Northeastern University on Thursday celebrated the highest achievements of students, faculty, and an important trustee at the Academic Honors Convocation in East Village.
The event recognized members of the Northeastern community whose academic prowess, insatiable curiosity, and entrepreneurial spirit have made them standout scholars, researchers, mentors, teachers, and innovators.
The university’s top honor, the Presidential Medallion, was awarded to Henry Nasella, chair emeritus of the Board of Trustees, in recognition of his entrepreneurship, philanthropy, and advocacy for Northeastern, from which he graduated in 1977. The Presidential Medallion is a symbol of excellence, commitment, and dedication to pushing Northeastern forward.
As chair of the Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2012, Nasella was a strong and vital partner for Northeastern president Joseph E. Aoun in the development of several important initiatives, including the global expansion of co-op and experiential learning, and the building of the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex. Nasella helped focus Northeastern’s research enterprise in targeted areas of strength, which was supported by the hiring of faculty, and he helped bring regional campuses to Toronto and San Jose, California.
Nasella played a role in the launching of the university’s academic plan, Northeastern 2025, the blueprint for a global network of people, programs, and experiences, which embraces lifelong learning, prepares learners for the changing nature of work, and brings together people of different backgrounds and experiences.
“He knew that the core of what we do is teaching and research,” Aoun said of Nasella. “What you see today is the fruit of this strategy. We take it for granted that we’re building those buildings. We take it for granted that, at the time when higher education was retrenching, we made bets on emerging opportunities and created a global university system. We live it, we take advantage of it, but the labor is done by people like Henry, who led the charge.”
“I became the first of my family to go to college and graduate from Northeastern,” said Nasella, who met his wife, Michelle, while on co-op. “Northeastern gave me a sense of calmness and confidence that I had been well-prepared. As long as I was willing to work hard, embrace change, take risks, there was nothing in front of me that I was not prepared to do or conquer.
“This place breeds it,” Nasella said of the sense of purpose he has gained from his half-century association with Northeastern. “It’s in our DNA.”
Nasella has supported 30 funds at Northeastern, including two that he personally established. He is the lead donor to the Women Who Empower Scholarship, and he has been a longtime advocate for women in leadership positions at the university. As a champion of the Torch Scholars program, he has made it possible for many first-generation college students to launch successful careers.
Nasella was elected to the Corporation in 1991 and to the Board of Trustees in 1995, where he served on eight committees, chairing the Development Committee and the Financial Affairs Committee.
He was just as successful professionally. As the first president of Staples, Nasella built the company from a startup into a global leader in office supply retailing. His career in private equity culminated in his co-founding of LNK Partners, a consumer-focused private equity fund. In 2008, he received an honorary degree, Doctor of Commercial Science.
The ceremony was opened by a small classical ensemble on the 17th floor, offering scenic views of Boston’s newest skyscrapers and oldest brownstone neighborhoods. Student honorees were welcomed one by one onto the stage by President Aoun and Ken Henderson, Northeastern’s chancellor.
Nine scholars earned Fulbright Scholarships, a program that provides grants for individually designed study and research projects or for English Teaching Assistant Programs. The recipients meet, work, live with, and learn from people of the host country, in an atmosphere of openness, academic integrity, and intellectual freedom, thereby promoting mutual understanding.
Two students were awarded the Harry S. Truman Scholarship, which is the premiere fellowship in the U.S. for those pursuing careers as public service leaders. It recognizes exemplary academic abilities as well as demonstrated leadership and the drive to serve the public.
Five students received the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, which is awarded to U.S. undergraduate students to pursue academic studies abroad, with the goal of better preparing American students to assume significant roles in an increasingly global economy and interdependent world.
Three students were awarded the Harold D. Hodgkinson Award, which is one of the university’s highest honors for graduating seniors. Colleges nominate their top students on the basis of academic and experiential performance, and selections are made by a faculty committee.
Four students were awarded as Presidential Global Fellows, on the basis of their academic standing, leadership qualities, and understanding of the importance of the global experience to their education, personal development, and career goals.
Fourteen Northeastern-affiliated students—a mix of graduating seniors, graduate students, and recent alumni—earned National Science Foundation Graduate Research fellowships. The program recognizes and supports outstanding students who are or will be pursuing research-based master’s or doctoral degrees in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines, and provides three years of support for recipients.
Northeastern students were awarded the Marshall Scholarship, which enables outstanding American students to pursue graduate studies in the United Kingdom, and the George J. Mitchell Scholarship, named in honor of the United States Senator, which aims to introduce and connect future American leaders to Ireland, while recognizing and fostering intellectual achievement, leadership, and a commitment to public service.
Additionally, Northeastern students were awarded the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, the Critical Language Scholarship, and the Knight-Hennessy Scholarship.
Two graduate students received Fulbright Fellowships, awarded to exceptional students to research, study, or teach English abroad, in order to foster diplomacy and mutual understanding between the U.S. and other countries.
Four graduate students—including soon-to-be graduate students and young alumni—were also recognized for their achievements Monday. They were honored for their commitment to experiential learning, community service, teaching, and research.
Lisa Feldman Barrett, University Distinguished Professor of Psychology, received the Guggenheim Fellowship, which encourages the development of promising scholars and artists. It enables them to engage in sustained research in any field of knowledge and creation in any of the arts.
Albert-László Barabási, University Distinguished Professor and Robert Gray Dodge Professor of Network Science, was inducted into the European Academy of Sciences and Arts; Christo Wilson, associate professor of computer science, received the Excellence in Research and Creative Activity Award; and associate nursing professor Michelle Beauchesne and Carolyn Lee-Parsons, an associate professor in chemistry and chemical biology and chemical engineering, were recognized with the University Excellence in Teaching Award.
The National Science and Foundation CAREER Award, meant to encourage and sustain the work of promising young researchers at an early stage in their careers, went to seven professors: Javier Apfeld, assistant professor of biology; Sidi Bencherif, assistant professor of chemical engineering; David Choffnes, assistant professor of computer science; Pau Closas, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; Eno Ebong, assistant professor of chemical engineering; Hui Fang, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Paul Hand, assistant professor of mathematics and computer science.
David Lazer, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Computer and Information Science, and Dagmar Sternad, Professor of Biology, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Physics, were were appointed to the rank of University Distinguished Professor, the highest honor Northeastern can bestow upon a faculty member.
“What has driven me is one question: How do we walk, how do we talk, and how do we dance?” said Sternad, who has made a lifelong study of human movement. “I want to give you two messages: Follow your passion. And human movement is an absolute miracle, and it has so many open challenges that we still need to understand.”