New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, who led the state’s widely praised public health response to COVID-19, was one of four influential Rutgers University graduates inducted into the university’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni on Thursday night.

In a ceremony held at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey, Persichilli, a 1976 graduate of the School of Nursing, was joined by the following inductees:

  • Richard Roper, a 1968 economics graduate from Rutgers University–Newark whose career as a prominent public policy leader included directing planning for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey;
  • Kenneth Johnson, a 1966 School of Engineering graduate who helped lead the development of crucial spaceflight technologies during a 35-year career with companies including RCA, General Electric, and Lockheed Martin;
  • Brian Reilly, a 1980 School of Engineering graduate who, over more than four decades at Bechtel, led the design and construction of numerous major projects, including nuclear power plants.
HDA Induction
From left, Rutgers Foundation President Kimberly Hopely; inductees Brian Reilly, Kenneth Johnson, Judith Persichilli, and Richard Roper; RUAA Board of Directors Chair Debra Holston O’Neal LC’87; and Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway

Induction to the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni is the highest honor given to Rutgers graduates. Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway applauded the inductees for their stellar accomplishments and for supporting many at Rutgers and in their fields. “We celebrate more than career excellence,” Holloway said. “We celebrate remarkable alumni who build on their accomplishments by creating opportunities for others.”

Rutgers University Foundation President Kimberly Hopely praised the 2022 class of inductees. “How these four alumni have conducted themselves over the course of their careers speaks volumes,” Hopely said. “From engineering to public policy to leadership in health care, these members of our university community have changed lives, changed our thinking, and changed our ideas of what is possible.”

Persichilli NUR’76 worked alongside Gov. Phil Murphy, helping to lead the state's response throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. "The first thing I learned at Rutgers is that nursing is more than a practice. It's a profession that you can carry with you for a lifetime," Persichilli said. "I hope that Rutgers students today are getting out of it everything that I have, and that is not only the learning but the curiosity. If you're not curious, you don't innovate. If you don't innovate, you don't progress, and that curiosity started with my experience at Rutgers."

Roper NASN’68 thanked Rutgers for giving him a good start on his impactful career. “Rutgers–Newark was where I developed a sense of responsibility to my community, fine-tuned my leadership skills, recognized my intellectual strengths, and acknowledged my limitations,” Roper said.

Johnson ENG’66, a leader in the development of many technologies—including weather, communications, and science satellites—has devoted himself to a wide range of endeavors supporting the university for more than 30 years. “I am both happy with and proud of my connection with Rutgers University and the opportunities I have enjoyed here,” Johnson said.

Reilly ENG'80 said his Rutgers preparation served him well in a career of leading major projects, which included directing the design and construction of Plant Vogtle in Georgia, which will be the largest nuclear power plant in the United States when it is completed at the end of next year. “The lessons I learned both inside and outside the classroom at Rutgers—and the confidence I gained going through the gauntlet of that engineering curriculum—gave me the ability to step up and say I want to go do things that haven’t been done before, to build things that are complex and one of a kind,” Reilly said.

Introduced in 1987, the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni’s first class of inductees included Paul Robeson and Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. Since then, more than 200 alumni have been inducted, including five former New Jersey governors, recent Emmy Award-winning actor Sheryl Lee Ralph and Carli Lloyd, a professional soccer star who led the U.S. team to two Olympic gold medals. Inductees are selected by the Rutgers University Alumni Association (RUAA) Board of Directors, which presides over an association of more than 570,000 Rutgers alumni worldwide.