Leading Geneticist Eric Lander, Broad Institute President, Named WPI's 2013 Commencement Speaker

Honorary Degrees Will Be Awarded to Lander; Carol Tecla Christ, President of Smith College; and Robert Beckett '57, Retired Chairman and CEO of Robec, Inc.
April 23, 2013

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Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) announced today that Eric Lander, PhD, a principal leader of the Human Genome Project and president and founding director of The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, will deliver the address at the university's 145th commencement exercises on Saturday, May 11, 2013. Honorary degrees will be awarded to Lander; Carol Tecla Christ, PhD, 10th president of Smith College; and Robert Beckett, '57, retired chairman and CEO of Robec, Inc.

"Eric Lander is a wonderful example of a scientist who is dedicated to applying knowledge for the betterment of mankind," said WPI President and CEO Dennis D. Berkey. "WPI was founded on the fusion of 'theory and practice' because knowledge alone is not enough; it must be applied to make a difference. Lander and his colleagues embody these principles; they have not only created the key tools of human genomics, but they are working to apply them to gain an understanding of the basis of diseases such as cancer and diabetes. We expect the graduates and families celebrating the accomplishments of the WPI class of 2013 will leave here inspired and motivated by this man's work and by his words."

"WPI's additional 2013 honorary degree recipients are remarkable individuals, as well, and we are privileged to have them participating in our Commencement ceremony," Berkey continued. "Carol Christ has been a transformational leader for Smith College and for higher education; and since his graduation from WPI in 1957, Bob Beckett has proven himself to be a visionary leader in the technology sector, and right here at his alma mater."

A geneticist, molecular biologist, and mathematician, Eric Lander has played a pioneering role in all aspects of the reading, understanding, and medical application of the human genome. He was a principal leader of the international Human Genome Project (HGP) from 1990 to 2003, with his group being the largest contributor to the mapping and sequencing of the human genetic blueprint. Lander was an early pioneer in the free availability of genomic tools and information. He has mentored an extraordinary cadre of young scientists who have become the next generation of leaders in medical genomics.

In 2004 Lander helped launch the Broad Institute, a new kind of collaborative biomedical research institutions focused on genomic medicine. The Broad's mission is to transform medicine by revealing the fundamental mechanisms of diseases and developing new ways to create medicines to treat them. It grew from two different groundbreaking organizations — a flagship center of the Human Genome Project and an innovative institute pioneering new approaches in chemistry and human biology. The Broad has defined a new collaborative model for biomedical research, bringing together extraordinary scientists across Harvard, MIT, and the Harvard-affiliated hospitals.

Lander has been on the MIT faculty since 1989 and the Harvard faculty since 2004. He is currently a professor of biology at MIT and professor of systems biology at Harvard Medical School. In 1990 he founded the Whitehead Institute/MIT Center for Genome Research, which was a flagship of the Human Genome Project; he became part of the newly founded Broad Institute in 2003. He served as an assistant and associate professor of managerial economics at the Harvard Business School from 1981 to 1990.

Lander is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the Gairdner International Award, the Max Delbrück Medal, the AAAS Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology, and eight honorary doctorates. He received the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research and the New York Academy of Medicine Medal for Distinguished Contributions in Biomedical Science. Lander has been a member of the board of trustees at Boston University since 2008, and in 2009 President Barack Obama appointed him to co-chair the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Lander earned his BA in mathematics from Princeton University and his PhD in mathematics from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.

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Carol Tecla Christ, the 10th president of Smith College, will step down in June after serving in that role since 2002. Her administration has been characterized by an energetic program of outreach, innovation, and long-range planning intended to position the college for optimal success in a changing higher education landscape. She is responsible for identifying priority areas for significant investment over the coming decade, including global studies, diversification of the student body, environmental sustainability, and community engagement.

Christ began her academic career in 1970 when she joined the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley; she eventually rose to the top academic position of vice chancellor and provost and was credited with sharpening the institution's intellectual focus and building top-rated departments in the humanities and sciences. Well known as a champion of women's issues and diversity, she helped shape Berkeley's campus policy in response to Proposition 209, the 1996 California law barring the consideration of race in college admissions.

Throughout her administrative career, Christ has maintained an active program of teaching and research. She serves on the board of the Consortium on Financing Higher Education, is a science education adviser to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and is a trustee of Sarah Lawrence College. In 2004 she was named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2007 Yale University Graduate School presented her with its highest honor, the Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal. In 2011 she was awarded an honorary doctoral degree by the American College of Greece for her service to education and public life. Christ graduated with high honors from Douglass College, the women's college at Rutgers University and received a PhD in English from Yale University.

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Robert Beckett '57 is currently president and CEO of Tribo Surface Engineering, a company involved in improving the physical properties of the surface of materials by the addition of elements and compounds using physical vapor deposition (PVD) by magnatron sputtering and cathodic arc processes. In addition, Tribo Surface Engineering has further developed its proprietary MAXIS heavy metal ion implantation process to embed ions into surfaces to increase hardness, toughness, fatigue life, and tensile strength.

He has also been involved in providing investment capital in addition to marketing and management services to a number of start-up companies.

Beckett earned his BS in mechanical engineering at WPI and began his career in technical sales and marketing at Leeds and Northrup Company. He went on to serve as chairman and CEO of Robec Inc., the business he founded in 1978 when he foresaw the microcomputer revolution commencing. Robec grew over the next 16 years to become a premier provider of marketing and technical support and services in the sale and use of microcomputers, printers, software, and supplies.

In 1988 he was recognized as "Entrepreneur of the Year" by Arthur Young and Venture magazine and was inducted into The Institute of American Entrepreneurs as a lifetime member. Robec, Inc. was distinguished by Inc magazine as one of the fastest growing companies in the United States for four consecutive years and recognized as one of the Top 100 Companies in the Philadelphia area by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In 1994 Robec merged into AmeriQuest Technologies Inc. and Beckett was appointed senior vice president, serving in that post until his retirement in 1996. Prior to founding Robec, Beckett served as director of original equipment manufacturer (OEM) marketing at Decision Data Computer Corporation, where he was responsible for worldwide OEM sales and contracts. Beckett was also vice president of sales and marketing at K-TRON International Inc., a designer and manufacturer of materials processing weigh belt feeders.

An active alumnus, Beckett is a member of the WPI Board of Trustees and last year was named co-Chair of "if…The Campaign to Advance WPI," the largest capital fundraising campaign in WPI history which intends to raise $200 million by 2015, WPI's sesquicentennial year. The campaign will fuel WPI's strategic initiatives in three key areas: student financial assistance; faculty and academic program support; and campus facility development. Beckett has a history of serving in leadership fundraising roles for WPI campaigns and has been active as a member of the WPI Alumni Association board of directors. In 1987 he received WPI's Robert H. Goddard Alumni Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement, and in 2002 he received the Herbert F. Taylor Award for Distinguished Service to WPI. Beckett is also a trustee of his prep school alma mater, the Pennington School, in Pennington, N.J.