Three UChicago alumni to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

Three UChicago alumni—a physicist called the “queen of carbon science,” a former congresswoman who championed Title IX, and a former congressman and jurist—are among the 19 people named Nov. 10 as recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Mildred Dresselhaus, PhD’58, a longtime professor of physics and electrical engineering at the Massachusetts of Technology; the late Patsy Takemoto Mink, JD’51, a 12-term U.S. Representative from Hawaii who was the first woman of color elected to Congress; and Abner J. Mikva, JD’51, a former federal judge, congressman and White House counsel, join a high-profile group that includes Tom Brokaw, Meryl Streep, Stephen Sondheim and Ethel Kennedy. Mink is one of six individuals receiving the medal posthumously this year.

The award, which will be presented Nov. 24 at the White House, is given to “individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” This year’s UChicago honorees bolster the number of people with University ties who have won the honor to 14.

Dresselhaus joined the MIT faculty in 1960. She received the UChicago Alumni Association’s highest honor, the Alumni Medal, in 2008. In the course of her career, she conducted pioneering research on the science of carbon—work that served as the foundation for the lithium-ion batteries used extensively today in computers, cell phones and automobiles. She also directed the federal Office of Science under President Bill Clinton and led programs to encourage women to enter science.

“We send our sincere congratulations to Dr. Dresselhaus for receiving this prestigious honor,” said Rocky Kolb, dean of the Physical Sciences Division and the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics. “She has made extraordinary contributions in both her scientific research and her service to the country. This award is a richly deserved recognition of these contributions.” 

Mink, who died in 2002 at age 74, is best known for co-authoring and defending the landmark Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act, which prohibits gender discrimination in federally funded schools, guaranteeing woman equality in both academics and sports. As a legislator, Mink fought injustice by introducing or sponsoring the first federal child care bill and bills establishing bilingual education, student loans, special education and Head Start.

Mikva, 88, who retired from the Law School as senior director of the clinic in 2008, was a five-term congressman for Illinois, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and White House counsel for President Clinton. He also served as an Illinois state legislator and taught at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the 2014 recipient of the University of Chicago's Benton Medal for Distinguished Public Service.

Dean Michael Schill commended the Law School’s two medal recipients. “We are tremendously proud that President Obama has recognized the contributions of these two extraordinary individuals, whose tireless devotion to public service, equality and justice exemplifies ideals the Law School holds dear,” said Schill, the Harry N. Wyatt Professor of Law. “Patsy and Ab, classmates in the Law School’s illustrious class of 1951, are true examples of civic leadership. They are exceedingly worthy of this prestigious honor.”

—Adapted from a story from the University of Chicago Law School website. Read it in its entirety here.