, and experiment scientist for SIR-C, an instrument that provided radar images of Earth on two shuttle flights in 1994.

Stofan holds master and doctorate degrees in geological sciences from Brown University and a bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary. She has received many awards and honors, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Stofan has written and published numerous professional papers, books, and book chapters, and has chaired committees including the National Research Council Inner Planets Panel for the recent Planetary Science Decadal Survey and the Venus Exploration Analysis Group.


Previous Commencement Speakers

  • 2015: Jo Allen, '80, first alumna to serve as Meredith College president
  • 2014: Susan Mboya, Coca-cola executive and philanthropist, founder of the Zawadi Africa Foundation
  • 2013: Anne-Marie Slaughter, International affairs scholar and the first woman to serve as director of policy planning for the United States Department of State
  • 2012: Silda Wall Spitzer, ’80, Former First Lady, State of New York
  • 2011: Sally Brice-O'Hara, U.S. Coast Guard vice admiral
  • 2010: Gretchen Holt Witt, '89, a pediatric cancer activist and co-founder of the non-profit Cookies for Kids' Cancer
  • 2009: Sarah Parker, chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court
  • 2008: Betty Ray McCain, former Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources
  • 2007: Elizabeth Edwards, author, advocate and attorney
  • 2006: Beverly Perdue, North Carolina lieutenant governor
  • 2005: Renee Montagne, National Public Radio correspondent and "Morning Edition" co-host
  • 2004: Elaine Marshall, North Carolina Secretary of State
  • 2003: Judy Woodruff, journalist for news organizations including CNN and PBS

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