Past Engineering Alumni Distinguished Award Winners

Robert Smith ’85
2020 Distinguished Alumni Awardee

robert smith

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

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

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.