Sunita L. Williams, who earned her master’s degree in engineering management from Florida Institute of Technology and went on to become one of the nation’s most accomplished astronauts, will receive the university’s highest alumni honor when she is presented the Jerome P. Keuper Distinguished Alumni Award at the Homecoming Awards Gala Nov. 7.

Williams, who was tapped by NASA for its astronaut program in 1998, three years after graduating from Florida Tech’s Patuxent site in Maryland, would go on to spend 322 days in space on two missions to the International Space Station. She holds the record for total cumulative spacewalk time by a female astronaut with 50 hours, 40 minutes.

She will now join previous Distinguished Alumni Award winners, including Ann Dunwoody, the Army’s first female four-star general, retired Ford Motor. Co. executive Robert Phebus Jr., attorney Dale Dettmer and Carmax President and CEO Thomas Folliard, as Florida Tech graduates whose career accomplishments honor the university’s legacy of excellence.

In fact, Williams’s career is continuing to unfold.

Earlier this year, she was chosen to be among the first group of astronauts to fly the next generation of commercial crew vehicles. Williams joins Eric Boe, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley as what NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden called “space pioneers.”

“Space exploration makes us think outside the box. It makes us stretch our imaginations even farther,” Williams said at the time of the announcement. “Technology is nothing without imagination, and spaceflight imagination in the next generation is going to go really far.”

Williams, a U.S. Navy captain, was born in Euclid, Ohio, but considers Needham, Massachusetts, her hometown. She received her commission in the Navy in May 1987 and became a helicopter pilot, logging more than 3,000 flight hours in more than 30 different aircraft.

While attending test pilot school, her class toured the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where she met astronaut John Young. He spoke about flying to the moon, and the concept of vertical landings intrigued Williams and inspired her to think about becoming an astronaut. To improve her chances for astronaut selection, Williams earned her advanced degree from Florida Tech in 1995.

NASA chose Williams for the astronaut program in 1998. She launched into space for the first time in December 2006 on board the shuttle Discovery as part of the 14th expedition to the International Space Station. Williams served as flight engineer.

In July 2012, Williams traveled to the space station again, this time on a Russian Soyuz vehicle.

She is now training for the scheduled 2017 test flight under the commercial crew program.

For more information on the Jerome P. Keuper Distinguished Alumni Award and other alumni honors, visit Additional information on the Homecoming Awards Gala can be found at