City of Worcester Honors WPI Women of Consequence

Contact: WPI Media Relations, +1-508-831-5706

Denise Nicoletti, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at WPI from 1991 to 2002

WORCESTER, Mass. - March 2, 2005 - Worcester City Manager Michael V. O'Brien today recognized two members of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute community with the 10th Annual "Woman of Consequence" Award. At a special ceremony in the Worcester Public Library, Stephanie L. Blaisdell, director of WPI's Diversity and Women's Programs, and Denise W. Nicoletti (posthumously), WPI associate professor of electrical and computer engineering from 1991 to 2002, were honored as this year's award recipients. Nicoletti's husband, Richard, accepted the award on her behalf.

The purpose of the award is to recognize, reward and inspire women in Worcester to work for change and to believe that service to and on behalf of others is a noble pursuit. The city manager, with the assistance of the Advisory Committee on the Status of Women, selects a woman or women each year whose actions best demonstrate courage, integrity and a commitment to creating change on behalf of women in Worcester. He also recognized two students from South High Community High School, Emily McKee and Malissa Osei, with the 6th Annual "Young Woman of Consequence" Award.

"Good role models for girls and women interested in science, technology, engineering and math are important to provide," said WPI President Dennis D. Berkey. "Fortunately, Worcester has some of the best. We are extremely proud of Stephanie and Denise's accomplishments and legacy. The lives they and their colleagues have touched make the city a better place."

Blaisdell and Nicoletti were nominated by Chrysanthe Demetry, WPI associate professor of mechanical engineering, and John M. Wilkes, WPI associate professor of social science and policy studies. They noted the significant contributions Blaisdell and Nicoletti made to girls and women in the Worcester community in nurturing and encouraging their pursuit of science, technology, engineering and math studies and careers.

Denise Nicoletti joined WPI in 1991, as the first tenure-track female faculty member in the history of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. WPI recognized her ability to promote science and engineering to underrepresented groups, and Nicoletti and her colleagues were determined to confront the deeply rooted barriers working against girls and women pursuing science and math careers.

Stephanie Blaisdell, director of diversity and women's programs at WPI

To that end, Nicoletti led numerous efforts to break down the barriers, and attract and retain women in these fields. Most notably, in 1997, she and Demetry created Camp Reach at WPI, a nationally acclaimed summer program which introduces girls in seventh grade to the excitement of science and engineering. The success of Camp Reach has led to replication by a former colleague of Nicoletti's at Griffith University in Australia. A year later, Nicoletti created the WECE (Women in Electrical and Computer Engineering) organization to support and inspire WPI's female students.

Tragically, Nicoletti's life ended in a car accident on July 22, 2002. That Monday, she was on her way to convene the seventh Camp Reach summer camp program. In her memory, WPI created the Denise Nicoletti Trustees' Award for Service to the Community in 2003. The Award honors the memory of Nicoletti, whose passion for life and humanity touched many lives, and is intended to keep her spirit of service alive in the WPI community.

Stephanie Blaisdell joined WPI in 2000, when she was appointed to the newly created position of director of diversity. She works tirelessly to continue to build upon full-scale community outreach efforts. Her goal is to increase the numbers of women and persons of color on campus; this will, in turn, promote diversity and inclusion in all respects of the university.

In less than five years, she boasts numerous accomplishments. She has created and obtained funding for a series of outreach programs for pre-college girls and underrepresented students of color. These programs range from school visits to two-week residential programs and include GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math and Science) and Camp Reach. In observance of National Engineering Month, Blaisdell added a half-day program at WPI, Introduce a Girl to Engineering, which is run in collaboration with area high schools.

Blaisdell also co-developed the COUNT (Counselor Outreach for Underrepresented Students in Engineering and Technology) series of workshops for high school guidance counselors. She developed and implements programs for women students at WPI, including an externally funded, 150-person networking program for students and professionals.