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Spotlight: NJIT President Awarded Ellis Island Medal of Honor

May 2008

NJIT President Robert A. Altenkirch received the 2008 Ellis Island Medal of Honor in a ceremony held May 10, 2008 on Ellis Island. The medals are awarded annually to a group of distinguished American citizens who exemplify a life dedicated to community service.  

Each year since 1986, the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO) has sponsored the Ellis Island Medals of Honor. One of America’s most prestigious awards, the Ellis Island Medals of Honor pay tribute to the pluralism and diversity of the ancestry groups that comprise America’s unique cultural mosaic.

Altenkirch, whose German ancestors settled in St. Louis in the 1860s, joins a distinguished roster of American citizens who have received this singular honor. Past recipients include six U.S. presidents, Nobel Prize winners, athletes, industry leaders, artists, and others whose work has made a lasting impact on humanity.

The medals are presented on Ellis Island to American citizens of diverse origins for their outstanding contributions to their communities, their nation and the world. In addition, the honorees are cited for sharing their personal and professional gifts for the benefit of humanity, and preserve and celebrate the history, traditions and values of their ancestry groups. Following the awards ceremony, the honorees and their families and friends boarded a ferry and saw a spectacular fireworks show surrounding the Statue of Liberty.

"The ceremony was a very moving and patriotic experience, and celebrated the diversity of cultures in the United States," Altenkirch said.

Altenkirch joined NJIT as the university's seventh president in July 2002. With degrees in mechanical engineering and expertise in combustion and heat transfer, he has a wide background in university research, teaching and administration with extensive experience in program development, fundraising and federal relations. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Vincent J. Naimoli, chairman of the Tampa Bay Rays major league baseball team and an NJIT alumnus, nominated Altenkirch for the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. Naimoli received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 1999.

Both the United States Senate and House of Representatives have officially passed resolutions recognizing the Ellis Island Medals of Honor, which ranks among this country’s most prestigious awards. Each year, Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipients are listed in the Congressional Record, honoring those who have made enduring contributions to our nation and to the world.