University of Indianapolis announces honorary degree recipients for May 2019 commencement

The University of Indianapolis will present honorary degrees during May Commencement ceremonies to two changemakers in the fields of engineering and civil rights.

Lonnie Johnson, a world-renowned inventor, president and founder of Johnson Research and Development Co., Inc. and NASA engineer, and Bob Zellner, a prominent civil rights activist and Freedom Rider who has dedicated his life’s work to the pursuit of equal rights for African-Americans, will receive honorary degrees.

Zellner will be honored during the graduate Commencement ceremony, 7:00 p.m., Friday, May 3, 2019, in Nicoson Hall. Johnson will receive his honorary degree during the undergraduate Commencement ceremony, 11:00 a.m., Saturday, May 4, 2019, in Key Stadium.

“Our honorary degrees are awarded to individuals who are innovators, society and industry leaders, and visionaries who embody the mission of our University. I am excited to continue this storied tradition by awarding degrees that honor two true leaders in our world,” said President Robert L. Manuel.

Lonnie Johnson

Lonnie Johnson

Lonnie Johnson background
Lonnie Johnson has earned multiple accolades from NASA for his work on the Galileo mission to Jupiter, the Mars Observer project, and the Cassini mission to Saturn, but he is perhaps best known for inventing the beloved Super Soaker® water gun, which reached nearly $1 billion in sales worldwide. Johnson is president and founder of Johnson Research and Development Co., Inc., a technology development company, and its spin-off companies, Excellatron Solid State, LLC; Johnson Electro-Mechanical Systems, LLC; and Johnson Real Estate Investments, LLC.

Johnson holds over 100 patents, with over 20 more pending, and is the author of several publications on spacecraft power systems. His exemplary work during his time at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., brought him national recognition. During the Mars Observer project at NASA, Johnson was responsible for ensuring that single point spacecraft failures would not result in loss of the mission. Johnson was awarded the Air Force Achievement Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal on two occasions. After forming his own engineering firm, Johnson licensed his most famous invention, the Super Soaker® water gun, and it eventually became the best-selling toy in America.

Bob Zellner

Bob Zellner

Bob Zellner background
Bob Zellner was the first white southerner to serve as field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which he joined in 1961. He demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the civil rights movement during a turbulent time in American history. Zellner organized in numerous states despite being arrested 18 times for his efforts to challenge the status quo of segregation. During the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964, he traveled with Rita Schwerner while taking part in an investigation of the disappearance of Schwerner’s husband Mickey, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman.

Zellner has continued to pursue equal treatment for all citizens through his work with the National Civil Rights Coordinating Committee, the Eastern Long Island Branch of the NAACP and the Southampton Town Anti-Bias Task Force. Zellner was a featured civil rights luminary in the award-winning 2005 documentary “Come Walk in My Shoes.” His memoir, “The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement,” details his experiences as an active member of the civil rights movement and will be made into a movie produced by Spike Lee this year.