The Inauguration of President Grace J. Wang, PhD: Announcing the Keynote Speaker and Presidential Medalists


Office of the President

Headshots of Terrence Sejnowski, Diran Apelian, and Judith Nitsch

The keynote speaker and presidential medalists who will be honored at President Wang’s inauguration on Friday, March 22, at 2 p.m. in the WPI Sports & Recreation Center: 

  • Terrence Sejnowski, PhD, a pioneering and award-winning scientist in neural networks and computational neuroscience, will deliver the keynote address at the inauguration ceremony. He will also be a panelist at the University Lecture event the prior evening.
  • Diran Apelian, ScD, provost emeritus and founding director of the Metal Processing Institute at WPI, will receive the Presidential Medal for his leadership, innovative research, and entrepreneurship in materials science and engineering.
  • Judith Nitsch ’75 Hon ’15, PE, LEED AP, founder of Nitsch Engineering, Inc. and the first alumna elected to WPI’s Board of Trustees, will receive the Presidential Medal for her impactful career and significant role in WPI’s sustainable infrastructure.

“As we launch the next chapter in WPI’s history, it is a special honor to have Terrence Sejnowski provide important insights and great inspiration,” said President Wang. “What’s more, both Diran Apelian and Judy Nitsch are not only remarkably accomplished, but have made transformative contributions to our university and our community. Honoring these outstanding individuals will be especially meaningful.”

Reminder: The deadline for RSVPs is March 1. 

About Terrence Sejnowski, PhD

A trailblazer in neural networks and computational neuroscience, Terrence Sejnowski seeks to understand the principles linking brain and behavior. Using both experimental and modeling techniques, Sejnowski examines the biophysical properties of synapses and neurons, as well as the population dynamics of large networks of neurons. He has developed new analytical tools and computational models to uncover how the brain stores information for different activities and forms new representations of the world. Drawing from his extensive research, he has published over 300 scientific papers and 12 books, most notably The Computational Brain, with co-author Patricia Churchland, and The Deep Learning Revolution.

Sejnowski earned his PhD in physics from Princeton University in 1978 and completed his postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School in 1981. A former faculty member at Johns Hopkins University, he now holds the Francis Crick Chair at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. He is also a Distinguished Professor of Neurobiology at the University of California, San Diego, where he serves as co-director of the Institute for Neural Computation and co-director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center.

Sejnowski is the president of the Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS) Foundation. He is also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and a former investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. In addition, he serves as the founding editor-in-chief of Neural Computation, a monthly journal from MIT Press. 

Throughout his career, Sejnowski has won several prestigious awards, including the Young Investigator Award from the NSF, the Wright Prize for interdisciplinary research from Harvey Mudd College, the Neural Networks Pioneer Award from the IEEE, and the Hebb Prize from the International Neural Network Society. He is one of only 10 living individuals elected to all three national academies: the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Academy of Engineering. 

About the WPI Presidential Medal 

Since 2001, the Presidential Medal has honored outstanding individuals from all backgrounds and disciplines who, through their professional or personal accomplishments, embody the "technological humanist," an ideal that has been at the heart of WPI's approach to education since its founding in 1865.

About Diran Apelian, ScD

Diran Apelian is a Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and director of the Advanced Casting Research Center at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). There, he serves as a senior advisor to the dean of engineering. He is also provost emeritus and founding director of the Metal Processing Institute at WPI.

Apelian received his BS in metallurgical engineering from Drexel University in 1968 and his ScD in materials science and engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1972.

He is recognized for pioneering work in solidification processing, metal processing, powder metallurgy, and digital manufacturing. Founding editor of the Journal of Sustainable Metallurgy, he has significantly contributed to the establishment of research in resource recovery, reuse, and recycling. During his tenure as WPI’s provost from 1990 to 1996, he was instrumental in establishing the Metal Processing Institute, which has become one of the largest industry-university consortiums in North America.

With over 700 publications and 22 patents to his name, Apelian serves on several technical, corporate, and editorial boards. He has partnered with colleagues, including former students and WPI alumni, to co-found widely known companies like Materials Strategies, Ascend Elements, Melt Cognition, and Solvus Global, among others. 

Throughout his career, Apelian has received many distinguished honors and awards, both national and international. He was recognized as WPI Innovator of the Year in 2018 and received the same honor from UCI in 2020.

In addition to being a researcher, innovator, and entrepreneur, he has also been an active leader of multiple professional organizations, serving as president of The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (TMS) in 2008–2009 and as chair of the ASM Educational Foundation Board of Trustees in 2016–2018. He is a fellow of TMS, ASM, and APMI International, as well as a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), National Academy of Inventors (NAI), European Academy of Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Armenian Academy of Sciences. 

About Judith Nitsch ’75 Hon ’15, PE, LEED AP

After earning a BS in civil engineering at WPI, Judith Nitsch spent the next 45+ years in the field, becoming a registered professional engineer in 27 states and a LEED Accredited Professional. As a civil engineer, she has focused on designing, permitting, and managing projects related to site development and infrastructure.

In 1989, she established Nitsch Engineering, Inc. Today, the firm comprises 125 people with three offices in Massachusetts and one in Washington, D.C. Much of the firm’s civil engineering work specializes in designing and consulting for the sustainable aspects of green building projects. 

Also in 1989, Nitsch became the first alumna elected to WPI's Board of Trustees, where she served for 23 years, including 16 years as chair of the Facilities and Campus Infrastructure Committee. During this time, she oversaw the development and construction of multiple LEED-certified buildings on campus.

She received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in 2010 and an honorary Doctor of Engineering from WPI in 2015. 

Nitsch is a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). She has served as president of several organizations, including the national CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) Network, ACEC of Massachusetts, Boston Society of Civil Engineers Section (an ASCE chapter), and SWE Boston. Currently, she’s chair of the Board of Trustees at The Boston Architectural College, her late husband’s alma mater.