Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Announces Reid Wiseman as Bicentennial Commencement Speaker and Will Award Its First Posthumous Honorary Degree to Emily Warren Roebling

Bicentennial Colloquy, open to the public, is set for May 17; the Bicentennial Commencement Ceremony is May 18.

May 6, 2024

Reid Wiseman in space suit, left, with Emily Warren Roebling in graduation cap and gown, right
Reid Wiseman, RPI Class of 1997, left, and Emily Warren Roebling, right. Photo of Emily Roebling courtesy of Collection of the New-York Historical Society.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) today announced two special honorands for its Bicentennial Commencement celebrations. Astronaut and Artemis II Commander Reid Wiseman ’97 will return to RPI as the Bicentennial Commencement Speaker, and Emily Warren Roebling, who led the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge to completion, will receive a posthumous honorary degree, the first to be awarded in the history of RPI.

Reid Wiseman ’97

Reid Wiseman ’97, decorated naval aviator, test pilot, and commander of the Artemis II mission — which will be the first crewed mission to deep space since 1972 — will address the class of 2024 as the Bicentennial Commencement Speaker. As a leader in the Artemis Program, Wiseman will support humanity’s return to the moon.

Wiseman was selected to be a NASA astronaut in 2009. In 2014, he spent 165 days on the International Space Station, where he and his crewmates conducted more than 300 experiments. He connected with RPI live from the International Space Station, answering questions and doing backflips, during 2014’s Reunion & Homecoming. Wiseman will receive an honorary Doctor of Engineering at the Commencement ceremony.

“I am eager to return to the RPI campus and to celebrate with the Class of 2024,” Wiseman said. “The entire RPI community is filled with enthusiasm as we honor 200 years of achievements and welcome what the future has in store. RPI shaped who I am today and taught me how to succeed in the toughest situations. RPI graduates are enormously passionate and resilient, and those qualities are going to tackle critical breakthroughs on and off the planet.” 

Wiseman continues RPI’s long and deep connection with the U.S. space program, which includes former RPI President and alumnus George M. Low ’48, manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office; Low’s son, astronaut G. David Low ’95; Apollo astronaut John L. Swigert Jr. ’65; and astronaut Richard A. Mastracchio ’87, who conducted nine spacewalks totaling 53 hours.

Emily Warren Roebling

The second honorand, Emily Warren Roebling, will receive a posthumous honorary degree, the first to be awarded in the history of RPI. Emily was the wife of Washington Roebling, RPI Class of 1857, who was chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Washington Roebling treated Emily as a partner in the project, displaying a respect for and trust in his wife that was both unusual and legendary for the time. As his health declined, Emily took on the worlds of civil engineering and construction, operating as the chief project manager and diplomat, and led the bridge construction to successful completion.  

RPI President Martin A. Schmidt ’81, Ph.D., said the university is humbled by the important contributions of Roebling and her family to the Brooklyn Bridge, to Troy, and the world. 

“Through her intellect, exceptional diplomatic skills, and tenacity, Emily Warren Roebling is a shining example of the Engineers’ spirit. As we celebrate our past, present, and future during our Bicentennial, we are pleased to honor her lasting contributions to an innovation that changes lives, and to gender diversity in the predominantly male fields of civil engineering and law,” Schmidt said. 

Another first: Generative AI at Commencement and Colloquy

Both Wiseman and Roebling will engage with the RPI community, members of the public, and each other during the Bicentennial Colloquy held May 17 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center Concert Hall. 

The conversation between these two figures — separated by history but united by their passion for engineering and discovery – will offer audience members fascinating perspectives on technological progress past and future. Roebling and Wiseman will also answer audience questions. Attendees must register for Colloquy and can submit discussion questions online

Roebling’s intrepid character will be present at Colloquy and Commencement thanks to RPI generative AI experts and the acting talents of Liz Wisan, a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, who played the role of Emily Roebling in Season 2 of HBO’s period drama television series The Gilded Age.

Liz Wisan
Actor Liz Wisan

Roebling’s AI-assisted participation has been carefully planned by a small team including Rensselaer archivist Jenifer Monger; Computer Science scholar Sola Shirai, Ph.D.’24; and Roebling descendant Antoinette Maniatty, Ph.D., who is also the first woman chair of the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering at RPI. Jim Hendler, Ph.D., director of RPI’s Future of Computing Institute and Tetherless World Chair of Computer, Web, and Cognitive Sciences, led the generative AI work of the team.

As Commencement Speaker, Wiseman will draw on his experiences to inspire this year’s graduates to reach for dreams that may seem out of this world. Wisan will also deliver Roebling’s brief, generative AI-inspired remarks at Commencement. Roebling descendants Antoinette Maniatty and Kriss Roebling will accept the posthumous honorary degree on Emily Roebling’s behalf.   

“Emily Warren Roebling is a role model for women. Not only did she lead a project from behind the scenes in a man’s world, but as a wife and mother she also engineered her family’s contributions to Troy. It is an honor to help people learn about her legacy,” said Wisan. 

“Our Bicentennial Commencement honorands embody the spirit of RPI, one that builds bridges — literal and figurative — to the new, into the unknown, so that those who come after us can go even further,” said Schmidt. “As we honor our 200-year history of advancing science and technology, Reid Wiseman and Emily Warren Roebling exemplify the ingenuity and determination each RPI graduate takes with them into the world.” 

Written By Samantha Murray
Press Contact Samantha Murray
Back to top