A Message from President Berkey

Expanding the WPI Portrait

Chronicling the first 100 years of WPI’s history, the marvelous book Two Towers concludes with a portrait of the then-current students of 1965. “These were the men,” author Mildred McClary Tymeson writes, “who would be doing the world’s work for the rest of the twentieth century.” How quickly times change! Just three years later the arrival of women undergraduates would forever alter that portrait, and today it is the men and women of this university who are not only doing the world’s work, but helping to lead much of the world’s progress in the twenty-first century.

When I consider the early years of coeducation on our campus, I cannot help but wonder about the brave young women who stepped out of their parents’ cars and into WPI history. Before ever venturing into a WPI classroom, these students exhibited the pioneering spirit and independence of thought that have characterized this university since its inception. Today’s women undergraduates still do. Deeply individual, they remain united to their predecessors through their thirst for knowledge, love of problem solving, and genuine desire to make a better world.

As the stories in this issue of Transformations illustrate so beautifully, women have enjoyed tremendous success at WPI—and beyond our university’s borders. Whether heading corporations, contributing breakthrough advances for the treatment of human diseases, or being recognized as one of the “New Faces of Engineering,” WPI’s alumnae are making their mark as innovators and leaders across the country and around the world. Of course, this comes as no surprise to a university that was founded on the principle of providing talented people the opportunity to put their knowledge to work in creative and productive ways.

Since those early days, WPI has come a long way in achieving its aims for a fully integrated and supportive campus—and yet there is still much more we can do. I am delighted that several of the goals set forth in our newly revised Strategic Plan pertain to the experience and achievement of women at WPI. Chief among these is a significant increase in female enrollment, which currently stands at 26 percent of the undergraduate community. We are also striving to make WPI a leader in career opportunities for women faculty and staff through stronger outreach and mentoring programs, a review of the tenure and promotion processes to ensure equitable treatment, and the recruitment and retention of significantly higher numbers of outstanding female faculty and staff.

That WPI achieve these goals is vital both for the future of the university and for the leadership we can provide to others. In a world in which millions of women are still denied basic human rights, institutions like WPI, which are exemplars of high achievement, must celebrate the accomplishments of strong women students, faculty, and staff, as well as alumnae. As a university, we must foster a welcoming environment and encourage more young women to pursue careers in science and engineering. And as the United States faces mounting science and engineering competition from other nations, we must identify and make full use of all of our talent.

On this historic anniversary, we honor the pioneering individuals who helped WPI chart a new course of coeducation, and we recognize the vast changes that have occurred at WPI since so many gifted women have become full participants in every aspect of the life of the university. When the history of WPI’s next 100 years is written someday, I have no doubt that the inclusion of so many talented women in the WPI community will unquestionably take its place among the most important advances in our university’s continuing evolution.

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