Remembering Bill Wulf, NAE President 1996-2007

Tue, March 14, 2023

Dear Colleagues, 

It is with deep sadness that we announce William A. “Bill” Wulf, NAE President from 1996 to 2007, passed away March 10, 2023, at the age of 83.

william-wulf-charlottesville-va-obituary.jpgBill was elected to the NAE in 1993 “for professional leadership and for contributions to programming systems and computer architecture” and served as NAE president from 1996 to 2007. Before that he distinguished himself in academia as a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Virginia; in the federal government, as assistant director at the National Science Foundation; and in entrepreneurship, as cofounder—with his wife, Anita Jones, also an elected member of the NAE’s Computer Science and Engineering Section—of Tartan Labs, a computer compiler company that was purchased by Texas Instruments. 

For most in the National Academies community, Bill is remembered and revered for his service as NAE president. He came to the position at a time of great contention, when many members believed the NAE was not living up to its calling as a national focus for the engineering community. Bill was chosen as interim president by the NAE Council in 1996 to restore focus and mend the NAE’s relations in the Academies’ complex. As a testament to his confident, creative, thoughtful, and highly principled leadership, he was elected by the NAE membership in 1997 to complete the 1995-2001 term, and, in 2001, he was elected to a full 6-year second term. 

Bill was a dynamic advocate of the critical role of engineering and technology in quality of life, in national and homeland security, and in globally sustainable development. He was a tireless promoter for the U.S. engineering research enterprise as essential to the nation’s economic well-being and global competitiveness.

He also eloquently made the case for more diverse representation in the engineering community writ large. He saw that the absence of a variety of perspectives led to important opportunity costs—“in products not built, in designs not considered, in constraints not understood, in processes not invented.” And, recognizing the need for active consideration of ethics in engineering, he brought an online ethics center to the NAE’s website, a resource that became a full-fledged program.   

NAE4199_1052 (2002)smaller.jpgBill’s greatest passion was for efforts to galvanize the engineering education community to consider ways to improve the education of the next generation of engineers. He was a powerful spokesman for the message that, for the United States to maintain its position in the increasingly competitive global market, having the best educated engineering workforce in the world is mandatory.

Bill strengthened the role of the NAE in the governance of the National Research Council, enhanced the membership’s role in the NAE, and expanded the NAE’s programmatic activities across a broad spectrum of issues. He promoted international engagement through the Frontiers of Engineering program, supported outreach and diversity through the creation of the EngineerGirl program, encouraged public understanding of engineering through publication of A Century of Innovation celebrating the 20 greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century, and initiated the effort to identify the Grand Challenges for Engineering for this century.

Bill was a wonderful human being and the NAE owes him a great debt of gratitude for his willingness to devote his considerable talents to the institution. With his vision and statesmanship, he expanded the NAE’s programmatic contributions and restored the relevance and stature of the NAE as a nationally important organization. 

The NAE community mourns this profound loss and extends our deepest sympathy to Anita, daughters Ellen and Karin, and grandchildren.


Wulf will be interred at the University of Virginia Columbarium. A memorial service is being planned for later in the year. To leave a personal message or memory, please visit the Dignity Memorial website.