Welcome  /  Presidential Distinguished Speaker Series

Presidential Distinguished Speaker Series

The Presidential Distinguished Speaker Series is a triannual series that will feature eminent speakers addressing timely topics in science and engineering, culture, public policy, and American higher education. 

The lectures will be held on weekdays at 5 p.m. to facilitate attendance, offer a question-and-answer session as part of the talk, and a small post-speech reception to encourage further engagement with the speaker.

Past Speakers 

Dr. Michael Lomax
Tuesday, October 17, 2023
5 p.m.

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Dr. Michael Lomax is a distinguished leader in politics, the arts, education, and civic engagement; the current president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF); and a leading advocate for college readiness.

Throughout his career, Dr. Lomax has woven together a deep commitment to and advocacy for education, literature, history, the arts, social justice, and public service. A self-proclaimed lifetime student of the liberal arts, Dr. Lomax will discuss how one's origin and path in life influence how one experiences the world, the role of the humanities in guiding one's journey, and the connection between the personal and the global.

A native of Los Angeles, Dr. Lomax began his college education at Morehouse at the age of 16, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. He earned a master's degree in English literature from Columbia University and a PhD in American and African-American literature from Emory University.

In his professional career, Dr. Lomax held faculty positions in English departments at Emory, Spelman, and Morehouse colleges, and taught literature at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Georgia, while simultaneously serving on the Fulton County Commission, an elected position which he accepted as part of his commitment to the legacy of the civil rights movement. The first Black person elected to the position, Dr. Lomax was chair of the Commission from 1981 to 1993, responsible for a half-billion-dollar annual operating budget and approximately five thousand country employees. He is credited for helping to bring the 1988 Democratic National Convention and the 1996 Olympic Games to Atlanta.

A significant supporter of the arts in Atlanta, he founded the Bureau of Cultural Affairs, the Fulton County Arts Council, and the biennial National Black Arts Festival. His extraordinary contributions prompted columnist Colin Campbell to describe Dr. Lomax, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as "one of Atlanta's most distinguished citizens."

In 1994, Dr. Lomax began his tenure as president of the National Faculty, an Atlanta-based organization dedicated to bringing together arts and sciences higher education scholars with K-12 teachers. He then became president of Dillard University, a historically Black university in New Orleans. During his tenure at Dillard (1997 to 2004), student enrollment increased by nearly 50 percent, accompanied by dramatic increases in private funding and alumni giving. Dr. Lomax also led a $60 million campus program that improved the educational and everyday environments for students.

Now UNCF's president and CEO, Dr. Lomax directs the country's largest philanthropic organization focused on providing scholarships and other educational support to Black students, Dr. Lomax has helped to raise more than $3 billion and helped more than 110,000 students earn college degrees. He launched the UNCF Institute for Capacity Building, which helps historically Black colleges or universities (HBCUs) become stronger, more effective, and more self-sustaining. He also leads advocacy efforts for college readiness and education reform through partnerships with leaders and organizations working to advance HBCUs through engagement with Congress, the administration, and the Department of Education.

Among his many honors, Dr. Lomax was appointed to the President's Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities by President George W. Bush. He serves on the boards of the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) Foundation, supporting public charter schools, and Teach for America. He is a trustee of the Studio Museum in Harlem. He was a founding member of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and served on the board of America's Promise Alliance, a network dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth.

Leroy (Lee) Hood (BS'60 biology; PhD'68 biochemistry), Caltech Distinguished Alumnus
Monday, April 10, 2023
5 p.m.

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Leroy (Lee) Hood developed as a scientist at Caltech, matriculating as an undergraduate student in the late 1950s and graduating with a PhD in the late 1960s. To round out his education and professional training, Lee earned an MD from Johns Hopkins in 1964. Lee joined Caltech's faculty in 1967 and continued his explorations of the depth and intricacy of human biology. In true Caltech fashion, Lee and his colleagues developed four sequencer and synthesizer instruments that paved the way for the Human Genome Project's successful mapping and understanding of the human genome. He and his students also deciphered many of the complex mechanisms of antibody diversification.

In 1992, with support from Bill Gates, Lee moved to the University of Washington to found the first cross-disciplinary department of biology (Molecular Biotechnology) and continued to pioneer technologies for genomics, proteomics and cell biology. In 2000 Lee resigned from UW to co-found the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), which pioneered systems approaches to biology and medicine. Lee served as ISB president from 2000 to 2017.

Currently, Lee is the CEO of Phenome Health, professor at the Institute of Systems Biology in Seattle, and directing the Human Phenome Initiative, a Million Person Project, to bring wellness and prevention to contemporary healthcare. Most recently, Harvard University Press published Lee's new book, The Age of Scientific Wellness.

A world-renowned scientist and innovator, Lee has founded or been instrumental in the founding of 17 biotech companies to date including Amgen, Applied Biosystems, Rosetta, and Arivale. His many national and international awards include the 2011 National Medal of Science, the Lasker Prize, and the Kyoto Prize. Lee is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Academy of Medicine; one of only 20 people elected to all three academies.