William & Mary

NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan '83 to speak at Charter Day ceremony

  • Ellen Stofan:
    Ellen Stofan:  The W&M alumna and NASA chief scientist will speak at the university's 2016 Charter Day ceremony.  NASA photo
  • Jack Edwards:
    Jack Edwards:  The professor of government emeritus will receive an honorary degree at the ceremony.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Ellen Stofan ’83, NASA’s chief scientist, will speak at the 2016 William & Mary Charter Day ceremony, scheduled for Feb. 5 at 4 p.m.

The annual event will be held in William & Mary Hall and celebrates the university’s royal charter, which was granted on Feb. 8, 1693, by King William III and Queen Mary II. Along with Stofan, Professor of Government Emeritus Jack Edwards will receive an honorary degree at the ceremony. W&M Chancellor and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates ’65 will also take part and offer brief welcoming remarks.

“Our own Ellen Stofan is now helping lead NASA as it explores the farthest reaches of the universe. Her success as a scientist has been striking, and her service to William & Mary has been compelling. Ellen is among William & Mary’s most distinguished alumnae, and we look forward to honoring her at Charter Day,” said President Taylor Reveley. “We are also delighted to celebrate Jack Edwards, who was a highly respected and beloved force on our campus for over 30 years as a professor of government and, from time to time, as an academic administrator, serving as dean of Arts & Sciences and chair of the government department. Jack also devoted enormous time and energy to positions of leadership in the local community.”

Ellen Stofan

Stofan was appointed as NASA’s chief scientist in 2013, and, in that role, she serves as the principal advisor to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the agency's science programs and science-related strategic planning and investments.

Her research interests include the geology of the Earth, Venus, Mars and Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. She is an associate member of the Cassini Mission to Saturn Radar Team and a co-investigator on the Mars Express Mission's MARSIS sounder. Stofan was also principal investigator on the Titan Mare Explorer.

Previously, Stofan served as the vice president of Proxemy Research in Maryland and an honorary professor at the University College London in England. Before that, she worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, acting in a number of senior scientist positions, including chief scientist for NASA’s New Millennium Program and deputy project scientist for the Magellan Mission to Venus.

Stofan has received multiple awards throughout the years, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, and she has published multiple papers, book chapters and books, including Planetology: Unlocking the Secrets of the Solar System with astronaut Tom Jones. She has also chaired multiple committees, including the National Research Council Inner Planets Panel for the recent Planetary Science Decadal Survey and the Venus Exploration Analysis Group.

Stofan remains an engaged and generous alumna of the university and visits often. She has chaired the board of the William & Mary Foundation and helped lead her class reunions. In 2014, she kicked off the Reves Center for International Studies' 25th anniversary celebration finale with a lecture on “Looking Outward, Inward and Homeward: International Cooperation at NASA.”

After receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in geology from William & Mary, Stofan earned her master’s degree and doctorate from Brown University.

Stofan’s husband, Timothy Dunn ’83, also attended William & Mary as did their two children, Ryan ’10 and Emily ’14. Dunn served on the W&M Board of Visitors from 2008 to 2012.

Jack Edwards

Edwards retired from William & Mary in 1996 after nearly 34 years of service to the university. He began his career in higher education at the University of Nevada, where he taught for one year before coming to William & Mary in 1962. For the next three decades, Edwards left the university only once, in the mid-1960s, for a one-year appointment at Grinnell College.

In addition to his capacity as a professor, Edwards served in multiple leadership roles on campus, including dean of Arts & Sciences from 1974 to 1981 and also chair of the government department. In 1977, Edwards received the Thomas Jefferson Award, among William & Mary’s highest honors and given each year at Charter Day to a member of the university family for significant service. As a scholar, Edwards focused on constitutional politics and the judicial process, and he authored the 1992 book Neighbors and Sometimes Friends: Municipal Annexation in Modern Virginia

Edwards was also a leader in the local community, serving as a longtime member of the James City County Board of Supervisors and eventually becoming its chairman. He also assumed leadership responsibilities for the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties, serving as president of both organizations.

Now a professor emeritus, Edwards has remained closely connected with William & Mary. He served as chair of the Christopher Wren Association, and, in 2000, the university recognized him with the Prentis Award, which is presented annually to people in the Williamsburg community for their strong civic involvement and support of William & Mary. That same year, the Virginia General Assembly passed a resolution expressing its appreciation for Edwards’ outstanding career of public service.

Edwards received an undergraduate degree at Macalester College, a Bachelor of Laws degree from Harvard Law School and a doctoral degree from Vanderbilt University.