2018 Commencement Speaker Ellen Kullman poses for a portrait. Courtesy Patrick Collins

Ellen Kullman, former CEO of Dupont, to speak at Commencement

Former DuPont CEO and Tufts alumna Ellen J. Kullman (E ‘78) will return to her alma mater to deliver the commencement address to the Tufts University Class of 2018 on May 20.

Kullman served as the CEO and chair of the board for DuPont, the world’s largest chemical company, for seven years. She was the first female CEO of DuPont and spent 27 years at the company altogether.

During her time as CEO, Kullman focused on company growth in international markets and advocated for the power of science to innovate and transform. She also worked on helping DuPont better serve future generations and contribute knowledge to the broader STEM community.

In an interview with The Tufts Daily in 2010, Kullman spoke of how her experience at Tufts prepared her to be a female CEO in a male-dominated field.

“I was always the only woman or one of only one or two women in most of my classes coming through Tufts, so you learned how to deal in that world,” Kullman said. “I think that when you’re comfortable in an environment, you make other people comfortable in the environment … so I think that learning how to work in a very open and a very engaging fashion with all different kinds of people is something that I took away from my experiences here.”

After Kullman stepped down from her position as CEO of DuPont, she joined the group Paradigm for Parity as co-chair. The group, made up of 28 CEOs and founders, pushes for gender equality at the top of major corporations. In an interview for Fortune Magazine about the group, Kullman addressed the group’s goal to have an equal number of male and female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies by 2030.

“If we’re not filling the pipeline [of women entering the workforce], then we’ll never get there. That’s why we talk about it at all levels of leadership. It’s not just a top of the house issue; it’s a pipeline issue,” Kullman said in the interview. “ … When I was a young woman entering the workforce, I really thought we would have more progress by now. But that happens — one step forward, half step back. You have to keep the focus on what’s going to make a difference.” 

Kullman, who graduated from Tufts with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, has been dedicated to giving back to the Tufts community. She joined the Tufts Board of Trustees in 2006, serving on numerous committees, including the Academic Affairs, Audit, Compensation and Executive Committees. Kullman now serves on the Board of Advisors for the Tufts School of Engineering and addressed engineering students at the Class of 2017 commencement.

In addition to being a Tufts alumna, Kullman’s daughter, Maggie Kullman (LA ‘12), also graduated from Tufts. While Kullman will be at Tufts to give the commencement address, she will also be here to celebrate the 40th reunion of her graduating class.

“Ellen Kullman serves as an inspiration for many Tufts students and alumni, and we thank her for her decades of service to Tufts,” Tufts University President Anthony P. Monaco said in a press release. “It is our great pleasure to welcome her back to campus to address the newest class of Tufts alumni, their families and friends, the university community and her fellow Jumbos from the Class of 1978, who will celebrate their 40th reunion during commencement weekend.”

Several individuals, including Kullman, will receive honorary degrees at Tufts’ commencement.

Ashton “Ash” Carter, the 25th Secretary of Defense under President Obama, and Farah Pandith, the first-ever special representative to Muslim Communities for the U.S. Department of State under the Obama administration, will each receive Honorary Doctorates of Laws. José Andrés, award-winning chef, humanitarian and educator, will receive an Honorary Doctor of Public Service. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, former president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. Arturo O’Farrill, Grammy Award-winning composer, pianist and educator, will receive an Honorary Doctor of Music.

Additionally, Akcea Therapeutics President Paula Soteropoulos (E ‘89, EG ‘90) will address graduates of the Graduate School of Engineering, and Dana Messina (E ‘83), former CEO of Steinway Musical Instruments, will deliver a lecture to graduates of the School of Engineering.

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