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John Hennessy
John Hennessy
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John Hennessy Biography

President of Stanford University

John Hennessy Date of birth: September 22, 1952

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  John Hennessy

John LeRoy Hennessy was born on Long Island, New York. His father was an engineer, his mother a homemaker. As a youngster, John Hennessy was a talented student, but not a highly motivated one. In high school, a math teacher spotted his potential and urged him to apply himself. At his teacher's urging, Hennessy took two math courses at once, and in his after-school hours began to build home computers from kits with a like-minded friend.

Through high school he pursued his interest in math and science, competing in science fairs. He entered Villanova University, outside of Philadelphia, as an electrical engineering major. At Villanova, he had his first formal course in computer programming. Soon he became a teaching assistant in the course. He had discovered two loves, programming and teaching, and decided to pursue graduate studies in computer science at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. After completing his Ph.D., he joined the faculty of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California in 1977, as an assistant professor of electrical engineering.

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In 1981, Hennessy embarked on a major research project, gathering a team of programmers to develop a new model of computer architecture, the Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC). Hennessy's work would ultimately have a far-reaching impact, creating a new generation of computers with drastically increased efficiency. Hennessy was named director of Stanford's Computer Systems Laboratory, a joint effort of the departments of computer science and electrical engineering. By his sabbatical year, 1984, Hennessy was ready to found a new company, MIPS Computer Systems (later renamed MIPS Technologies), which designs computer microprocessors to bring RISC technology to industry. Two years later, Hennessy returned to Stanford full-time, but MIPS continued to prosper.

Hennessy was promoted to a full professorship at Stanford in 1986. The following year, he was named to a new endowed chair, as Willard and Inez Bell Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Hennessy co-authored two books on computer architecture: Computer Organization and Design: The Hardware/Software Interface and Computer Architecture: A Quantitative Approach. Today, these are standard texts in the field, read by computer science students throughout the world.

In 1992, the company Hennessy founded, MIPS Technologies, was sold for $333 million. While Hennessy continued his research on the development of high-performance computers, Stanford made increasing use of his skills as an administrator. In 1994, he was chosen to chair the Department of Computer Science. Two years later he was promoted to Dean of the School of Engineering, embracing disciplines far beyond his own specialty. As Dean, he initiated a five-year plan with a new emphasis on the emerging fields of bioengineering and biomedical engineering. After three years as Dean, he was chosen to succeed Condoleezza Rice as Provost of the University, Stanford's chief academic and financial officer. As Provost he served under President Gerhard Casper. When President Casper returned to teaching in 2000, John Hennessy was chosen to serve as the tenth president of Stanford University.

John Hennessy Biography Photo
At the same time, Hennessy's contributions to computer science were receiving recognition beyond the walls of Stanford. The same year he was elevated to the university's presidency, he received the John von Neumann Medal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), named for the great mathematician, one of the pioneers of computer science. Hennessy received comparable honors from the American Society of Engineering Education, the Seymour Cray Computer Engineering Award, an award for lifetime achievement from NEC Corporation, and a Founders Award from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. While serving as President of Stanford, Hennessy serves on the boards of Atheros Communications, Cisco Systems and Google.

Under the leadership of President Hennessy, Stanford University continued its international leadership in IT, neuroscience, biomedical technology, energy technology and environmental science. Even in financially challenging times, Hennessy proceeded with an ambitious construction program, highlighted by the architecturally daring Bing Concert Hall. As President, Hennessy worked closely with business leaders in Silicon Valley, including Stanford alumni such as Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google, bringing top executives and venture capitalists on campus to teach courses, mentor students and listen to pitches from young entrepreneurs. These interactions led to the creation of successful ventures such as Instagram and Snapchat. Hennessy's efforts earned him the nickname, "the Godfather of Silicon Valley."

Stanford's endowment more than doubled during Hennessy's 15 years as President. In his first year, Stanford received slightly less than $470 million in gifts. In 2014, it received $930 million. At the same time, Hennessy sought to make a Stanford education more affordable for every student admitted. In 2008, he announced that the school would waive tuition for families with annual incomes under $100,000 and provide free room and board to students with families earning less than $60,000. When Hennessy took office, 18,000 students applied for admission to Stanford. In 2014 the school received more than 40,000 applications. When Hennessy retired the following year, the school's admissions rate was five percent, and Stanford surpassed Harvard as the nation's most selective undergraduate institution.

This page last revised on Jun 15, 2015 15:45 EDT
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