WPI Fire Protection Engineering Program Becomes a Department

Kathy Notarianni Named Department Head, Joins Faculty with Tenure

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

WORCESTER, Mass. -- April 15, 2005 -- At the latest campus Town Hall Meeting, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) Provost Carol Simpson announced that the university's internationally recognized Fire Protection Engineering program is being elevated to the status of a full department, effective immediately. The program was created in 1979, when WPI began offering the nation's first master's degree program in fire protection engineering through its Center for Firesafety Studies. Simpson also announced that Kathy A. Notarianni, the former director of the Center for Firesafety Studies, has been appointed the head of the new department and named to the WPI faculty as a tenured associate professor of fire protection engineering.

WPI is home to the world's leading educational program in fire protection engineering -- which incorporates elements of civil, structural, electrical, and chemical engineering to make structures, vehicles, clothing, and people safer from fire. In addition to offering the nation's first master's degree program, the university was the first to provide a graduate-level program in fire protection engineering via distance learning in 1993, and it grants the world's only formal Ph.D. program in the field. WPI has conferred more than 350 master's and doctoral degrees in fire protection engineering, with students hailing from more than 30 countries.

"The fire protection engineering program at WPI long offered graduate degree opportunities. This new status will allow the program to expand," said Simpson. "Kathy and her colleagues will now be on an equal footing with other WPI departments as they work to grow what is already the world's premier graduate degree program in fire protection engineering."

As head of the Fire Protection Engineering Department at WPI, Notarianni plans on a number of initiatives, including updating the curriculum, growing the department's Ph.D. program, and establishing a center for fire research to build an active and productive research program. "Since its founding 26 years ago, our program has developed an outstanding international reputation for educating leaders in the field of fire protection engineering," noted Notarianni. "As we move forward in our second quarter century, the goals will be to maintain the momentum within the curriculum and to grow an internationally known research program in a broad range of fire protection engineering and interdisciplinary areas."

Notarianni joined WPI last year as director of the Center for Firesafety Studies, after a 15-year career with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a non-regulatory federal agency within the U.S. Commerce Department's Technology Administration. She is a registered professional engineer, and a member of numerous professional groups. These include the American Society of Chemical Engineers, International Association for Fire Safety Science and Society of Risk Analysis; NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) and its technical committee on Fire Risk Assessment Methods; the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (as a fellow), and the SFPE Engineering Task Group on Risk.

Notarianni holds a B.S. in chemical engineering and an M.S. in fire protection engineering, both from WPI. She later earned a Ph.D. in engineering and public policy from Carnegie Mellon University, where she did her doctoral dissertation on "The Role of Uncertainty in Improving Regulation: A Case Study in Fire Protection."