CS Alum John Hennessy Named Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame Honoree


John Hennessy, an alumnus of the Department of Computer Science (CS) at Stony Brook University is the 2018 Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame Honoree for the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences (CEAS).

A native Long Islander who grew up in Huntington, Hennessy earned both his master’s degree (‘75) and PhD (‘77) in computer science at Stony Brook University.

“John Hennessy demonstrates everything that a Stony Brook computer science student can achieve,” Samir Das, interim chair of the CS department, said. “Going as far back as his time at Stony Brook, he proved to be a game-changer, which is what we’re all about.”

Hennessy built a legacy of his own at Stanford University. When he completed his PhD at Stony Brook, he almost immediately joined Stanford’s faculty as an assistant professor where he focused on computer architecture. His research resulted in the development of Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC), which revolutionized computing by increasing performance while reducing costs. He helped transfer this technology to the industry at-large. Three years later, he co-founded MIPS Computer Systems, now MIPS Technologies, which designs microprocessors. He later sold the company for $333M.

He rose to full professorship at Stanford in 1986, becoming the inaugural Willard R. and Inez Kerr Bell Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (1987-2004). He also was the director of Stanford’s Computer Systems Laboratory from 1983 until 1993.

Hennessy led the Stanford Department of Computer Science from 1994 to 1996. He moved from his role with the Department of Computer Science to serve as the dean of the School of Engineering and in 1998 he was one of the first to get a preview of Stanford grad students Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s search software, now called Google.

In 1999, Hennessy succeeded Condoleezza Rice as Stanford’s provost as she stepped aside to work with the National Security Council and a year later, the Stanford Board of Trustees named Hennessy as the 10th president of Stanford University, a post which he served in until the summer of 2016.

During his time as president at Stanford, Hennessy launched university-wide initiatives in human health, environmental sustainability, online education, international affairs and the arts and creativity.

"John was a catalyst for the online education revolution that resulted in the many of the options available today to millions of students,” Arie E. Kaufman, former chair of CS at Stony Brook and Distinguished Professor, said. “His influence on higher education is unmatched."

Well-known for his 2012 viewpoint that a tsunami was coming to online higher education, Hennessy presented at the annual meeting of the American Council on Education, dismissing the traditional undergraduate degrees and outlining a future “radically different” from most higher education programs. Later his prediction was featured as part of an interview with the The New Yorker, which examined the well-known phenomenon called the “Stanford duck syndrome”.

Hennessy is a pioneer in the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) revolution. As Stanford’s leader he appointed Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller to develop Stanford’s MOOCs program. As a result, Ng and Koller, who are still Stanford faculty today, founded Coursera, one of the largest and most aggressive global online course providers with 25 million online learners.

A member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences, Hennessy is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Computer History Museum and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).

He has been a recipient of the IEEE John von Neumann Medal (2000), the ASEE Benjamin Garver Lamme Award (2000), the ACM Eckert-Mauchly Award (2001), the Seymour Cray Computer Engineering Award (2001), the NEC C&C Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Computer Science and Engineering (2004), Founders Award from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2005) and the IEEE’s highest award: the IEEE Medal of Honor (2012).

As Leslie Muennemann said in her letter to Stanford’s editor in the year 2000, Hennessy “genuinely cares about that which matters in life”. Hennessy currently serves as the inaugural Shriram Family Director for the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program. The initiative aims to “prepare a new generation of leaders with a deep academic foundation and the skills to develop creative solutions to effect positive change in the world.”

For over two decades, Hennessy engraved a lasting legacy at Stanford, emphasizing multidisciplinary research and 21st century teaching methods. This CEAS alumni honor, which will be officially presented on April 5, 2018 at Stony Brook’s 16th Annual Engineering Ball, is very well-deserved. The Department of Computer Science is proud to call him our alum.

  • Joseph Wolkin