Commencement

Honorary Degrees

John L. Anderson 

Honorary Doctor of Engineering, honoris causa 

John Anderson

John L. Anderson is President Emeritus of Illinois Institute of Technology, having served as the eighth president from 2007 to 2015. He currently serves as president of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), a private, independent, nonprofit institution that provides engineering leadership in service to the nation. 

A native of Wilmington, Delaware, Anderson received his undergraduate degree from the University of Delaware in 1967 and Ph.D. degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1971, both in chemical engineering. He began his academic career at Cornell University, where he served as an assistant professor of chemical engineering from 1971 to 1976. He then spent the next 28 years at Carnegie Mellon University, including eight years as dean of the College of Engineering and 11 years as head of the Department of Chemical Engineering. Before joining Illinois Tech, Anderson was provost and executive vice president at Case Western Reserve University.

Under Anderson’s tenure as Illinois Tech president, student enrollment significantly increased, with students from more than 100 countries attending the university. Fifteen new endowed professorships were added and the then-fundraising campaign, Fueling Innovation, was launched, bringing in more than $170 million to support endowed professorships, scholarships, and new academic facilities. He brought the annual commencement ceremony back to Illinois Tech’s Mies Campus in 2008.

Anderson was elected as an NAE member in 1992 for contributions to the understanding of colloidal hydrodynamics and membrane transport phenomena; in 2015 he also was elected as an NAE councillor. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Anderson is the recipient of numerous other honors. Among his more recent awards was his presidential appointment to the National Science Board (2014–2020), the National Engineering Award from the American Association of Engineering Societies, and inclusion on the Alumni Wall of Fame at the University of Delaware.

Fay Clayton (LAW ’78)

Honorary Doctor of Law, honoris causa 

Fay Clayton

Fay Clayton (LAW ’78) was most recently a partner at the majority-women litigation firm Robinson Curley & Clayton, which she co-founded in 1989. 

After graduating from the inaugural class of New College of Florida, Clayton moved to Ankara, Turkey, where she began her family. Three children later, she was working as a Montessori teacher in a co-operative preschool in Chicago’s South Shore community and began taking evening courses at Chicago-Kent College of Law. At Chicago-Kent, she was active in a center focused on providing legal services as well in moot court events.

Clayton’s passion for women’s rights began making itself apparent when she successfully convinced Chicago-Kent administration to convert one of two men’s restrooms on the third floor of the law school into a women’s restroom. 

After graduating first and with honors in her law school class, Clayton joined Sachnoff & Weaver and was made a partner in 1982. She then joined the firm that is now Miner, Barnhill & Galland, before establishing Robinson Curley & Clayton with two colleagues. While working at her law firm in 1993, Clayton gained recognition as head counsel for the National Organization for Women in its ongoing case against a coalition of anti-abortion groups. Her arguments before the Supreme Court of the United States (NOW v. Schiedler) resulted in the court ruling that organizations such as NOW could file lawsuits against abortion protestors under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Besides women’s rights, Clayton’s expert areas of litigation included high-stakes commercial matters, race discrimination, religious liberties, and LGBT issues. She retired from practice in 2016 and lives in Evanston, Illinois, with her husband, Lowell Sachnoff.

Arlene Harris

Honorary Doctor of Engineering and Design, honoris causa 

Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris—telecommunications entrepreneur, inventor, investor, and policy advocate—is co-founder of a number of communications companies, along with her husband and business partner, Illinois Institute of Technology Hall of Fame honoree Martin “Marty” Cooper (EE ’50, M.S. ’57). Harris is president and co-founder of Dyna LLC, an incubator for startup and early-stage organizations historically in the wireless technology field, which the couple founded in 1986 as a home base for their developmental and support activities. Dyna LLC then launched its companies Subscriber Computing Inc., Cellular Pay Phone Inc., SOS Wireless Communications, and Accessible Wireless. In the most impactful innovation of her career, Harris drove Subscriber Computing to create the first technology to enable prepaid cellular services—a technology that opened the cellular revolution to billions of credit-challenged consumers. Later, SOS and Accessible became the foundation for GreatCall.

Consumers may be most familiar with GreatCall for its Jitterbug phone. Harris led GreatCall from the idea, through development and commercialization of this important offering, which was designed to provide wireless cellular access to less-tech-savvy customers, primarily senior citizens. Jitterbug was distinguished with several awards, including being named the New York Times Top 10 List of greatest technology ideas of 2006, and in 2007 Reader’s Digest included the phone as one of its Top 100 Products. Best Buy Co., Inc. acquired GreatCall in 2018. 

Encouraged by Cooper, who is widely known as the “father of the cell phone,” Harris is an acknowledged telecommunications industry pioneer in her own right. She began her career at age 12 as a mobile telephone switchboard operator for her family’s business, Industrial Communications Systems. Referred to as the “first lady of wireless,” in 2007 she became the first woman inductee of the Wireless Hall of Fame, and in 2017 she was named to the Consumer Technology Hall of Fame. Harris holds several patents, and was a founding member of many early cellular industry organizations as well as being co-founder and board member of the Wireless History Foundation, a nonprofit organization formed to preserve and promote the history of the wireless industry.

Harris is now in the founding stages of the new startup Wrethink, a high-tech fixed broadband company focused on consumer privacy and on helping families use technology to organize and manage personal information. She serves on the Board of Advisors of Illinois Tech’s Stuart School of Business and the Institute of Design.