Speaker Details

2023 Speakers

Guest Speaker: Thomas H. Zurbuchen

Thomas H. Zurbuchen headshotThomas H. Zurbuchen is an astrophysicist and the longest continually serving associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate in NASA’s history. From 2016 to 2022, he was tasked with helping answer some of humanity’s biggest questions: Where did we come from? Are we alone? Dr. Zurbuchen worked to ensure that NASA’s science missions constituted a convergence of disciplines, with industry and other nations working together to advance the frontiers of knowledge and exploration. These missions include the James Webb Space Telescope; the Perseverance rover on Mars and its flying companion, the Ingenuity helicopter; and, with other government and industry partners, protecting and improving lives on Earth through weather forecasting and support for disaster relief.

Growing up in Switzerland, Dr. Zurbuchen was a keen observer of the natural world from an early age. His curiosity led him to be the first college graduate in his family, earning his doctorate and Master of Science degrees in physics from the University of Bern. Prior to joining NASA, he was a professor of space science and aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan and was the founding director of U-M’s Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering. There, he developed and ran several campuswide innovation initiatives, one of which led to the top-ranked undergraduate entrepreneurship program in the country.

Dr. Zurbuchen’s honors include induction as a member of the International Academy of Astronautics and the Swiss Academy of Science and Engineering, and he is a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. At NASA, Dr. Zurbuchen has been recognized with the 2020 Outstanding Leadership Medal for his critical role in heading the Science Mission Directorate, advancing scientific knowledge and making a profound impact on NASA’s mission, programs, and projects; a 2021 Presidential Rank Award, the highest annual honor presented to career federal senior executive service members for sustained extraordinary accomplishment; and NASA’S 2022 Distinguished Service Medal, for extraordinary contributions and outstanding leadership of its mission and the nation’s space program.

Student Speaker: Noelle Sydni Parrish Fleury

Noelle Fleury headshotNoelle Fleury is a first-generation college student graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Space Science and Engineering. She began her journey at the University of Michigan in June 2018 as a Summer Bridge Scholar, later serving as a peer mentor for other students whose identities are underrepresented in higher education.

A Michigan Research and Discovery Scholar during her first year at U-M, Noelle was a member of a supportive academic living-learning community for undergraduates with a passion for research. She went on to give back to that community as a peer mentor and was later promoted to program assistant, guiding new cohorts of first-year students through their own research experiences.

Known for her extroverted personality, Noelle also established a reputation for supporting her fellow students as a Michigan Student Ambassador and in her work with the Mosher-Jordan Residence Hall Community Center and the Newnan Academic Advising Center in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. Through these roles, Noelle discovered one of her career goals: bridging the communication gap between the fields of business and engineering.

During her senior year of studies at U-M, Noelle also served as a substitute elementary school teacher in the Dexter Community Schools.

In May, Noelle will begin her career at Accenture’s headquarters in Chicago as a business integration engineer in the company’s technology development program. Her future academic plans include a master’s degree in the field of global aerospace enterprise and continuing on to earn her Ph.D.

Past Graduation Speakers

YearStudent SpeakerGuest Speaker
2022Khalif O. Adegeye
Mechanical Engineering
Martha E. Pollack
President and Professor, Cornell University
2019Bassel Salka
Industrial and Operations Engineering

Patricia K. Poppe
President and Chief Executive Officer, CMS Energy Corporation and Consumers Energy Company 

2018Chloe Henderson
Mechanical Engineering

Eric K. Fanning
President and CEO, The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA)


Bruce Cousin
Aerospace Engineering

Wanda Austin
Former President and CEO, The Aerospace Corporation

Ryan Moody
Chemical Engineering

Dean Drako
Founder, President and CEO, Eagle Eye Networks, IC Manage and Drako Motors


Hema Karunakaram
Environmental Engineering

Richard Sheridan
CEO and Chief Storyteller, Menlo Innovations


Jenna Bertke
Industrial and Operations Engineering

Crystal E. Ashby
Senior Vice President, Strategic University Relationships BP America Inc.


Sita Syal
Chemical Engineering

W. James McNerney, Jr.
Chairman of the Board, President and CEO of The Boeing Company

2012Daniel Silver
Industrial and Operations Engineering
Steve Mollenkopf
President and CEO, Qualcomm

Jordan Klein
Biomedical Engineering

Cindy Padnos
Founding and Managing Director, Illuminate Ventures


Chiao-Yang “Danny” Hsiao
Chemical Engineering

C. Robert Kidder
Chairman, Chrysler
Chairman and CEO 3Stone Advisors LLC
2009Courtenay M. Holscher
Biomedical Engineering

Keith W. Cooley
CEO, NextEnergy