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The Father of the Cellphone and The Why Behind AI

4th Annual Virtual Global Alumni Gathering

Saturday, November 4, 2023 | 7 p.m. CDT

The International Committee of the Illinois Tech Alumni Association, in partnership with the Office of Career Services and Office of Student Life, looks forward to seeing you at our Virtual Global Alumni Gathering on Saturday, November 4! International Committee Chair and professional keynote speaker Shanita Baraka Akintonde (M.B.A. ’97) will serve as the emcee for the evening.

Open to alumni and students around the world, this one-of-a-kind event will recognize one of Illinois Tech’s superstars and inventor of the cellphone, Marty Cooper (EE ’50, M.S. ’57), and feature a panel discussion about artificial intelligence facilitated by Dean of College of Computing Lance Fortnow. 

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Meet Our Speakers

Global Alumni Gathering 2022 - Shanita Akintonde Headshot

Shanita Baraka Akintonde (M.B.A. ’97), aka ShaniTaDa!, is chair of the Illinois Tech Alumni Association’s International Committee and chair of the Virtual Global Alumni Gathering. Akintonde is an accomplished professional speaker, author, entrepreneur, and educator who has transitioned thousands of students from the classroom to the boardroom during her 23 years as a tenured professor at Columbia College Chicago. Her company, ShanitaSpeaks, LLC, energizes clients to lead, listen, and love themselves and those who appear to be different better through keynotes, workshops, and specialized training sessions. Her audiences span worldwide from Houston to Hawaii, Baltimore to Boston, Canada to Ohio, and San Francisco to South Africa.

She is the youngest and first Black female to sit on boards for The American Marketing Association, The American Advertising Federation, and The Public Relations Society of America, Inc (PRSA) simultaneously.

Akintonde is a leader in other capacities as well. She serves as vice chairman of The Metropolitan Board, the largest private club for business leaders in Chicago. She is also the founder and president of Leading Ladies Toastmasters™ Club, the first specialty club of its type chartered in the Chicago area and is among over 350,000 Toastmasters around the world. She is a life  member of The Chicago Writers Association, Top Ladies of Distinction, Inc., and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. She credits her Illinois Tech education as being crucial to forging her life path of success.

This firecracker communicator is propelled by love! She met her husband, Illinois Tech Trustee Jimmy Akintonde (ARCH ’95), on Illinois Tech’s campus nearly 30 years ago. The pair share two sons. Their oldest, Jimi, completed his civil engineering studies at Illinois Tech, while the youngest, Anthony, is a Man of Morehouse College.

Robert D. “Bob” Hoel

Bob graduated from Illinois Tech in 1970 with a degree in accounting from the Stuart School of Business. During his time on campus, he was very involved in student government, working his way to the top as president of what was then called the Illinois Tech Student Association. Hoel continued to be involved on campus after graduation, mostly as a member of Triangle Fraternity. After spending 34 years in various capacities at RR Donnelley, he retired in 2004 to become a “professional" volunteer. 

Hoel spent six years on the Alumni Association Board of Directors, serving on the Career and Professional Development Committee. After a year off as required by the bylaws, he returned to the board as vice hair and now serves as chair. Hoel was elected a trustee of the university in October 2018 and serves on the Academic Affairs Committee, The Chicago Difference Task Force, the Development Committee, and the Executive Committee.

He and his wife, Nancy, have two adult children who successfully launched careers of their own. In addition to his volunteer work, Hoel enjoys ornamental and vegetable gardening and is an avid cyclist.

In addition to Illinois Tech, Hoel sat on the Board of Ride Illinois, the state-wide bicycle advocacy organization, and served four years as president of the Board of the Active Transportation Alliance, one of the largest regional active transportation advocacy groups in the United States.

Martin Cooper

Martin Cooper is a visionary, inventor, and entrepreneur who conceived the first portable cellular telephone handset in 1973 and led the team that developed and introduced it. He is known as the “father of the handheld cellular phone”. Cooper is a member of the United States National Academy of Engineering from which he received the Charles Draper Award. He is a Marconi Prize recipient, a Prince of Asturias Laureate, and a Life Member and centennial medal awardee of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Cooper’s teams introduced the first nationwide dial car telephone system, the first nationwide paging system, the digitally-trunked land mobile dispatch system that was introduced concomitantly with the cellular service, and other communications innovations. Among his 11 patents is a cellular radiotelephone system optimized for portable communications.

He co-founded several companies including Cellular Business Systems, Inc., which created the management systems for most carriers in the early days of cellular telephone service, ArrayComm Inc., a leader in smart antenna technology, and GreatCall, Inc., innovator of the Jitterbug phone.

Cooper has been widely published in the wireless field. He formulated the Law of Spectral Capacity (Cooper’s Law). He serves on the FCC Technological Advisory Council.

He is a double alumnus and life trustee of Illinois Tech. He received honorary doctorates from Strathclyde University in Scotland, Inha University in Korea, Hasselt University in Belgium, as well as Illinois Tech. He is currently a member of the FCC Technological Advisory Council.

Fortnow Headshot

Lance Fortnow is the inaugural dean of the College of Computing at Illinois Tech. Before this role, he served as chair of the School of Computer Science at Georgia Tech and has previously taught at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. He's an expert in computational complexity, the mathematical study of efficient computation. Fortnow co-authors one of the longest running weblogs in computer science and wrote the popular science book The Golden Ticket: P, NP, and the Search for the Impossible.


2023 Global Alumni Gathering - Dr. Victor Rodriguez-Fernandez

Dr. Victor Rodriguez-Fernandez is an associate professor in the School of Computer Systems Engineering of Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM). He holds a Ph.D. in computer science from the Autonomous University of Madrid. He is part of the Applied Intelligence and Data Analysis research group at UPM, where he is involved with several projects funded by the European Commission. Currently he is serving as a visiting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his research is focused on the practical applications of AI in space research.

2023 Global Alumni Gathering - Sangramjith Mukharjee

Sangramjith is an artificial intelligence engineer at Duostech Inc., a company that provides a broad range of sophisticated machine vision and artificial intelligence solutions. Before joining this company, Mukharjee completed his graduate studies  in electrical and computer engineering with a major in artificial intelligence and computer vision at Illinois Tech. He also served as the president of the Indian Student Association, as well as  vice president of the Machine Learning Club.

2023 Global Alumni Gathering - Kajol Shah

Kajol Shah is a passionate software and AI/ML engineer with a flair for innovation and relentless quest to delve into the depths of artificial intelligence. With more than four years of industry experience and a master's degree in artificial intelligence from Illinois Tech, Shah embodies the essence of technological transformation.

Currently driving AI and software development initiatives at TransPerfect for the past one and a half years, she previously spent three years at Atos Syntel, leaving a trail of successful projects and accolades in her wake. Shah's passion for AI extends beyond the workplace; she is a prolific author on Medium and the creative mind behind "Techie Rookie," a YouTube channel that she recently created, which is dedicated to demystifying AI for enthusiasts. 

Shah's journey is one of relentless curiosity and dedication, evident in her impressive portfolio of different projects in machine learning, computer vision, and natural language processing. Proficient in Python, SQL, and ML/DL frameworks like Keras and TensorFlow, she is an expert at solving complex real-world challenges. 

Her notable projects include groundbreaking ventures like style transfer using GANs, deep learning-based text summarization, and the development of ETL pipelines on AWS. Her work reflects a seamless blend of technical expertise and strategic acumen, exemplified by her AGILE Entrepreneurial Award from Atos Syntel. 

Beyond her professional commitments, Shah's campus life involvement was equally enriching. She was a peer mentor—guiding incoming graduate students—and an active contributor to student organizations. As the former president of the Gateway to the Great Outdoors (GGO) club and a core member of the Indian Student Association, she has demonstrated that her leadership abilities extend beyond her work. 

Apart from her professional life, Shah also finds solace in the pages of books, leisurely walks, and the thrill of exploring new places.


Every Scarlet Hawk is a difference maker no matter where they have landed in the world. Take a look at how our alumni go on to do great things and continue to foster lifelong connections across our global community.
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