Roberta Nelson Shea '77

Although Roberta Nelson Shea ’77 joins legions of WPI alumni who have earned highly prestigious industry awards, Nelson Shea stands apart from her alumni peers in a most interesting way. She came to WPI as a self-described high school dropout. “I went to WPI because at the time, WPI did not require a high school degree. I had the required Honors classes (now called “AP” classes) including science, calculus, English and two foreign languages, but I did in fact begin my WPI journey without a high school degree.” 

Nelson Shea earned her high school degree less than a year later. “I initially thought I might transfer but then came to appreciate the challenges that WPI presented. I liked the hard work. I felt great satisfaction learning difficult topics – even when it was tough!” says Nelson Shea.

Today Nelson Shea is the Global Technical Compliance Officer with Universal Robotics A/S, where she is responsible for the company’s technical aspects of product compliance and business risk management. Her focus is on safety standards, both national and global, while managing the oversight and processes for technical business risks that arise or are foreseeable. 

“At WPI I learned to work hard and efficiently—the BEST lesson, I learned to learn from others, another BEST lesson, and I learned to ask for help.”

Roberta Nelson Shea ‘77

When asked how the ME major felt about receiving the highly coveted award, she says, “The Engelberger Robotics Award for Application in Safety is a tremendous honor to me and to all those who have embraced and contributed to robotics safety. I view it as honoring the industry’s progress in optimizing safety and productivity. The journey has been amazing!”


Roberta Nelson Shea '77 Receiving Her WPI Alumni Association Award

Roberta Nelson Shea '77 Receiving Her WPI Alumni Association Award

In addition to this award and a plethora of others, Nelson Shea is also a recipient of the WPI Robert H. Goddard Alumni Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement. The award is named in honor of Robert Goddard, Class of 1908, pioneer in the field of modern rocketry. “Receiving the Robert Goddard award was complete shock. I did not expect anyone to remember me, let alone know what I have been doing.”

Although she shies away from being labeled a leader of women in STEM, the reality of over 45+ years’ experience in safety and standardization for automation speaks for itself. “My passion is machinery and workplace safety, and I am pleased to say that I have contributed to my field. My perseverance (stubbornness) has been a major reason for the success!”

Nelson Shea adds, “From the beginning…. Before WPI, during WPI, and after WPI, there have been women colleagues, but the reality is that there were few. I have met (and admired) brilliant women at WPI – far smarter than I. The same was true later. I would say that the increased numbers of women in engineering have improved things greatly. Additionally, business attitudes have changed from 'tolerating the required women' to encouraging the contributions of women and wanting to get more women involved.” 

As a philanthropic supporter of WPI's Areas of Greatest Needs and the Dean John P. van Alstyne Student Academic Service Center in Unity Hall, Nelson Shea credits her alma mater and especially Dean van Alstyne for playing a role in her success. “At WPI I learned to work hard and efficiently—the BEST lesson, I learned to learn from others, another BEST lesson, and I learned to ask for help. As Dean A used to say, 'If you cannot help yourself, get help!'” She adds, “Dean van A was pivotal in both my academic and personal life. When times were tough at WPI, he was there. He was kindly, understanding, and helpful.” And perhaps the greatest complement to Dean van Alstyne comes when she says, “With Dean van Alstyne, differential equations came alive!”