2019 Commencement Speaker
France Córdova, distinguished astrophysicist, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), and Caltech alumna (PhD '79), will be the speaker at Caltech's 125th annual commencement ceremony. The ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. on Friday, June 14, on Caltech's Beckman Mall, and it will be live-streamed at commencement.caltech.edu/watch.
“Córdova brings to the Institute perspectives on governmental and academic leadership, grounded in her scientific training at Caltech,” Caltech president Thomas F. Rosenbaum said in his announcement to the Caltech community.
Appointed by President Obama in 2014 to lead the NSF, Córdova has developed interdisciplinary initiatives that cut across fields of scientific discovery, technological innovation, and STEM education. An $8.1 billion independent federal agency, the NSF maintains the competitive advantage of the United States through programs that empower future generations of scientists and engineers and foster U.S. prosperity and global leadership.
Before assuming her position at the NSF, Córdova served as president of Purdue University; chancellor of the University of California, Riverside; and vice chancellor for research and professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Córdova served as NASA’s chief scientist from 1993 to 1996; at the time, she was the youngest person to hold the position and the first woman to do so. Prior to joining NASA, Córdova was on the faculty of the Pennsylvania State University, where she chaired the department of astronomy and astrophysics. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stanford University before heading to Caltech, where she received her PhD in physics.
Córdova has served as chair of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution and on the board of trustees of the Mayo Clinic. She is a long-standing member of the National Science Board, chairing the Committee on Strategy and Budget from 2012 to 2014.
Córdova's scientific contributions have been in the areas of observational and experimental astrophysics, multi-spectral research on X-ray and gamma-ray sources, and space-borne instrumentation. Among the many awards she has received is NASA's highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal.
A complete list of Caltech's past commencement speakers can be found in our archive.