On the morning of Friday, April 21, the WPI community gathered in the Rubin Campus Center Odeum to celebrate the achievements of six individuals. Although the ceremony takes place during a particularly busy time of year, President Laurie Leshin was quick to point out that it’s also the most special time of year, as the class of 2017 prepares to graduate while the class of 2021 is welcomed into the university.
“I like to think of our work here as being for something—something really important,” Leshin said during her opening remarks. “We educate for the future success of our students, we do projects and research for the future well-being of people around the world, and today we honor the work that our faculty do for our students and for society.”
Although many external faculty-related awards have been celebrated earlier in the year, Convocation is different in that each honoree was nominated by their peers. As professor of social science & policy studies Laureen Elgert said, in addition to honoring specific colleagues, Convocation is about “honoring us as a community, and our day-to-day that creates an environment that enables, supports, and appreciates these achievements.”
The event came on the heels of Project Presentation Day, where senior students presented the end results of their Major Qualifying Projects to faculty members and project sponsors. It was provost Bruce Bursten’s first time attending the event, and he described the students’ work as magnificent, crediting the faculty members with preparing students year after year to collaborate on successful projects and ultimately make a difference outside of WPI.
Whether cracking jokes or offering thanks to personal mentors, each winner accepted their award in a different way, but all were grateful for the recognition and the opportunity to be part of WPI and contribute to the students’ education.
Tanek Zheng, who received the Teaching Assistant of the Year Award, thanked his electrical and computer engineering professors, the university as a whole, and, most important, his students. “First and foremost, most important, I really want to thank all the students that I’ve had the privilege to guide over the past five years of my life. They are awesome, they really are,” he said. “And because of them, [being a teaching assistant] is the best job in my life. It doesn’t really feel like work at all, because every day is a pure joy.”
The ceremony concluded with a poem, “To Be of Use,” by Marge Piercy. Mechanical engineering professor Chrysanthe Demetry recited the poem with the explanation that it reminds her of her fellow faculty members.
With verses like, “The people I love the best / jump into work head first / without dallying in the shallows / and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight,” it’s easy to see why.
Complete list of this year’s winners:
- Sigma Xi Research Awards (to be awarded to students on May 3)
- Tanek Zheng, Teaching Assistant of the Year Award
- Patricia Stapleton, Romeo L. Moruzzi Young Faculty Award
- Adrienne Hall-Phillips: Denise Nicoletti Trustees’ Award for Service to the Community
- John Sullivan: Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Academic Advising
- Neil Heffernan: Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Scholarship
- Stephen Kmiotek: Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Teaching
- By Allison Racicot