Past Engineering Alumni Distinguished Award Winners

Robert Langer ’70

2023 Distinguished Alumni Awardee

Robert Langer
Robert S. Langer, Jr. '70

Robert S. Langer, Jr. graduated from Cornell Engineering in 1970, receiving his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. He is widely considered one of the world’s foremost researchers, entrepreneurs, and inventors, particularly for his pioneering work in biotechnology, drug delivery, and tissue engineering. He has mentored dozens of students and researchers who have gone on to top positions in academia and industry around the world.

After earning his Sc.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1974, Robert served as a postdoctoral fellow at the Children's Hospital Boston and at Harvard Medical School, joining the MIT faculty in 1977. He is one of twelve Institute Professors at MIT, the highest honor awarded to faculty, and he has written over 1,500 articles, which have been cited over 385,000 times. Robert’s h-index of 308 is the highest of any engineer in history and the second highest of any individual in any field. His patents have been licensed or sublicensed to over 400 companies, and he is a cofounder of several companies, including Moderna. Robert served as chairman of the US Food and Drug Administration’s Science Board from 1999 to 2002 and was named the Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year in 2015.

Robert is a member of the National Academy of Medicine, National Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Sciences, and the National Academy of Inventors, and he has received forty honorary doctorate degrees. His major awards include the National Medal of Science and the States National Medal of Technology and Innovation (he is one of three living individuals to have received both these honors), as well as the Charles Stark Draper Prize, Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, Albany Medical Center Prize, Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, Kyoto Prize, Wolf Prize for Chemistry, Millennium Technology Prize, Priestley Medal, Gairdner Prize, Hoover Medal, Dreyfus Prize in Chemical Sciences, BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biomedicine, and the Balzan Prize.

Read more about Langer receiving the 2023 award in the Cornell Chronicle

The Meinig Family

2022 Distinguished Alumni Awardee

Peter and Nancy Meinig
Nancy E. Meinig '62 and Peter C. Meinig '61

Peter C. Meinig ‘61 was chairman of HM International L.L.C., a privately-owned, diversified manufacturing and management company. He and Nancy E. Meinig ’62 were the quintessential Cornell couple. For nearly four decades, the Meinigs have given selflessly and tirelessly of their time, counsel, friendship, and resources to advance Cornell’s mission. Elected to the Board of Trustees in 1990 and as Board Chair in 2002, Pete provided astute leadership during some of the most challenging and transformational times in Cornell’s history. He thoughtfully and diligently guided the university through a difficult transition in leadership, as well as through the Great Recession, and also played an integral role in Cornell’s successful bid for an applied sciences and technology campus in New York City. With a shared dedication to Cornell, Nancy was a steadfast partner in all of Pete’s endeavors, and she continues to be a thoughtful, approachable, and committed advocate for the university. Their service to Cornell was recognized in 2015 with the Frank H. T. Rhodes Exemplary Alumni Service Award.

The Meinig family’s philanthropy has touched virtually every corner of the campus—from their early support of the Cornell Annual Fund to the magnificent $50 million family commitment made in May 2015 to create the Nancy E. and Peter C. Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering. In 2007, the Meinig family also established the Meinig Family Investigatorships in the Life Sciences. Pete and Nancy have endowed two faculty positions, the Nancy Schlegel Meinig Professor of Maternal and Child Nutrition in the Division of Nutritional Sciences in the College of Human Ecology and the Meinig Family Professor in Engineering, and named the Carl Meinig Head Coach of Women’s Tennis in honor of Pete’s father, who earned two degrees from Cornell. In 1998, Pete and Nancy, together with their daughters, endowed the Meinig Family Cornell National Scholars Program. The Meinigs’ generosity extends to Weill Cornell Medical College, where they established a Dean’s Research Endowment Fund for Scientific Recruitment and Advancements and, among other areas, supported critical facilities as part of the Advancing the Clinical Mission Campaign.

Read more about the Meinig Family receiving the 2022 award in the Cornell Chronicle

John Swanson '61, M.Eng. '63

2021 Distinguished Alumni Awardee

John Swanson and Dean Lynden Archer interact on stage
John A. Swanson '61, M.Eng. '63 and Dean Lynden Archer

John A. Swanson ’61, M.Eng. ’63, internationally recognized authority and innovator in the application of finite-element methods of engineering, was honored with the 2021 Cornell Engineering Distinguished Alumni Award.

Swanson, elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 2009, is founder and former president and CEO of ANSYS Inc. Founded in 1970 as Swanson Analysis Systems Inc., ANSYS develops and globally markets engineering simulation software and technologies widely used by engineers and designers across a broad spectrum of industries. The company was awarded the CAD/CAM Leader Award by Machine Design in 1991-1993, and Manufacturing Systems ranked it among the “Top 50” software companies. Among Swanson’s numerous honors are the American Association of Engineering Societies John Fritz Medal, the Computers in Engineering Award, and the Pittsburgh Entrepreneur of the Year in High Technology.

After selling ANSYS in 1994, Swanson focused on engineering education and the training of future generations of practicing engineers. He founded the Swanson Engineering Simulation Program at Cornell, and joined the Engineering College Council. More recently, he has shifted his attention to renewable energy, including solar and bio-diesel enterprises; he is a developer of Green Key Villages in Lady Lake, Florida, the only “net zero energy” home development in the area.

Swanson received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Cornell, and his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh, where the Swanson School of Engineering is named in recognition of his involvement and support. He began his career at Westinghouse Astronuclear Laboratory, where his discovery that “developing the tools was more fun than solving the problems” led to his founding of Swanson Analysis Systems.

Swanson and his wife Janet are among Cornell’s foremost benefactors. They have given generously to the College of Engineering and the College of Veterinary Medicine, with gifts to programs — including Engineering Student Project Teams — faculty support, scholarships and capital projects.

Read more about Swanson receiving the 2021 award in the Cornell Chronicle

Robert Smith ’85

2020 Distinguished Alumni Awardee

robert smith
Robert F. Smith '85

Robert F. Smith ’85, founder, chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, was honored with Cornell Engineering’s 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award.

Smith, named one of the “greatest living business minds” by Forbes magazine, founded Vista in 2002 as a private equity firm that invests in software-, data- and technology-driven companies. Under Smith’s leadership, it became the fastest-growing private equity company in America.

Smith received his bachelor’s in chemical engineering from Cornell, and his MBA from Columbia Business School. He is chair of Carnegie Hall, chair of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, and an emeritus member of the Cornell Engineering College Council.

In 2016, Smith and Fund II Foundation gave $50 million to Cornell Engineering to advance teaching and research in chemical and biomolecular engineering and provide scholarships, graduate fellowships and program funding to help recruit and support underrepresented students. In recognition of his philanthropy, the university named the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in his honor.

Read more about Smith receiving the 2020 award in the Cornell Chronicle

Irwin Jacobs ’54, BEE ’56

2019 Distinguished Alumni Awardee

Irwin Jacobs
Irwin Jacobs '54, BEE '56

An avid entrepreneur whose invention of code-division multiple access (CDMA) technology unleashed the power of modern wireless communications, Jacobs has made a career out of defying expectations. On April 22, 2019, in Phillips Hall, Irwin Jacobs '54, BEE '56, received the Cornell Engineering Distinguished Alumni Award in recognition of his extraordinary leadership, vision and the distinction he has brought to the college.

While working in academia, he formed the company Linkabit Corp. in 1968 and business poured in. He sold the company in 1980 and co-founded Qualcomm Inc. with, he said, no clear business plan or set idea for what the company would do. By 2018 the company had more than 35,000 employees, revenues nearing $23 billion and more than 130,000 patents and patent applications worldwide.

With their success, Irwin and his wife Joan Jacobs '54 are signatories of the Giving Pledge and have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to support education, health care, the arts and other causes in San Diego and more broadly. They have provided generous support for scholarships, fellowships and professorships at Cornell, as well as the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech, and at MIT, the Technion and UCSD.

Read more about Jacobs receiving the 2019 award in the Cornell Chronicle

David A. Duffield ’62, MBA ’64

2018 Distinguished Alumni Awardee

David Duffield
David A. Duffield '62, MBA '64

Cornell’s College of Engineering presented David A. Duffield ’62, MBA ’64, with the inaugural Cornell Engineering Distinguished Alumni Award – its highest alumni honor – which recognizes extraordinary leadership, vision and bringing distinction to the college. The award was presented Sept. 4, 2018.

An engineer, businessman, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Duffield founded six companies, including two highly successful business enterprise software firms, PeopleSoft and Workday.

Duffield has a long history of giving back to the university. His naming gift for Duffield Hall enabled the construction of one of the top nanoscale facilities in the country and provides a location that is the heart and soul of the College of Engineering. He also funded the Workday Atrium in Gates Hall and Workday Labs and other named spaces in Gates, Phillips, Rhodes, and Sage halls. Duffield was named Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year in 1996.

Duffield and his wife, Cheryl, founded Maddie’s Fund, which supports companion animal welfare and promotes no-kill animal shelters across the country. Through this fund, the Duffields created and continue to support the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, which has a strong partnership with the SPCA of Tompkins County.

Read more about Duffield receiving the 2018 award in the Cornell Chronicle