Honorary Degree Recipients
As part of its 146th Commencement exercises on May 17, WPI presented honorary doctorates to the following individuals in honor of their extraordinary career achievements and in recognition of their notable efforts to address important societal issues and problems through the appplication of science, engineering, and mathematics.
Doctor of Engineering
Bernard Amadei doesn’t just give fish to a hungry village, and he doesn’t just teach villagers how to catch their own. The holder of the Mortenson Endowed Chair in Global Engineering and professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder shows communities how to create an entire fishing industry. He calls it "engineering for the 90 percent."
It was in 2001 that Amadei’s life changed. On a visit to a small Mayan village in Belize he met a young girl whose job was to carry water from the river to the village, over and over again. Because of that responsibility, he learned, the girl was unable to go to school. In time he returned to the village with 12 University of Colorado students who brought $14,000 they had raised and a desire to make a difference. Together, they designed a pump that could propel water 120 feet—from the river to the village—without electricity or fuel.
The experience taught Amadei an important lesson about education. He observed how his students were driven to solve this practical design challenge. He saw how a real-world engineering problem engaged them in a way that classroom work didn’t seem to. He was inspired to create Engineers Without Borders USA and, later, EWB International. Both programs match students and faculty members with local partners to identify problems around the world related to water supply, sanitation, energy, agriculture, civil works, structures, and information systems and solve them through engineering.
Amadei is a prime example of the impact of lehr und kunst, or the balance of theory and practice that is at the heart of WPI’s approach to education. Under his guidance, EWB has grown to nearly 14,000 members in 48 countries, with 325 chapters spread across the United States (including one here at WPI). The organization has worked on nearly 400 community-driven development projects, among them the constructing a health clinic in Peru and delivering safe drinking water to Rwandan orphans.
It’s also given Amadei new purpose: to shift his focus from solving the engineering problems of one billion “haves,” and focus, instead, on the challenges that impact the world’s six billion "have nots." These are the people whose lives are at risk, every day, because of issues stemming from poverty, sanitation, and disease—all of which could be addressed through engineering. By teaching people and giving them resources, Amadei discovered he could empower them to solve their own problems.
That has become his mission at the University of Colorado, where he launched and chaired a program, now known as the Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities, which educates engineers in economics, public health, social entrepreneurship, and politics. Through it all, Amadei has become the voice for the billions of people who often go unheard and an advocate for those who live in poverty. His tone is inspiring and instructional, a powerful reminder that health, not wealth, should be our end goal and driving force.
Amadei, who grew up in France and earned his PhD in engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, has been decorated with an array of awards and accolades, including the 2007 Heinz Award for the environment and the 2008 ENR Award of Excellence. In addition, he is an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Construction and an elected Senior Knight-Ashoka Fellow. He holds four honorary doctoral degrees. In 2012 Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton named Amadei one of three science envoys to help the United States address global challenges. Outlets including National Public Radio, PBS NewsHour, Time magazine, and TEDx have featured his work.
For his compassionate vision and global dedication, for his application of engineering concepts to the betterment of humanity, and for his unyielding dedication to the ideal of theory and practice, WPI is honored to confer upon Bernard Amadei the degree of Doctor of Engineering, Honoris Causa.
Robert A. Foisie '56
Doctor of Engineering
Bob Foisie learned early in life that if you really want something, you have to work for it. An honor roll student in high school, he held down jobs as a clerk and a truck driver to earn money for college. It was only with the funds he’d saved and help from a small local scholarship that he was able to enroll at WPI, becoming the first member of his family to attend college. When he earned his degree in mechanical engineering in 1956, he vowed that he would one day help other young men and women achieve their dreams. In the intervening years, he has fulfilled that pledge in spectacular fashion, giving more than $63 million to create scholarships that have, so far, supported close to 600 WPI students.
Foisie began his career as a test engineer with Hamilton Standard. After earning a master’s degree at Cornell University, he joined the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Division in his native Hartford, Connecticut, where his entrepreneurial spirit helped him become assistant to the chief production engineer. He distinguished himself early on when he discovered and patented a way to simplify the fuel control valve for jet aircraft, making it more efficient and less expensive.
He went on to become founder and president of Matik North America Inc., an import, distribution, and service firm in the paper processing industry. He also owned a Swiss company that makes carton and packaging machinery. Today, he maintains business interests in a variety of industries, including telecommunications and real estate. In 1991, WPI honored Foisie, who served the university as an active trustee from 1993 to 2007 and has been an emeritus trustee since then, by bestowing on him the Robert H. Goddard Alumni Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement.
It was also in 1991, as he prepared to celebrate the 35th anniversary of his WPI graduation, that he created his first scholarship fund, for engineering students, with a gift of $1 million. He used the gift to honor the memory of several WPI professors—Harry B. Feldman, Donald E. Johnson, Kenneth G. Merriam, Edward C. Brown, Allan E. Parker, and Fred N. Webster—who made a lasting impression on him through their competence and concern for students. "Those fond memories have fueled my dream of establishing a scholarship fund to support qualified students with financial need and a burning ambition to make a difference in the world," he said at the time.
A gift of $1.3 million followed in 1993 (used partly for scholarships and partly for the Campus Center) and another, of $1 million, arrived in 1994. In 2011 Foisie made one of the largest gifts in WPI’s history, up to that time: $9.4 million to support the Robert Foisie Scholars Fund, which he had established for undergraduate students in 2009. Each year, through the fund, 10 incoming undergraduate students who were at the top of their high school classes are selected to each receive a four-year full scholarship, along with a one-time allowance for a WPI global studies experience.
Two days ago, the WPI community learned that Robert Foisie has made plans for his most significant gift, which is also the largest gift the university has ever received: $40 million for undergraduate scholarships. In recognition of his extraordinary and inspiring record of generosity and his devotion to helping young people achieve their aspiration to attend WPI, the university will name Alumni Gymnasium, which is being transformed into a center for educational innovation, and the School of Business in his honor.
For his entrepreneurial spirit, dedication, and vision, through which he has built a highly successful career; for his loyalty and service to his alma mater; and for his extraordinary generosity, which has already opened the door of opportunity to hundreds of WPI students and which will benefit students for generations to come, WPI is honored to confer upon Robert Foisie the degree of Doctor of Engineering, Honoris Causa.
Sheila M. Harrity
Doctor of Humane Letters
When Sheila Harrity was named principal of Worcester Technical High School in 2006, it was one of the lowest performing schools in the state. Today, it is a national success story. In fact, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has visited to learn more about the school’s extensive career training programs. Next month the school will have another high-profile guest when President Barack Obama delivers its Commencement address.
Harrity, who was born and raised in Worcester, is quick to share credit for Worcester Technical High School’s remarkable transformation with its faculty, staff, and students, and the local community. But there’s no denying that she has been a guiding force in its ascension. After all, that’s why she was named the 2014 MetLife/National Association of Secondary School Principals National Principal of the Year and the 2013 Massachusetts Principal of the Year.
The numbers speak volumes: In 2006, when the school moved to a new $90 million building, its graduation rate was just over 79 percent; by 2013 it was 95 percent, and the dropout rate had fallen by nearly 80 percent. Eight years ago only 27 percent of students achieved advance or proficient status in English language arts, and only 35 percent in math. Those numbers have skyrocketed to 88 percent and 78 percent. The school began offering AP courses in 2008, and in just two years the number of AP students doubled and credit-qualifying scores rose more than 60 percent.
What started in 1910 as a boys’ trade school has evolved into a state-of-the-art institution, with wide-ranging courses of study that include design and engineering, health and human services, and information technology. It’s also one of the only selective-enrollment schools in Worcester. Students are now so eager to attend what has become the largest high school in the city, that only 47 percent of incoming freshman could be accepted in 2012.
Career development has long been a driving force for Harrity. She received her BA in social work at Providence College and two master’s degrees—one in early childhood education from Worcester State University and another in moderate special needs education from Assumption College. She recently earned her doctorate in education at Northeastern University.
In addition to serving as a teacher for many years (she was Worcester’s 1999 Teacher of the Year), Harrity spent five years as the school-to-career coordinator for five area high schools. She has guided students in exploring career options through Worcester’s Comprehensive Skills Center and has helped place 2,100 kids in summer jobs through Work for Worcester’s Youth. She served as principal of Wachusett Regional High School before assuming her current post.
Thanks to Harrity’s leadership, students no longer slog through the day in hopes of merely earning a diploma. Instead, Worcester Technical High School has developed 24 cutting-edge vocational programs and surrounded itself with 350 industry advisors. The result: students get real-world experience working with the public in the school’s own restaurant, a L’Oreal/Redkin salon and day spa, a 16-bay automotive service center, and a full-service bank. They have also worked with WPI students to build an energy-efficient house for the 2013 Solar Decathlon in China, and will next year build a new footbridge for Worcester’s Elm Park that WPI students designed.
It is not surprising that the school has received a number of other accolades with Harrity at its helm. They include being named a 2011 MetLife Foundation-NASSP Breakthrough School (the award recognizes schools with high poverty rates that dramatically improve achievement) and a 2013 U.S. Department of Education National Blue Ribbon School (an award honoring great American schools). For her tireless dedication to developing students’ potential, her leadership in making Worcester a nationally recognized city for secondary education, and her generosity of time and resources to ensure that young people have the opportunities to pursue their dreams and realize their full potential, WPI is honored to confer upon Sheila Harrity the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa.
Stephen E. Rubin '74
Doctor of Engineering
Steve Rubin has never shied away from a challenge. He enrolled at WPI in 1970, just after the faculty approved the WPI Plan. When WPI put out a call for a pioneering group of students to switch to the new project-based curriculum in 1971, he jumped in with both feet. Three years later, he was not only one of the first Plan graduates, but one of the first WPI students to earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science.
With his diploma in hand, he was ready for the next challenge: starting his own company. To gain experience, he worked for EMC Controls in Maryland and Copeland and Roland Inc. in Ohio. In both positions, he drew on what he’d learned about developing computer programs for process control while completing his Major Qualifying Project at WPI. Missing the East Coast, he and his wife, Tracy, decided to take the plunge and return home to build their own business.
In the basement of their home, they started what would become Intellution (short for Intelligent Solutions) in 1980. They had five employees at first; most were fellow WPI graduates, people Rubin knew he could count on to jump in and begin solving problems. Filling a specialized niche, the company produced software for fully integrated industrial control systems; it grew to become the world’s leading developer of industrial automation software, doing business with an array of Fortune 500 companies and employing 300 in offices in the United States, Europe, and Asia.
After the business was acquired by Emerson Electric in 1995, Rubin went on to help found and run several other start-ups (often with WPI alumni in senior positions). He is currently president and CEO of Recognisis, which helps institutions, like WPI, track and manage the efforts of their donors and the plaques and other items that recognize their contributions.
It has often been challenging to keep up with Rubin’s own innumerable contributions. He has given generously to WPI, not just monetarily, but in leadership, knowledge, and service. An active and engaged trustee from 1996 to 2013, the last three years as board chairman, he helped guide the Institute through a period of historic growth and recognition. He has supported student scholarships, global projects, faculty research, and facilities, among many other aspects of the university’s operation.
A frequent presence on campus, he is widely recognized, wherever he goes, for his enthusiasm and loyalty to his alma mater. Beyond WPI, he has advised, invested in, and managed a large number of emerging technology companies, and, throughout his career, he has developed relationships with prominent corporations. Even in these activities, he has kept WPI top of mind, frequently securing resources for the school, from sponsorships to software.
In 1989 WPI honored Rubin with the Ichabod Washburn Award, for outstanding professional achievement at a young age. He went on to become one of the youngest Presidential Founders, in honor of lifetime giving that matched that of WPI founder John Boynton, and he was honored for his service to WPI with the Herbert F. Taylor Alumni Award. In 2011, during its centennial year, Rubin was inducted into Skull, the senior honorary society. Tradition calls for new members to undergo a series of educational rituals, and Rubin gladly traveled to campus each week during the initiation period to become immersed in WPI and Worcester lore. Although he was initially hesitant to see his name emblazoned on a building, in 2013 he graciously accepted the Institute’s gesture of gratitude: naming the Campus Center—a building whose construction he supported and which often serves as his "office" during his frequent visits to WPI—in his honor.
For his energy, his continual mentorship of students, his entrepreneurial spirit, and his dedication to advancing the university wherever he goes, WPI is honored to bestow upon Stephen Rubin the degree of Doctor of Engineering, Honoris Causa.