Scott Willoughby

Northrop Grumman’s Scott Willoughby ’89 to Address Graduates at Lehigh’s 156th Undergraduate Commencement

Willoughby is senior vice president of performance excellence at Northrop Grumman's space systems sector and former vice president and program manager for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope program at Northrop Grumman.

Scott Willoughby ’89, who oversaw the development of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) and was recently elected to membership in the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), will deliver the address at Lehigh’s 156th undergraduate spring commencement on Sunday, May 19, 2024.

“It’s an honor to return to Lehigh and speak to graduates at Commencement,” Willoughby said. “As a proud Lehigh engineering alum, I look forward to sharing with graduates the foundations the university built for my life and career. I am excited to be celebrating this milestone with the graduates poised to embark on the next chapter of their lives.”

Lehigh President Joseph J. Helble ’82 said: “I am thrilled to welcome Scott to campus to address our graduates. The university community is looking forward to hearing how Lehigh laid the foundation for his remarkable career as a pioneer in the development of instrumentation to explore the deep reaches of space, and I know our graduating students will draw from his thoughtful insights.”

A cosmic time machine in the making

Willoughby is senior vice president of performance excellence at Northrop Grumman's space systems sector and former vice president program manager for the James Webb Telescope program at Northrop Grumman, a leading global aerospace and defense technology company that served as prime contractor on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.

On Dec. 25, 2021, Webb, an international collaboration among NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, launched from Kourou, French Guiana after decades in the making. Willoughby, who oversaw the Webb project for more than 12 years, led the Northrop Grumman industry team that designed, built, completed its integration, tested its state-of-the-art scientific instruments and prepared the observatory for launch. Considered an engineering marvel and the world’s most powerful space telescope ever built, many new technologies were invented to achieve Webb’s pioneering capabilities.

To design, build, test and launch Webb, a global endeavor was needed to make its historic mission a reality. The Northrop Grumman industry team led by Willoughby in partnership with NASA enlisted over 14 countries, three space agency to include NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency, 400 companies and suppliers, and 300 universities and science organizations.

“Webb is truly a cosmic time machine, it allows humanity an unprecedented view of the earliest stars and galaxies that formed billions of years ago,” said Willoughby. “Webb helps us answer fundamental questions like are we alone? and, where did we come from?”

A Pioneering Career in Space

Willoughby is a first-generation college graduate whose engineering career was made possible through his determination and Lehigh’s robust alumni network. After graduating Lehigh, Willoughby considered relocating to California, where his brother was then living. He combed through Lehigh’s alumni directories, searching for electrical engineers, and reached out to several, asking to meet with them to discuss a career in engineering. An alum who was working at TRW, now Northrop Grumman, helped Willoughby make a connection there. That launched his career in engineering, which now spans more than three decades.

Prior to his work on Webb, Willoughby served in several leadership roles at Northrop Grumman. His responsibilities ranged from financial and contract management, testing, integration, production and management in various national security space programs.

NASA, NAE Honors and the Collier Trophy

Earlier this year, Willoughby was elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in recognition of “engineering leadership enabling the deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope,” according to a press release from the NAE.

Election to the NAE is an elite distinction; Willoughby is among 114 new members and 21 new international members announced on Feb. 6, 2024. There are now 2,310 U.S. members and 332 international members, according to the NAE.

In 2023, Willoughby, along with NASA and the Northrop Grumman industry team, received the Robert J. Collier Trophy for ‘revolutionizing the field of astrophysics with the team’s pioneering design and exceptional performance.’ The Collier Trophy is the most prestigious national recognition in the aerospace industry. Past recipients of the trophy include: Orville Wright (1911), Howard Hughes (1938), Neil Armstrong (1969), the B-2 (1991), Global Hawk (2000), SpaceShipOne (2004) and the X-47B (2013).

Willoughby also received NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal in 2022 for his work on Webb. According to NASA, the medal “recognizes personal contributions to NASA mission success…through extraordinary service and a profound level of excellence.” It is NASA’s highest honor.

Philanthropic Initiatives

Willoughby, whose Lehigh education was possible due to a scholarship, has consistently given back to his alma mater. He and his wife established in 2021 the Sarah and Scott P. Willoughby ’89 Endowed Scholarship Fund. Willoughby described himself during his high school and college years as a “rebel” with a somewhat unclear academic path, someone who needed guidance. He found that at Lehigh. Willoughby said he and Sarah created the scholarship fund in the hopes that it would provide support to a deserving student who wouldn’t have the opportunity to attend Lehigh otherwise. The scholarship was endowed last academic year and was awarded to the first recipient.

“I learned to always pay it forward and help a student who has the tenacity to reach their dreams and accomplish whatever goal they set forth,” Willoughby said. “I have one criterion for this scholarship: that it goes to a student who needs it.”

An advocate for education, Willoughby has also generously donated to other financial aid and student support initiatives and volunteered his time speaking to Lehigh classes. He has met with other first-generation students like himself and gave students tours of Webb while it was being constructed.

In addition to his Lehigh degree, Willoughby holds a master’s degree from the University of Southern California. He also is a graduate of the UCLA Executive Program at the Anderson School.

Visit the Commencement website for more information on Commencement programming and updates.

The 2024 schedule is as follows:

Graduate Commencement and Doctoral Hooding Ceremony
Recognizing master’s and doctoral candidates
Saturday, May 18
10 a.m. at Goodman Stadium

Saturday, May 18
4 p.m. at Packer Memorial Church

Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony
Sunday, May 19
10 a.m. at Goodman Stadium

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