Graduation is a monumental achievement in every student's path to their future. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has welcomed many renowned and successful guests to address graduates and provide some words of wisdom from their own life experiences.
Spring 2024 Commencement Speaker
Norman D. Knight - Director, Flight Operations Directorate NASA Johnson Space Center
Norm earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in 1990 and began his career at the Johnson Space Center as a Space Shuttle mechanical systems flight controller.
Past Commencement Speakers
Past commencement speakers have included Embry-Riddle alumni, astronauts, entrepreneurs, politicians, military veterans and more. Here, you can review previous years' commencement speakers.
Michael (Mike) Madsen
Mike Madsen recently retired from Honeywell, where he served as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Honeywell’s Aerospace Business Group.
An executive with nearly four decades of leadership in the aerospace business, Mr. Madsen has deep experience in multiple aerospace business units and core functions, including operations. He is a change agent with a serial record of achieving extraordinary results in challenging circumstances.
While serving as President and CEO of Honeywell’s Aerospace business, Mr. Madsen successfully led the organization through the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, expanding operating margins while investing in new technologies, including a dedicated Urban Air Mobility and Unmanned Aerial Systems business that secured over $7.5B in new business since its inception in 2020. Mr. Madsen also oversaw the launch of Honeywell Anthem®, Honeywell's next-generation integrated flight deck, which is poised to change how pilots fly aircraft and led the organization to secure over $35B in new business in just the last two years.
Madsen has also been an active leader in the community, having established a partnership with the Arizona Diamondbacks of Major League Baseball to bring STEM education to the forefront of schools throughout the state of Arizona. He also led efforts to create meaningful relationships with both Mesa Public Schools and the Girls Leadership Academy of Arizona to give the youth of Arizona communities increased STEM learning and future career opportunities.
Prior to assuming responsibility for leadership of the Aerospace business, Madsen served as Vice President of Integrated Supply Chain for Honeywell Aerospace, with responsibility for the business group's global supply chain and all of its manufacturing facilities worldwide. Previously, he was President of Honeywell Aerospace Defense and Space, a unit that serves U.S. and international defense and space original equipment manufacturers, the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA, other U.S. agencies and international ministries of defense. He has also held leadership positions within the Air Transport and Regional business at Honeywell.
Madsen began his career at Honeywell as an engine performance engineer supporting the TFE731, ATF3 and CFE738 engines. He has led development activities on numerous products ranging from solar dynamic power systems to cryogenic valves, launch vehicle actuation systems and various aircraft pneumatic components.
Mr. Madsen holds a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Arizona State University and an M.B.A. from Duke University.
The daughter of an immigrant father and the first child in her family to attend college, Dr. Sally Mason went on to become a cellular and developmental biologist. She ultimately served as the Provost of Purdue University (2001-2007) and the 20th President of the University of Iowa (2007-2015). She retired as President Emerita with the University of Iowa’s (UI) Department of Biology.
Joe Sprague serves as President of Horizon Air, where he is responsible for engaging the people of Horizon and working with them to deliver exceptional regional air service on behalf of Alaska Airlines.
Joe views leading Horizon Air as a privilege and deep responsibility. With a focus on safety, continual improvement and execution, he is committed to working with the people of Horizon to deliver results that further build on the company’s strong track record of safety, operational performance and a great guest experience. Joe is a self-proclaimed “regional airline geek.” He started following Horizon Air in its earliest days and still has term papers he wrote about Horizon while in high school and college.
Spanning over three decades, Joe’s aviation career started with a job as a customer service agent for a small commuter airline, where he later flew as a commercial pilot. He also held multiple leadership positions with a large Anchorage-based regional airline, and managed commuter airline and air charter policy for a DC-based aviation trade association. He served at Alaska Airlines for 17 years in a variety of increasingly senior leadership positions, including senior vice president of external relations and vice president of marketing.
Joe has a bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and an executive MBA from the University of Washington. He has served on multiple non-profit boards and currently serves on the board of Wings Airways, an Alaskan float plane tour operator. He and his wife, Jennifer, have two grown children.
Ryan M. Hartman
Ryan M. Hartman is the President and Chief Executive Officer of World View, the leading stratospheric exploration company on a mission to inspire the global community to rediscover Earth through its space tourism and stratospheric remote sensing businesses. Hartman joined World View as CEO in early 2019 and has led World View to become a purpose-driven global brand with the successful launch of the company’s revitalized space tourism program.
Hartman came to World View as a 20-year aerospace veteran, having served as the President and CEO of Insitu, a pioneer in the design, development and manufacturing of high-performance, low-cost unmanned aircraft systems, along with leadership roles at Raytheon in their missile and defense units. Hartman is also a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy. He serves on the Board of Directors for the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, Precision Hawk UAS and the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance (NUAIR).
Hartman also served as the UAS Representative on the FAA NextGen Advisory Committee and on the FAA Drone Advisory Committee. He is an alumnus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Dr. Janet Kavandi
Dr. Janet L. Kavandi serves as the President of SNC subsidiary Sierra Space in Louisville, Colorado. There, she is responsible for the company’s space programs, including the Dream Chaser spaceplane, which is under contract to deliver supplies to the International Space Station beginning in 2021. The Dream Chaser is a winged vehicle and the only resupply vehicle capable of landing on a commercial runway.
Prior to her current position, Dr. Kavandi served as Director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s John H. Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. In this position, she was responsible for planning, organizing and directing the activities required for cutting-edge research on aerospace and aeronautical propulsion, power, and communication technologies.
Prior to accepting the Director position, Dr. Kavandi served as Glenn’s Deputy Director. Before her time at Glenn, Dr. Kavandi worked at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where she served as the Director of Flight Crew Operations. In this role, she was responsible for the Astronaut Corps and Aircraft Operations at Ellington Field. Dr. Kavandi also served as the Deputy Director of the Health and Human Performance Directorate, where she was responsible for the NASA flight surgeons and human research investigations on the International Space Station (ISS).
Dr. Kavandi was selected as a NASA astronaut in December 1994 as a member of the fifteenth class of U.S. astronauts. During her time in the Astronaut Office, she supported International Space Station payload integration, capsule communications, robotics and served as Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office. She is a veteran of three space flights, serving as a mission specialist on STS-91 in 1998, STS-99 in 2000 and STS-104 in 2001. Dr. Kavandi has logged more than 33 days in space, traveling more than 13.1 million miles in 535 Earth orbits.
Born in Springfield, Missouri, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, a Master of Science degree in chemistry from the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, and her Doctorate in analytical chemistry from the University of Washington in Seattle.
Dr. Kavandi has been recognized with two Presidential Rank Awards, two NASA Outstanding Leadership Medals, two Exceptional Service Medals, three NASA Space Flight Medals and NASA’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal. She was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2019. Dr. Kavandi and her husband, John, have two adult children.
Ellen R. Stofan, Ph.D.
Ellen Stofan is the Under Secretary for Science and Research at the Smithsonian. She oversees its science research centers as well as the National Museum of Natural History and the National Zoo. The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives, Office of International Relations, Smithsonian Scholarly Press and Scientific Diving Program also report to Stofan. Her focus is the Smithsonian’s collective scientific initiatives and commitment to research across the Institution, especially addressing issues such as biodiversity, global health, climate change, species conservation, astrophysics and the search for life outside Earth’s solar system.
Previously, Stofan was the John and Adrienne Mars Director of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (2018–2021) where she was the first woman to hold that position. Under her leadership, the museum began its seven-year renovation of its flagship building in Washington, D.C., in 2018. Stofan also oversaw the momentous celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing in July 2019 at the museum and on the National Mall.
Before joining the Smithsonian, Stofan had than 25 years’ experience in space-related organizations and a deep research background in planetary geology. She was chief scientist at NASA (2013–2016), serving as the principal advisor to former Administrator Charles Bolden on NASA’s strategic planning and programs. She helped guide the development of a long-range plan to get humans to Mars, and worked on strategies for NASA to support commercial activity in low Earth orbit as it transitions from the International Space Station to sending humans to the moon and Mars in the mid-2020s.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in geology at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and her master’s and doctoral degrees at Brown University, both in geological sciences. While finishing her doctoral degree, Stofan joined the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) as a post-doctoral fellow and became the deputy project scientist for the Magellan Mission to Venus.
In 1994, Stofan became JPL’s chief scientist for the New Millennium Program where she managed a team of about 100 scientists working on new technologies. The following year, Stofan moved to London while continuing to work at JPL and was, and continues to be, an honorary professor at University College London.
For 13 years (2000–2013), Stofan was vice president and senior scientist at Proxemy Research, a consulting firm in the Washington area specializing in planetary research.
Stofan’s research focuses on the geology of Venus, Mars, Saturn’s moon Titan and Earth. Her favorite mission was Cassini, primarily because of her interest in Titan.
She has published extensively and received many awards and honors, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, and was named one of “CNN’s Extraordinary People of 2014.” She is co-author of the books Planetology: Unlocking the Secrets of the Solar System and Next Earth: What Our World Can Teach Us About Other Planets, both published by National Geographic.
David L. Calhoun - President and Chief Executive Officer, The Boeing Company
David Calhoun is president and chief executive officer of The Boeing Company. With employees across the United States and in more than 65 countries, Boeing is the world’s largest aerospace company. It is the leading manufacturer of commercial airplanes, military aircraft, and space and security systems, and a provider of global services; it supports airlines and U.S. and allied government customers in more than 150 nations.
Calhoun, 63, became Boeing president and chief executive in January 2020. He has served as a member of Boeing’s board of directors since 2009 and served as chairman of the company’s board of directors from October to December 2019.
Calhoun has extensive expertise in a wide array of strategic, business, safety and regulatory matters across several industries as a result of his executive, management and operational experience.
A native of Pennsylvania, Calhoun holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Virginia Tech. He is co-author of the book “How Companies Win” and is an avid golfer and skier. He is married with four children.
Boeing is proud to partner with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University on a number of strategic initiatives that contribute to the continued growth and diversification of the global aerospace industry. In 2019, these initiatives included $165,000 in charitable contributions to the university and a $3 million grant for the Boeing Scholars program. The program is an initiative of Boeing to develop qualified students for careers in aviation, with a special interest in aeronautical science and aviation maintenance science. The Boeing Co-Pilot Mentoring Program pairs students of the university with alumni at Boeing to build professional skills through guided mentorship. As of March 2020, more than 2,700 Embry-Riddle alumni are employed by Boeing and its subsidiaries