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Honorary Degrees Awarded to Leaders and Innovators in Several Fields

At its 2006 commencement ceremony, Columbia University will award honorary degrees to innovators and leaders in business, politics, the arts and science.

Kenneth Chenault
Kenneth Chenault

American Express Chair and Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Chenault will receive a doctor of laws degree. Chenault, one of the most influential people on Wall Street, was named among the 50 most powerful African American executives by Fortune magazine. In 2001, he became chair and CEO of American Express. One of his hallmark decisions that year was to keep the company's headquarters located in the World Financial Center despite the Sept. 11 attacks. Since joining the company in 1981, he has held a number of senior posts, including a four-year stint as chief operating officer. Born on Long Island, New York, Chenault holds a B.A. from Bowdoin College and a J.D. from Harvard University. As the leader of an unparalleled global financial services company, Chenault has been credited by his peers for having a clear vision of what is needed to keep American Express profitable by increasing sales and circulation in the company's merchandising services and card divisions.

Chia-Kun Chu
Chia-Kun Chu

Chia-Kun Chu, professor emeritus of applied mathematics at Columbia's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), will receive an honorary doctor of science degree. Early in his career, Chu recognized the power and necessity of computation in understanding fluid dynamics. He developed approximations to the differential equations of fluid dynamics and coined the term "computational fluid dynamics." Chu's teaching and service to Columbia spans more than four decades. His leadership during the steady growth and definition of applied mathematics at Columbia is perhaps his greatest educational legacy. Because of his devoted vision, University undergraduates can major in applied mathematics and participate in a vital and coherent program of active scholars heavily involved in interdisciplinary research and education. Chu received Columbia's "Great Teaching Award" in 1985.

Citigroup Chief Financial Officer Sallie Krawcheck, Business'92, will receive the Columbia University Medal for Excellence this year. Krawcheck joined Citigroup in October 2002 after serving as chair and chief executive officer of Smith Barney, which is owned by Citigroup. During her two years at Smith Barney, Krawcheck managed the firm's global private client and equity research businesses. As Citigroup's CFO and chief strategist, she is responsible for investor relations, mergers and acquisitions, and long-term planning. Krawcheck is a member of the Board of Overseers for Columbia Business School and sits on the advisory board for Columbia University's Center for Excellence in Accounting and Security Analysis. For four straight years, from 2002 to 2005, Fortune magazine has recognized Krawcheck as one of the "Most Powerful Women" in business.

Gerda Lerner
Gerda Lerner

Professor, historian and author Gerda Lerner, GSAS'66, will receive an honorary doctor of letters degree. Co-writer (along with husband Carl Lerner) of the 1964 film Black Like Me, Lerner is considered a pioneer in women's history. She is credited with teaching the first post-war college course in women's history and helping to establish several women's history graduate programs. Lerner is professor of history emerita at the University of Wisconsin and has published a memoir, Fireweed: A Political Autobiography (2002). Lerner also served as director of the graduate program in women's history at Sarah Lawrence College from 1972 to 1976 and from 1978 to 1979. In addition, she is a past president of the Organization of American Historians and a founding member of the National Organization for Women.

Maya Lin
Maya Lin

Architect Maya Lin, famous for designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., will receive a doctor of humane letters degree from the University this year. Many of Lin's award-winning designs bridge art and architecture and imbue her monuments with a sense of placidity and tragedy, critics say. She designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial during her senior year at Yale University, where she earned her B.A. and M.Arch., and has since designed several other structures, including the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. Lin-who works alone in her New York office, Maya Lin Studio-was also on the committee that selected the Sept. 11 memorial to be constructed at Ground Zero. In 2005, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Cuban dissident and human rights organizer Oswaldo PayŠ SardiŮas will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree. A vocal advocate for nonviolent change in Cuba, PayŠ led an effort to open Cuba's political system to divergent voices and democratic processes. As director of the Varela Project, he spearheaded a petition drive signed by more than 11,000 people seeking a referendum on personal, political and economic rights. An engineer by training, PayŠ also has received honorary degrees from the University of Miami and the New School University. In December 2002, the European Parliament awarded PayŠ the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. PayŠ also embarked on an international tour that included meetings with Pope John Paul II and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell in January 2003.

Distinguished cell biologist Irving Weissman, famous for his pioneering work on stem cells, will receive an honorary doctor of science degree. Weissman runs a large research laboratory at Stanford University and another at Hopkins Marine Station. In 1987, Weissman isolated the first bone marrow-derived stem cells from mice, and soon after, he identified human blood-forming stem cells. His research now extends to the possible stem cell origins of leukemias and other malignancies and has spawned new designs for more effective cancer therapies. As director of the Stanford University Institute for Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine, Weissman is also working on inserting human nerve cells into mice to investigate how human brain cancers form. In 2004, the New York Academy of Medicine awarded Weissman the Medal for Distinguished Contributions to Biomedical Research.

Published: May 12, 2006
Last modified: May 12, 2006