Industry Leader Lisa Su Returns to MIT


By Peter Dizikes | MIT News

Three-time EECS alumna Lisa Su, now the president and CEO of Advanced Micro Devices, urged MIT’s new doctoral graduates to “dream big” and “work hard every day to solve the world’s toughest problems” in her commencement address at the Institute’s 2017 Investiture of Doctoral Hoods.

MIT professors, clad in the multihued robes representing the universities from which they received their doctorates (including MIT), draped doctoral hoods over students from 26 departments, programs, and centers at the Institute. EECS awarded 95 doctoral degrees during the most recent academic year, and most of those recipients attended the ceremony.

“I encourage each of you to dream big and believe you can change the world, have the courage to take risks and enthusiastically learn from mistakes, and work hard every day to solve the world’s toughest problems,” said Su, who received an SB in 1990, an SM in 1991, and a PhD in 1994. “I think if you do that, I’m pretty sure you will make everybody very proud, and you will be incredibly lucky throughout your career.”

In outlining her own experiences in technology and business, which have taken her from the Institute’s laboratories to the executive suite, Su observed that MIT has been a central influence on her own life and career. “The MIT PhD degree truly shaped who I am in so many ways, both personally and professionally,” she said.

Su came to the U.S. from Taiwan at age 2 and grew up in New York City. As an undergraduate at MIT, she developed a deep interest in semiconductors; as a graduate student, she received a master’s degree in management and a doctorate focused on research in silicon-on-insulator technology. Su quipped that when she entered MIT’s doctoral program, at the urging of her parents, she was “too young at the time to know any better.”

However, she wound up thriving in a challenging academic environment. “MIT is pure, and it’s really hard,” Su said. “MIT taught me how to think and solve really hard problems.”

Recalling the many ways that her technical education encouraged her to pursue a career in management, Su recounted, “I thought I could make better business decisions because I understood the technology.”

Su began her career at Texas Instruments. She spent 13 years working at IBM, rising to the level of vice president of the Semiconductor Research and Development Center. She then worked in multiple executive roles at Freescale Semiconductor, Inc. She joined Advanced Micro Devices in 2012 as a senior vice president and general manager for global business units, and served as chief operating officer before becoming the CEO.

Su was named one of the Top 50 World’s Greatest Leaders by Fortune in 2017, and has been named a Top Semiconductor CEO by Institutional Investor in both 2016 and 2017. She was also cited as one of MIT Technology Review’s Top 100 Young Innovators in 2002. She serves on the board of directors for Analog Devices, the Global Semiconductor Alliance, and the U.S. Semiconductor Industry Association. MIT Chancellor and Ford Professor of Engineering Cynthia Barnhart SM ’86 PhD ’88, who annually presides over the hooding ceremony, introduced Su. While giving welcoming remarks, Barnhart said she was “thrilled” to have Su addressing the graduates, and offered her own congratulations to the newly minted doctoral graduates.

“Earning a doctoral degree from MIT is no small feat,” Barnhart told the assembled graduates. “You have every reason to be proud, to be relieved, and to be filled with hope for what the future holds.”

This marks the third year that MIT’s doctoral hooding ceremony has featured a keynote speaker, who is chosen with input from MIT faculty and doctoral students.

Academic regalia dates to at least the 15th century, but American universities only adopted formal codes for graduation gowns and hoods in 1893. MIT doctoral degree robes have had their current design since 1995. MIT features a silver-gray robe with a cardinal red velvet front panel, as well cardinal red velvet bars on the sleeves. Additional color markings denote whether graduates have received a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or a Doctor of Science (ScD) degree.

The actual doctoral hoods are part of the doctoral robe ensemble. After the remarks by Barnhart and Su, all doctoral graduates had their names announced as they walked across the stage, then individually had the hoods draped on their ensembles by their department or program head.