Shamma Al Mazrui was appointed Minister of State for Youth, and Chair of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) National Youth Council, in February 2016. She is the youngest minister in the world. At only 22 years old, she was awarded the UAE cabinet position soon after graduating from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, with a master’s degree in public policy. Born and raised in Abu Dhabi, she received a bachelor’s degree in economics in 2014, with a concentration in finance, from New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus. She spent the previous autumn studying at the university’s Stern School of Business campus in New York. Her work experience has included assignments as a researcher at LCN Capital Partners in New York, and at Tamkeen, the UAE’s strategic affairs advisory unit. Her duties as an analyst at the UAE Embassy in Washington involved work in the trade and economy division, the media and culture department and the consular affairs section. She was a recipient of the scholarship of the Abu Dhabi Education Council, reserved for the Emirate’s top students, and the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Scholarship for exceptional students from all the member states of the UAE.
After completing his military service in an elite infantry unit of the Israel Defense Forces, Ori Allon moved to Australia and received computer science degrees from Monash University and the University of New South Wales. His Ph.D. research led to the creation of a patented search engine technology he called Orion. After Google acquired Orion, Mr. Allon led the team at Google that integrated the Orion technology and algorithms with the Google search engine. He then started a company called Julpan, which he sold to Twitter in 2011. He served as Director of Engineering at the New York office of Twitter before starting the real estate platform Compass with fellow Academy alumnus Robert Reffkin in 2013.
Prior to co-founding Compass, Robert Reffkin was Chief of Staff to the President and Chief Operating Officer of Goldman Sachs and had spent five years working in the firm’s private equity arm, at Lazard and at McKinsey & Company. In 2005, he was appointed as a White House Fellow to serve as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury. Mr. Reffkin is also the founder of the nonprofit New York Needs You. He received a B.A. and M.B.A. from Columbia University. Outside of work, he recently completed 50 marathons, one in each state, to raise $1 million for nonprofits.
Emily Balskus joined Harvard’s chemistry faculty in 2011 and is now the Morris Kahn Associate Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. She is also an Associate Member of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, a Faculty Associate of the Microbial Sciences Initiative at Harvard, and a member of the Harvard Digestive Diseases Center. Her independent research has been recognized with multiple awards, including the 2011 Smith Family Award for Excellence in Biomedical Research, the 2012 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, and the 2013 Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering. She is also a 2012 Searle Scholar and was named one of MIT Technology Review’s “35 Innovators Under 35” in 2014.
At MIT in the 1990s, Edward Boyden earned an undergraduate degree in physics, and both undergraduate and graduate degrees in electrical engineering and computer science. His early work experience included stints at Bell Labs and in video game design. At Stanford, he earned a doctorate in neuroscience before returning to MIT to pursue his research interest, developing tools for systematic analysis and engineering of the brain. At MIT, he holds joint professorship in biological engineering and in brain and cognitive sciences. As Leader of the Synthetic Neurobiology Group and Co-Director of the Center for Neurobiological Engineering, he is inventing technologies that enable the systematic mapping and engineering of the brain and the computations that it performs. Ultimately, he hopes to create neurotechnologies that will provide insights into how the brain generates thoughts and feelings, and to enable the correction of brain disorders that currently affect over a billion people worldwide. In 2015, he won the largest scientific prize in the world, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, for his work on developing methods for controlling brain cells with light.
Brendan Boyle was born and raised in the City of Philadelphia. The son of a janitor and a crossing guard, he was the first in his family to attend college. He earned academic scholarships to attend the University of Notre Dame and later earned a master’s degree in Public Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. While at Harvard, he took a leave of absence to accept the Democratic nomination for a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. After four years of service in Harrisburg, he was elected to the United States Congress, representing the District of his hometown.
It was Larry Page who first had the idea of analyzing Internet links to rate their relevance to a given information search. Initially, Page was only interested in writing an entertaining dissertation, but he soon realized his idea had far greater potential. With his classmate Sergey Brin, he presented his work to acclaim at the World Wide Web conference in 1998. Within a year they had raised over $30 million to start a company, Google Inc., providing a free Web search service that could return an ordered list of results in a fraction of a second. The simple white page with the multi-colored logo was an immediate hit with Web surfers around the world. The website generates enormous revenue by providing advertising space linked by content to the results of a given search. When Page took the company public in 2004, he and Sergey Brin became multi-billionaires overnight. That same year, they joined the select company of Academy of Achievement student delegates who have returned to the International Achievement Summit as honorees of the Academy. Today, Google is the most-used Web search service in the world, conducting more than a billion searches a day, in over 100 languages, and has given the English language a new verb: “to Google.” Larry Page and Sergey Brin have transformed the way the world accesses and uses information.
Pete Buttigieg became mayor of his hometown, the City of South Bend, Indiana, in January 2012. Elected at the age of 29, he is the youngest mayor of an American city with over 100,000 residents. His responsibilities include overseeing a city workforce of more than 1,000 employees and an annual budget topping $300 million. In 2013, he was named national Mayor of the Year by GovFresh.com, sharing the award with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He is President of the Indiana Urban Mayors Caucus, and serves on the boards of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns and the Truman National Security Project. The Washington Post has called him “the most interesting mayor you’ve never heard of.” Mayor Buttigieg took a leave of absence to serve in Afghanistan during a seven-month deployment in 2014. As a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve, he earned the Joint Service Commendation Medal for his counterterrorism work. Following his return from Afghanistan, he sought a second term as Mayor of South Bend, and in November 2015, he was re-elected with over 80% of the vote. As a Rhodes Scholar, he studied philosophy, politics, and economics at Pembroke College, Oxford. A 2004 graduate of Harvard University, he earned a bachelor’s degree in American history and literature, and a citation in Arabic. In 2000, while still in high school, he won the nationwide J.F.K. Profile in Courage Essay Contest; in 2015, he received a J.F.K. New Frontier Award, given annually to two young Americans who serve as models for modern public service in the spirit of John F. Kennedy.
Jared Cohen is the President of Jigsaw (formerly known as Google Ideas) and an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Previously, he served as a member of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff and as an advisor to Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, and Richard Holbrooke. Cohen was among the early adopters of social media in the U.S. government and is widely credited with integrating social media into U.S diplomatic strategy. His published books to date include Children of Jihad: A Young American’s Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East; One Hundred Days of Silence: America and the Rwanda Genocide; and The New Digital Age: Re-shaping the Future of People, Nations and Business.
In his laboratory at Stanford, Dr. Deisseroth focuses on developing molecular and cellular tools to observe, perturb, and re-engineer brain circuits. His laboratory is based in the James H. Clark Center at Stanford and employs a range of techniques including neural stem cell and tissue engineering methods, electrophysiology, molecular biology, neural activity imaging, animal behavior, and computational neural network modeling. Also a clinician in the psychiatry department, Dr. Deisseroth employs novel electromagnetic brain stimulation techniques in human patients for therapeutic purposes. He is a recipient of the 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, an international award honoring outstanding achievements in three categories — Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics and Mathematics. Breakthrough Prize laureates receive $3 million each, the largest monetary award in the sciences.
Justice Edelman attended the 2000 International Achievement Summit in London while studying as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. He completed his doctorate in law the following year and returned to his home state, Western Australia, to practice law. In 2005, he took up a position as a Fellow and Tutor in Law at Keble College and lecturer at Oxford. He practiced law full-time in England while teaching, becoming the youngest law professor at Oxford. He has written and edited six books on damages, interest awards, equity, unjust enrichment, and torts. In 2011, he returned to Western Australia to accept a commission as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Western Australia. In 2015, he was appointed to a Federal Court, and in the closing weeks of 2016 was appointed to the highest court in the Australian judicial system. At age 42, he is the youngest judge to be called to the High Court since 1930. He had previously appeared before the High Court on three occasions, winning the release of men wrongly convicted of murder.
As an undergraduate, José Edwards was a co-founder of Un Techo para Chile, a non-governmental organization that built thousands of emergency houses all over Latin America. After graduating as a transport engineer from Catholic University of Chile, he worked as an investment analyst in the Chilean Stock Exchange, and continued his work with Techo. He attended the 2006 International Achievement Summit while studying at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government as a Catherine B. Reynolds Fellow. In 2009, Mr. Edwards was elected to Chile’s National Congress, where he represents the country’s only minority-majority district. In office, he has sought equality of access to education, justice and public benefits for the district’s indigenous people, the Mapuche. Issues confronting his district include clean water, rural public transportation and economic development. He chairs the Economic Committee and sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee, where he has devoted much of his energy to the Alianza del Pacifico. The member states of this alliance — Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Chile — are achieving a degree of integration that is unprecedented among Latin American countries.
The son of two statisticians, Jordan Ellenberg excelled in mathematics from an early age, and competed for the U.S. in the International Mathematical Olympiad three times, winning two gold medals and one silver medal. He graduated from Harvard, earned a master’s degree in fiction writing from Johns Hopkins, and then returned to Harvard for his Ph.D. in math. In 2004, he joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he is now the John D. MacArthur Professor of Mathematics. Mr. Ellenberg’s research centers on the fields of number theory and algebraic geometry, the parts of mathematics which address fundamental questions about algebraic equations and their solutions in whole numbers. His research has uncovered new and unexpected connections between these subjects and algebraic topology, the study of abstract high-dimensional shapes and the relations between them. He has been writing for a general audience about math for more than 15 years; his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Wired, The Believer and The Boston Globe. He is also the author of the “Do the Math” column in Slate. His novel, The Grasshopper King, was a finalist for the 2004 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award.
Nancy Freudenthal earned her bachelor’s and law degrees, both with honors, from the University of Wyoming. From 1980 until 1989, she served as Attorney for Intergovernmental Affairs under two Governors of Wyoming, while also teaching environmental law at the University of Wyoming. She served on the State Tax Commission and was Chairman of the Board of Equalization until 1995, when she joined the law firm of Davis & Cannon. For eight years, she was the First Lady of Wyoming, while her husband, Dave Freudenthal served as the state’s Governor. In 2010, President Barack Obama nominated her to the federal bench, and following confirmation by the U.S. Senate, she was sworn in as U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Wyoming. Judge Freudenthal is the seventh federal district judge to serve Wyoming since statehood, and the first woman district court judge in the state. She has been Chief Judge of the District since 2011.
Juan Manuel Galán Pachón is a Colombian politician and member of the Liberal Party, currently serving as Senator of Colombia. He is the son of Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento, a politician and presidential candidate who was shot to death in 1989 by hit men hired by the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar. Also in 1989, Juan Galán graduated from the Instituto Pedagógico Nacional in Bogotá, and after his father’s assassination, his family moved to France. He attended the Paris Institute of Political Studies and obtained a Certificate of Political Studies in 1992. He went on to graduate from the École des Hautes Études Internationales, also in Paris, in 1997, with a master’s degree in international affairs. Later that year, Galán returned to Colombia to begin his political career. He drew controversy by backing the candidate running against his uncle in Bogotá’s mayoral race, and infuriated members of the New Liberalism Party, founded by his father, when he criticized some of his father’s former associates for exploiting his father’s image for political gain. In 1998, he supported Conservative Party presidential candidate Andrés Pastrana Arango, and after Pastrana’s election, was named Deputy Director for Youth at the Ministry of National Education. In 2003, he earned a master’s of science degree in foreign service from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He was appointed as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary at the Colombian Embassy in London, in 2004, by Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez. The following year, he resigned his office in London and returned to Colombia to run for the Senate. He easily defeated his opponent in the 2006 Senate race, and again when he ran for re-election in 2010. Juan Galán is a member of the Senate’s First Commission, which deals with Statutory Laws and Internal Affairs, and has supported voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide; marriage for same-sex couples; and drug liberalization policies. He has been married to Carmenza Lian Barrera since 2002, with whom he has two children.
A member of the U.S. Navy’s elite SEAL unit, Lt. Greitens conducted anti-terrorist operations as Commander of a Joint Special Operations Task Unit and as Commander of a Mark V Special Operations Craft Detachment. A Truman Scholar, he received his bachelor’s degree in ethics and public policy, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Duke University. At Duke, in Durham, North Carolina, he served as Chairman of the University Honor Council, as Editor-in-Chief of the humanities journal Eruditio, and was Founder and Chairman of the Mayor’s University Advisory Council. He later earned his M.Phil. and Ph.D. as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, where he won a gold medal in the British Universities’ National Boxing Championships. Prior to his military service, he volunteered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, with UNICEF in Rwanda and Zaire, and with Mother Teresa’s hospice in India. His award-winning documentary photographs have been featured in several publications. In November of 2016, he was elected as Missouri’s next governor. The election capped a stunning rise for Greitens, a Democrat-turned-Republican, who had never sought or held an elected office.
Vuk Jeremić is a Serbian diplomat who served as Serbia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs between 2007 and 2012, and President of the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2012-2013. A native of Belgrade, he and his parents were forced to leave Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, while he was still a teenager, after a falling-out with the country’s communist government. He attended Cambridge University, graduating in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in theoretical physics. While at Cambridge, during the Milosevic era, he organized Serbian students and expatriates to coordinate information campaigns and establish international contacts for the democratic opposition. He went on to attend Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government as a Fellow of the Kokkalis Foundation’s Program on Southeastern and East-Central Europe, and graduated in 2003 with a master’s degree in public administration and international development. He began his Ph.D. studies in quantitative finance at the University of London (Imperial College), and worked for Deutsche Bank, Dresdner Kleinwort and AstraZeneca while in London. In the early 2000s, he became an advisor to Serbian President Boris Tadić. In 2007, while Tadić was still in office, Jeremić was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. During his term, he spearheaded Serbia’s opposition to Kosovo’s unilateral secession. In 2012, he was elected President of the United Nations General Assembly, and remains the youngest person ever to have held the office. The same year, he was elected to Serbia’s National Assembly, and acted as Democratic Party legislator while also serving as President of the General Assembly. In 2013, following Boris Tadić’s departure from the Democratic Party, Jeremić stepped down from his positions within the party, and was subsequently expelled from the Democratic Party, yet he maintained his parliamentary seat as an independent. After his term as President of the General Assembly expired, in 2013, he founded the Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development (CIRSD), a public policy think-tank. The following year, he joined the Leadership Council of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network. He currently serves as the president of CIRSD, and as editor-in-chief of Horizons, an English-language global public policy magazine.
Christopher Kirchhoff was named by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter as a partner at the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental in May 2016. The Pentagon office, established in 2015, is known at “DIUx” and headquartered in Silicon Valley, representing a signature effort by Secretary Carter to build new relationships between technology companies and the Pentagon. Dr. Kirchhoff was appointed, based on his technology and national security experience, as part of an extensive leadership overhaul at DIUx, and is charged with reporting directly to the Secretary. Prior to this most recent post, he was Director of Strategic Planning for the White House National Security Council (NSC), where he was the lead technology strategist, and an advisor to President Barack Obama. In early 2015, also at the NSC, he served as Senior Advisor, leading the Ebola Lessons Learned Initiative, in tandem with the White House Ebola Task Force. Previously, he was Special Assistant to General Martin Dempsey, USA, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, helping to develop the military’s cyber, technology, innovation and Ebola strategies. He has also co-authored several significant papers, including the “White House Report on Big Data,” under White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, in 2014; “Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience,” while working for the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction in Washington, D.C. and Baghdad during 2006-2009; and, in 2003, the “Space Shuttle Columbia Accident Investigation Report,” as part of the Space Shuttle Columbia accident investigating team. Christopher Kirchhoff earned a Ph.D. in social and political sciences at Cambridge University in 2009 as a Gates Cambridge Scholar. He received a bachelor’s degree in history and science in 2001 from Harvard University, magna cum laude, with highest honors.
From an early age, Eric Lander made a name for himself as a mathematical prodigy, winning the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. Class valedictorian at Princeton, Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, he was poised for a career as a theoretical mathematician. Yet he was dissatisfied. He wanted his research to serve a more immediate human purpose. He embarked on a career teaching managerial economics at Harvard Business School; although he loved the teaching, he found the research unsatisfying. In the midst of a promising career, with a growing family to support, he dropped everything and made a mid-life course correction. Although he was already a professor in the business school, he undertook basic studies in biology. He soon found a new application of his mathematical prowess in the emerging field of genomics, the study of all the genes in a given organism, and their function in sickness and in health. He played a leading role in the Human Genome Project, and is the first listed author on the article describing the complete human genome published in Nature in 2001. Today, he is Founding Director of the Broad Institute, a joint project of Harvard, MIT and the Whitehead Institute, where he is leading a revolution in our understanding of the nature of life — and the causes and treatment of disease.
At age 15, Katie Ledecky was the youngest member of the U.S. delegation at the 2012 Olympics in London. Her youth was no handicap. She defeated the defending world and Olympic champion in her own country, and took home the gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle, breaking an American record that had stood for 24 years. At the FINA international competition in Barcelona the following year, she won the world championship in four events and broke world records in two. The international swimming federation (FINA) named her World Swimmer of the Year. From June to August of 2014, she set world records in the 400-, 800- and 1500-meter freestyle races, and then broke her own records in the 400 and 1500 at the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in Australia. An honors student at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Maryland, she graduated high school in 2015, and accepted an athletic scholarship to attend Stanford University. She has chosen to defer her entry to Stanford until after the 2016 Olympics. In her spare time, she volunteers with Wounded Warriors, the Shepherd’s Table Homeless Center, Bikes for the World and the Help 2.0 Clean Water Project. In 2015, Katie Ledecky broke the 1500-meter freestyle world record. In early 2016, she broke her own 800-meter freestyle world record in the Arena Pro Swim Series. At the 2016 Rio Olympics — in one of the greatest performances in Olympic history — she earned four gold medals in the 200-, 400- and 800-meter freestyle races, as well as the 2×400 relay. She set a new world record in the 800-meter, finishing an astounding 11 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor.
Steven Levitt is the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, where he directs the Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory. Professor Levitt earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in 1989 and his Ph.D. from MIT in 1994. He has taught at the University of Chicago since 1997. In 2004, he received the John Bates Clark Medal, awarded to the most influential economist under the age of 40. In 2006, he was named one of TIME magazine’s “100 People Who Shape Our World.” He co-authored Freakonomics, which spent over two years on the New York Times bestseller list and has sold more than four million copies worldwide. Super Freakonomics, released in 2009, includes brand-new research on topics from terrorism to prostitution to global warming. He is also the co-author of the popular Freakonomics blog.
Tara Lipinski is an internationally acclaimed figure skater who won the gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Olympics — the youngest individual gold medalist in the history of the Winter Games. In 1997, she was also the youngest-ever winner of the U.S. and World Figure Skating Championships. In the years since her Olympic triumph, she has worked as a television sports commentator for NBC, NBC Sports and Universal Sports. Today, she regularly appears as a TV analyst for the World Figure Skating Championships, the Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series and the U.S. Figure Skating National Championships. At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, she was a commentator and analyst for NBC Sports.
Debra Ann Livingston was appointed U.S. Circuit Judge for the Second Circuit in 2007. Prior to her appointment, she was a law professor and Vice Dean at Columbia Law School. Judge Livingston joined the Columbia faculty in 1994, and she continues to teach criminal procedure on a regular basis. She is a recipient of Columbia’s annual Wein Prize for Social Responsibility. She received her bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, from Princeton University, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa; she received her law degree, magna cum laude, from Harvard Law School, where she was an editor on the Harvard Law Review. Following law school, she served as a law clerk to Judge J. Edward Lumbard of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Judge Livingston was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York from 1986 to 1991, and she served as a deputy chief appellate attorney in the Criminal Division from 1990 to 1991. She was an associate with the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison from 1985 to 1986, and again from 1991 to 1992, when she elected to pursue an academic career. She was a member of the University of Michigan’s Law School faculty from 1992 until 1994. Judge Livingston is a co-author of the casebook, Comprehensive Criminal Procedure, and has published academic articles on various legal topics. She has taught courses in evidence, criminal law and procedure, law and policing, and national security and terrorism. From 1994 to 2003, she was a commissioner on New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board. She presently serves as a member of the Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Evidence Rules.
As Executive Director of Support for International Change, a rural health service provider in East Africa, Erica Mackey observed that “the world’s poorest people pay the most for the dirtiest energy.” A fluent Swahili speaker with over ten years of experience in Sub-Saharan Africa, she is the co-founder and Managing Director of Off.Grid:Electric, the world’s first massively scalable off-grid electric company. Headquartered in Arusha, Tanzania and San Francisco, California, the company provides affordable and reliable energy to communities that currently lack such power. By utilizing distributed renewable energy, it sells pre-paid power, known as Zola, to customers who suffer from an expensive or unreliable grid, or have no electrical grid access at all. Ms. Mackey and her team have raised over $100 million of venture capital and institutional debt to build a business to light Africa. Off.Grid:Electric now connects over 10,000 new African households a month to modern clean electricity. Erica Mackey holds a bachelor’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology from UCLA. While completing an MBA at Oxford University, she was selected for the Skoll Associate Fellowship at the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, and she co-chaired the Oxford Business Network for Social Entrepreneurship. In 2012, she was recognized by Forbes as one of its “30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs;” in 2014, she won an Ashden Award for Financial Innovation; and in 2016, she received the $1.5 million Zayed Future Energy Prize from the United Arab Emirates.
Meera Menon is a writer, director, and editor. In 2013, her feature directorial debut, Farah Goes Bang, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival; as the film’s co-writer and director, she won the inaugural Nora Ephron Prize, awarded to “a female film director of exceptional promise.” The film also won the best narrative feature award at CAAMFest, the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival, and the Austin Asian American Film Festival; and the best actress award at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Also in 2013, Ms. Menon was named to Glamour magazine’s list of “35 Women Under 35 Running Hollywood.” More recently, she was selected to be a fellow at 20th Century Fox’s Global Directors Initiative. Her second feature, Broad Street Pictures’ female-driven Wall Street drama, Equity, starring Anna Gunn and James Purefoy, premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and was released by Sony Pictures Classics in July 2016. A John Jay Scholar at Columbia University, she earned her undergraduate degree in art history, and English and comparative literature. She then completed the master’s program in editing, directing and producing at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. She grew up in the South Asian film industry, where her father, Vijayan Menon, is a film producer, and she won a national television award in India, when she was 18, for her performance on the hit TV show American Dreams. In addition to her filmmaking career, Meera Menon has worked as a curator for contemporary film and video art festivals in Paris, Miami, and New York; she curated an exhibition of over 100 independent artists at New York’s legendary Chelsea Hotel in 2008. She and her husband, cinematographer Paul Gleason, work and live in Los Angeles under their banner, Elephant Shoe Pictures.
Wes Moore is a youth advocate, Army combat veteran, social entrepreneur and author. His first book, The Other Wes Moore, was released in 2010 and became an instant New York Times bestseller; his most recent book, The Work, also a New York Times bestseller, has been selected by Oprah Winfrey to be featured on her show SuperSoul Sunday. In 1998, he graduated from Valley Forge Military College, and at age 19 was the youngest commissioned officer in the U.S. Army. He continued his education at Johns Hopkins University, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa, with a double degree in international relations and economics. He continued his study of international relations as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. As a paratrooper and captain in the United States Army, he completed a combat tour of duty in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division. He was then appointed as a White House Fellow, assisting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He serves on the boards of the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and Johns Hopkins University, and founded an organization called STAND! that works with Baltimore youth involved in the criminal justice system. Wes Moore is the founder and CEO of BridgeEdU, a social enterprise dedicated to building a better on-ramp to higher education and career preparedness for college freshmen students. By creating technologies and hybrid services that resolve the main obstacles preventing students from persisting in college, BridgeEdU aims to engage scholars in a new way. He is also the executive producer of the documentary film All the Difference, which follows two young African American men as they graduate from high school and try to navigate higher education. The film is set to premiere on PBS in September 2016.
After graduating from Harvard with a degree in physics, Seth Moulton enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served two tours of duty as a platoon commander in Iraq. He participated in the initial invasion and in the 2004 Battle of Najaf. He later served as a liaison to senior Iraqi military and political leaders for General David Petraeus. Although he left active duty in 2006, and was accepted into a joint degree program at Harvard Business School and the John F. Kennedy School of Government, he returned to Iraq for another year as a special assistant to General Petraeus. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat in 2014. Congressman Moulton has focused on veterans’ health care, among other issues, and has served on the House Armed Services Committee, the House Budget Committee and the House Small Business Committee.
Josh Nesbit is the Chief Executive Officer of Medic Mobile, a nonprofit organization founded to improve health in the hardest-to-reach communities. Medic Mobile’s software helps over 12,000 community health workers provide care for more than one million families in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The organization focuses on ensuring safe pregnancies, increasing coverage for childhood immunizations, delivering lifesaving treatments for children, monitoring stock levels for essential medicines, and tracking disease outbreaks more rapidly. In 2014, Medic Mobile received a Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. Before co-founding Medic Mobile, Mr. Nesbit studied global health and bioethics at Stanford University, where his qualitative research focused on pediatric HIV/AIDS in Malawi. He is an Ashoka Fellow, PopTech Social Innovation Fellow, Echoing Green Fellow, and Rainer Arnhold Fellow. He has served on the Board of Directors for Developing Radio Partners and IntraHealth International. Selected by Devex as one of the 40 Under 40 Leaders in International Development, he has also received the Truman Award for Innovation from the Society for International Development, and was named by Forbes as one of the world’s top 30 social entrepreneurs. In 2016, Josh Nesbit received a Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award. He is continually inspired by community health workers around the world and emboldened by a vision of global health equity.
Benj Pasek is half of the award-winning songwriting team behind the recently staged Off Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen. The show, set at a high school, has received glowing reviews for its moral complexity as well as its musical ambition. Mr. Pasek and his music-and-lyrics writing partner, Justin Paul, have won a 2016 Obie (the major award for Off Broadway productions) for Musical Theater for Dear Evan Hansen, as well as a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics. The production has quickly been slated for transfer to Broadway. Pasek and Paul have enjoyed Tony-nominated success as the creative duo behind the Broadway musical A Christmas Story, which broke box-office records at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. In addition to its Tony nominations for Best Score and Best Musical, the show was nominated for the Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk Awards. The team made their debut with the musical Edges, which has already had more than 250 productions on five continents. Pasek and Paul’s other works include the Off Broadway musical Dogfight, and musical adaptations of James and the Giant Peach and If You Give a Pig a Pancake. Their songs were featured on the second season of NBC’s Smash and rose to the top 25 on the iTunes pop chart. Their work has been heard on numerous TV shows, including Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and was featured on the MTV series Happyland. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Pasek has lectured and taught master classes at institutions throughout North America, Europe and Australia, including Columbia, Harvard and Princeton. He, and his writing partner, Justin Paul, have written all the songs for a movie starring Hugh Jackman — a P.T. Barnum biopic called The Greatest Showman — which is scheduled for release in 2017 by 20th Century Fox. Disney has also hired them to write new songs for a live-action remake of Snow White. Pasek and Paul won the Best Song award at the 2017 Golden Globes ceremony for their song “City of Stars” from the film La La Land.
Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, Ph.D., professor and chair of astronomy and astrophysics at University of California, Santa Cruz, has been awarded the 2017 Edward A. Bouchet Award from the American Physical Society. The Bouchet Award recognizes a distinguished minority physicist who has made significant contributions to physics research. Dr. Ramirez-Ruiz was chosen for the award in recognition of his “important contributions to the dynamics of plasma in extreme astrophysical environments.” While at UC Santa Cruz, he has also earned a Packard Fellowship, a Radcliffe Fellowship, and most recently, a $5 million Niels Bohr Professorship by the Danish National Research Foundation. The five-year Niels Bohr award will support an international research collaboration in theoretical astrophysics led by Dr. Ramirez-Ruiz, who will divide his time between UC Santa Cruz and the Niels Bohr Institute (NBI) at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. The collaborative program, called the NBI Center for Transient Astrophysics, will focus on the physics of transient astronomical phenomena such as exploding stars and gamma-ray bursts. Dr. Ramirez-Ruiz has been working to develop the theoretical framework needed to interpret observations of astronomical transients and maximize the scientific yield of large survey projects. At the University of Copenhagen, he will work with Professor Jens Hjorth, director of the Dark Cosmology Centre at NBI. A long-term associate at the center, Dr. Ramirez-Ruiz was named affiliated professor of high-energy astrophysics at NBI in 2014. A graduate of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, he earned a bachelor of science degree in physics, with honors. As a student, he won numerous honors including the Leon Lederman Award in Physics. He was conducting research at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the U.S. on an NIS Award in Space Science when he received word that he had been awarded the Young Scientist Presidential Award, Mexico’s highest academic youth honor, personally awarded by the President of Mexico. In 2003, he earned a Ph.D. in astronomy and astrophysics at Cambridge University. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University from 2003 to 2007, prior to beginning his professorship at UC Santa Cruz.
The first female theoretical physicist to gain tenure at Harvard, Lisa Randall is the proponent of a radical new cosmology that may overturn our old conceptions of time, space and the universe. The Standard Model of physics has proved highly accurate in predicting the relative strength of the known forces in verifiable ways, with the exception of gravity, which appears inexplicably weak in relation to the other forces, such as electromagnetism. Randall has proposed that most of the gravity in the universe is concentrated in a dimension that is hidden from us — that our picture of the universe is distorted because we live in “a three-dimensional sinkhole.” She outlines these ideas for the general reader in her book Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions. While in high school, she won the Westinghouse Science Talent Search and, in 1980, attended the Academy of Achievement’s Salute to Excellence program as a student delegate. She earned her Ph.D. at Harvard and held professorships at MIT and Princeton before returning to Harvard as full professor in 2001. In 2007, TIME magazine named her to its list of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.”
Jennifer Robinson is a practicing attorney with the civil liberties firm Doughty Street Chambers in London. She also serves as an adjunct law professor at the University of Sydney Law School in Australia. In 2011, she began a five-year term as Director of Legal Advocacy for the London-based Bertha Foundation, where she oversaw the development of the Bertha Justice Initiative, a program that supports over 100 fellowship positions, every two years in 17 different countries, for the next generation of human rights lawyers. Ms. Robinson is a media and free speech law expert, having represented high-profile clients such as Julian Assange, Richard Dawkins and the New York Times. She has a special interest in the West Papuan independence movement, as attorney to the leader-in-exile, and as co-founder of the legal networking organization International Lawyers for West Papua. At the Australian National University, Ms. Robinson graduated with a double degree in law and Asian studies. She was the University Medalist in Law and a Distinguished Scholar for Asian Studies. As a Rhodes Scholar, she completed a bachelor of civil law (BCL), with distinction, and an M.Phil in public international law.
When the Ebola epidemic began in West Africa, Dr. Pardis Sabeti led a team that did something critically important: it sequenced virus samples from infected patients almost as soon as the outbreak began. This marked the first in-depth use of real-time DNA sequencing in the midst of such a deadly pandemic. She and her team were able to clearly determine that the virus was being spread by human-to-human contact — and not from mosquito, pig or other transmissions. In the wake of this widespread human crisis, at a time when myths and theories were running rampant, Dr. Sabeti’s work proved the power of real data to establish scientific conclusions. Tragically, several of her research collaborators died from Ebola contamination during the outbreak. Her high-risk work was ultimately critical to the containment and suppression of the disease, and in December 2014, Dr. Sabeti was included as one of 22 people named by TIME magazine when it chose “The Ebola Fighters” as its Person of the Year.
A native of Russia, Mikhail Shapiro is Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and Heritage Principal Investigator at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). His laboratory develops technologies to image and control biological function non-invasively at the molecular level, with applications in basic biology and cellular therapy. Dr. Shapiro received his Bachelor of Science degree in neuroscience from Brown University, where he worked to develop implantable systems allowing paralyzed patients to control computers with their thoughts. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in biological engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, followed by postdoctoral research in biophysics at the University of Chicago. In 2011, he launched his independent research program at the University of California, Berkeley, and moved to Caltech in 2014 to join its chemical engineering faculty, with appointments in bioengineering and medical engineering. Dr. Shapiro’s research has been recognized by the Hertz, Soros, Miller and Life Science Research Foundation Fellowships; the Hertz Ph.D. Thesis Prize; the Burroughs Wellcome Career Award at the Scientific Interface; the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Young Faculty Award and Director’s Fellowship; the Pew Scholars Award; the Sontag Foundation Distinguished Scientist Award; the Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering; and the Technology Review TR35 Award for top innovators under age 35. Additionally, Dr. Shapiro has served as a Defense Sciences Research Council Fellow and a member of the National Academy of Sciences Standing Committee on Technology Insight. Apart from his academic career, he has been active in biotechnology entrepreneurship. He was a co-founder of Cyberkinetics, the company that developed the first implantable brain-computer interface, and was a venture principal at Third Rock Ventures, where he helped launch Foundation Medicine and Afferent Pharmaceuticals.
Vocalist, composer and instrumentalist Esperanza Spalding fell in love with music as a little girl in Portland, Oregon. She first drew acclaim as a child violinist before discovering the upright bass as a teenager. Within months she was playing in local clubs, exploring pop, rock, hip-hop and especially jazz. By age 20, she was an instructor at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, and was performing with singer Patti Austin and a stellar roster of jazz greats. Her 2008 album, Esperanza, topped Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart. The following year, she was invited to perform at The White House and the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Stockholm. At the 53rd annual Grammy Awards, she was honored as Best New Artist of the Year. With her 2011 album, Chamber Music Society, she became the bestselling contemporary jazz artist in the world. On the follow-up, Radio Music Society, she played her own compositions alongside an eclectic selection of tunes by everyone from the Beach Boys to one of her heroes, jazz great Wayne Shorter. With every performance, every recording, she continues to explore an ever-expanding musical universe.
Debbie Sterling is the Founder and CEO of GoldieBlox, the award-winning children’s multimedia company offering a unique line of construction toys designed to interest young girls in building and engineering, including the world’s first girl engineer character. Sterling herself discovered engineering in her freshman year at Stanford, and graduated in 2005 with a degree in mechanical engineering and product design. After graduation, she worked as marketing director for a national jewelry brand, and then as a brand strategist for Hornall Anderson, advising the agencyʼs top clients, including Microsoft, T-Mobile, Frito Lay and the New York Knicks. Recalling how few women there had been in her engineering program, she noted that men still greatly outnumber women in science, technology, engineering and math. Because girls often lose interest in these subjects in elementary school, she decided to devise a line of toys to capture girls’ interest at an early age. By tapping into their verbal skills, the GoldieBlox “story + construction set” bolsters confidence in girls’ spatial skills while giving them the tools they need to create, design and build. She has been named Time’s “Person of the Moment,” honored by the National Retail Foundation as one of 25 “People Shaping Retail’s Future,” and was recently added to Fortune magazine’s prestigious “40 Under 40” list. In 2015, she was inducted as a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship and honored by the National Women’s History Museum with a “Living Legacy” Award for her work to empower girls around the world. Debbie Sterling is an engineer, entrepreneur, and one of the leaders in the movement toward empowering girls to build their confidence, dreams, and ultimately, their futures.
Bryan Stevenson is the Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama. He is a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned. Under his leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges, eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults. Mr. Stevenson has successfully argued several cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, and recently won an historic ruling that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger are unconstitutional. He and his staff have won reversals, relief or release for over 115 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row. He has initiated major new anti-poverty and anti-discrimination efforts that challenge the legacy of racial inequality in America, including major projects to educate communities about slavery, lynching and racial segregation. Mr. Stevenson is also a law professor at the New York University School of Law. His work fighting poverty and challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system has won him numerous awards, including the prestigious MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Prize. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Just Mercy, which was named by TIME Magazine as one of the “10 Best Books of Nonfiction for 2014.”
A prodigiously talented singer and songwriter, Taylor Swift’s dedication to music began in childhood. She started crafting songs at the age of five, and by the time she turned ten, was performing at karaoke contests, festivals and county fairs around her hometown of Wyomissing, Pennsylvania. At age 12, she persuaded her parents to move to Nashville so she could pursue her singing career. In only two years, she had signed a publishing contract with Sony, making her the youngest professional songwriter in the industry. In 2006, her self-titled debut album was released, when she was 16, and has sold more than three million copies. She wrote every song on the album, including the year’s number one country single, “Our Song.” Taylor Swift is a ten-time Grammy winner, the youngest recipient in the history of the music industry’s highest honor, the Grammy Award for Album of the Year — and the first woman to win Album of the Year twice, in 2008 for Fearless and in 2015 for 1989. She is the only artist in history to have an album hit the $1-million first-week sales figure three times (2010’s Speak Now, 2012’s RED and 2014’s 1989). She’s a household name whose intensely catchy yet deeply personal self-penned songs transcend music genres, and a savvy businesswoman who has built a childhood dream into an empire.
As the first blind student at Bonn University, Sabriye Tenberken studied the Mongolian, Chinese and Tibetan languages in conjunction with sociology and philosophy, developing the first Braille script for the Tibetan language, initially for her own use. In 1997, she traveled on her own through the Tibetan Autonomous Region to investigate the situation of blind children there. The following year, she returned to Tibet to open a training center for the blind, including a preparatory school, a Braille printing press, a vocational training farm and a medical massage training program. In 2001, with her Dutch colleague, Paul Kronenberg, she co-founded Braille Without Borders (BWB) to empower blind and visually impaired people around the world. A BWB international center is now being built in Kerala, India, where blind people from developing countries will train to establish social projects for the blind in their own countries. In recognition of her service to humanity, Ms. Tenberken has received the Albert Schweitzer Award, has been honored as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, was named a “Hero of 2004” by TIME magazine, and has been knighted by the Queen of the Netherlands.
Vice Admiral Joseph Tofalo graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He also holds a master’s degree in engineering management from Catholic University of America. A career submarine officer, his at-sea assignments have included service on four different vessels and as Commander of Submarine Squadron Three. His shore assignments have included service as an aide to the Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy; as a Chief of Naval Operations staff member; as Deputy Executive Assistant to the Joint Staff at the U.S. Joint Forces Command; and as Commander of Submarine Force U.S. Atlantic Fleet. Following these commands, he served as Executive Assistant to the Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, and as Executive Assistant to the Vice Chief of Naval Operations. Selected as Rear Admiral in 2009, his first flag assignment was as Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Global Force Management and Joint Operations at U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia. He assumed command of Submarine Group 10 in 2011, and in December 2013, he became Director of Undersea Warfare on the Chief of Naval Operations staff at the Pentagon. Vice Admiral Tofalo assumed his current duties in September 2015: as Commander of Submarine Forces, he is the Undersea Domain lead, and is responsible for the submarine force’s strategic vision; as Commander of Submarine Force Atlantic, he commands all Atlantic-based U.S. submarines, their crews, and supporting shore activities; and as Commander of the Allied Submarine Command, he acts as the principal strategic advisor to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Strategic Commanders on submarine-related issues.
An inactive child by his own account, Herschel Walker went on to set all-time football records at every level of play, from high school to the pros. He finished his professional career with a total of 8,225 yards and 61 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 512 passes for 4,859 yards and 21 scores. In 1981, he became the first Academy of Achievement honor student to return to the annual program as a recipient of the Golden Plate Award. The following year, while a junior at the University of Georgia, he won the Heisman Trophy as the outstanding player of the year. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999, and was selected as the second greatest player in college football history, just behind the legendary Red Grange. Mr. Walker has also devoted himself to working with numerous charitable and educational organizations.
A scientist, inventor and entrepreneur, Alex Wissner-Gross serves as the President of Gemedy, Inc., a pioneering intelligent systems company, and also holds academic appointments at the Harvard Institute for Applied Computational Science, the Harvard Innovation Lab, and the MIT Media Lab. He has been granted 22 issued, pending, and provisional patents and has founded four technology companies. As a high school student, he won the U.S.A. Computer Olympiad and the Intel Science Talent Search. He graduated first in his class from the MIT School of Engineering, earning simultaneous degrees in physics, electrical science and engineering, and mathematics. Dr. Wissner-Gross earned his Ph.D. in physics at Harvard, with an award-winning dissertation on programmable matter, ubiquitous computing, and machine learning. His TED talks have been viewed more than 1.75 million times and translated into 26 languages. His work has been featured in the New York Times, CNN, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and Businessweek.
Feng Zhang is a bioengineer focused on developing tools to better understand nervous system function and disease. His lab applies these means to interrogate gene function and study neuropsychiatric diseases in animal and stem cell models. These novel tools, which he has made widely available, are accelerating biomedical research around the world. In 2012, he submitted a breakthrough paper which reported the first successful programmable genome editing of mammalian cells, and remains the most-cited paper in genome editing. Dr. Zhang’s technique for mammalian genome editing has had enormous impact on experimental science and holds great promise for therapeutic applications. He is also widely recognized for developing another breakthrough technology called optogenetics, with fellow Academy of Achievement alumni Karl Deisseroth of Stanford and Edward Boyden of MIT.