WPI Announces 2003 Commencement Speaker

First Latina Astronaut Ellen Ochoa to Lead WPI’s 135th Graduation Ceremony

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5706

Worcester, Mass. - Ellen Ochoa, Ph.D., the first Latina astronaut and deputy director of flight crew operations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, will be the commencement speaker at Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s (WPI) 135th graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 17. Ochoa will describe to WPI’s graduates and community about how a passion for learning propelled her into space. After Ochoa’s address, the university will confer upon her an honorary doctor of science degree.

A veteran of four space shuttle flights, Ochoa has logged more than 978 hours in space. She was selected by NASA in January 1990, and became an astronaut in July 1991. She was a mission specialist on STS-56 (1993), was the payload commander on STS-66 (1994), and was a mission specialist and flight engineer on STS-96 (1999) and STS-110 (2002) - this most recent flight being an 11-day mission to the International Space Station last April.

"Dr. Ochoa’s extraordinary record of accomplishment as an engineer, astronaut, and musician serves as a model for the nation’s youth, in general, and WPI’s campus culture and student body, in particular," says Edward Alton Parrish, president of WPI.

Between missions, Ochoa’s technical positions at Johnson Space Center have included assistant to the chief of the Astronaut Office for the International Space Station, directing director of crew involvement in the development and operation of the Station; and the lead spacecraft communicator (CAPCOM) in the Mission Control Center. She is currently the deputy director of flight crew operations, managing and directing the Astronaut Office and Aircraft Operations divisions.

During her career, Ochoa has been the recipient of numerous awards. At NASA, her honors include the Exceptional Service Medal (1997), Outstanding Leadership Medal (1995), Space Flight Medals (2002, 1999, 1994, 1993), and two Space Act Tech Brief Awards (1992). Outside of NASA, her awards include the Women in Aerospace Outstanding Achievement Award, The Hispanic Engineer Albert Baez Award for Outstanding Technical Contribution to Humanity, the Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award, and San Diego State University Alumna of the Year. She is also a member of the Optical Society of America (OSA), the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi honor societies.

Ellen Ochoa earned a bachelor of science degree in physics from San Diego State University in 1980, and a master of science degree and doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 1981 and 1985, respectively. She is a classical flutist and a private pilot.

About Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1865, WPI is a pioneer in technological higher education. WPI was the first university to understand that students learn best when they have the opportunity to apply the knowledge they gain in the classroom to the solution of important problems. Today its students, working in teams at more than 20 project centers around the globe, put their knowledge and skills to work as they complete professional-level work that can have an immediate positive impact on society.

WPI’s innovative, globally focused curriculum has been recognized by leaders in industry, government and academia as the model for the technological education of tomorrow. Students emerge from this program as true technological humanists, well rounded, with the confidence, the interpersonal skills and the commitment to innovation they need to make a real difference in their professional and personal lives.

The university awarded its first advanced degree in 1898. Today, its first-rate research laboratories support master’s and Ph.D. programs in more than 30 disciplines in engineering, science and the management of technology. Located in the heart of the region’s biotechnology and high-technology sectors, WPI has built research programs – including the largest industry/university alliance in North America - that have won it worldwide recognition.