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President Leshin's Impact on WPI

DEPARTMENT(S): 
April 8, 2022

The message was sent to the WPI Community. 

At a reception earlier this evening thanking donors who have supported WPI’s campaign, I had the distinct pleasure to announce, on behalf of the Board of Trustees, that in recognition of President Leshin’s extraordinary leadership, dedication, and service to Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the building on WPI’s campus now known as the “Project Center” shall, from this day forward, and in perpetuity, be named and known as the Laurie A. Leshin Global Project Center. The naming of a building on a college campus duly recognizes commitment to the university, to its mission and values, and to its community.  President Leshin has demonstrated unwavering commitment to WPI over the past eight years, and I know WPI will always hold a big piece of her heart. In preparation for this historic announcement, I reflected on the profound accomplishments of our remarkable institution under the leadership of President Laurie A. Leshin, the 16th president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute.   An Immediate and Lasting Impact President Leshin made an immediate impact on our community when she arrived in June 2014. As our first woman president, Laurie has been a transformational leader who has tremendously helped grow this university from a regional engineering school to a globally recognized STEM institution with a flourishing research enterprise. Under her leadership, WPI has grown the number of women undergraduates considerably; dramatically increased the diversity of the administration; successfully stewarded the articulation of university values; and updated the university’s mission statement, last changed in 1987. She engaged our students as never before, partnering with them on critical challenges, from campus planning to mental health. Accolades from The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education honored WPI as the university that is best at balancing teaching and research. Together, we achieved great things over the past eight years, guided by Laurie’s vision and the Elevate Impact strategic plan and enabled by incredibly successful fundraising efforts. Laurie’s accomplishments are all the more impressive given the larger global context of the past eight years. This has been a time of extreme and rapid change not only in the world, but also in the field of higher education. This was a period of significant financial pressure on universities—enough so that more than 30 private institutions were forced to close between 2014 and 2022. Laurie presided during a time of deep conversations nationwide on the importance of racial justice, spurred by the murder of George Floyd; of ongoing political unrest around the world; and the pandemic and all its implications—in particular, the exacerbation of growing mental health challenges faced by the nation’s youth and felt on our own campus. It is noteworthy that despite these exceptional stressors, WPI has improved its standing by any measure. Laurie has been the constant for our community in these times of change, and we are better for her leadership.  Let me share some of the successes that most impress me, while acknowledging that Laurie would be the first person to say that the credit truly belongs to all of you because of your leadership, commitment, and dedication. I am so proud of our collective accomplishments, as we celebrate:  

  • Explosive growth in WPI research funding, fueled by the creation of the Research Solutions Institute, investments in the Office of Sponsored Programs, and improved research facilities.
  • The launch of The Global School to create a focal point and platform for academic and research programs and global partnerships. This school will help meet a host of pressing global challenges and improve the quality of life for people around the world.
  • Guaranteed scholarships for every undergraduate student—allowing all students the opportunity to participate in WPI’s pioneering Global Projects Program and engage in real-world project work at more than 50 locations worldwide.
  • Unwavering commitment to the mental health of our students, and, in partnership with our students, faculty, and staff, a pledge to reexamine all facets of the WPI experience to ensure a community focused on well-being. The considerable investment in the holistic wellness of all members of our community—most importantly, our students—will continue as we establish the new Center for Well-Being, and with the hiring of its inaugural Director.
  • The investment in creating new—and improving existing—academic and collaboration spaces, most notably:
    • Unity Hall, comprising 100,000 square feet of academic, research, and student services space. Not only does Unity Hall provide a base for researchers who are focused on developing integrated solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems, but it also features versatile research, learning, and collaboration spaces and improves access to the top of the hill.
    • The Innovation Studio, featuring 40,000 square feet of flexible, creative space housing active learning classrooms, makerspaces, and labs shared across academic departments. 
    • Messenger Hall, located on the top three levels of the Innovation Studio, houses 140 students in this living and learning space. 
    • Kaven Hall: now an open and collaborative space, with modern equipment and new classrooms, and accessible to all.
    • WPI Seaport, located in Boston, creating space and opportunities for WPI students, faculty, staff, alumni, and leaders to connect with key industry, city, and state collaborators to help, among other things, move innovations to market and provide critical (and tailored) knowledge and experiences.
  • The investment of the National Academy of Engineering’s Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education to launch WPI’s Center for Project-Based Learning in 2016, which has allowed us to educate, guide, and support hundreds of other universities—and their millions of students—in implementing project-based learning.
  • The prioritization of diversity, equity, and inclusion, positioning WPI among STEM institutions with the highest percentage of female undergraduate students; our new strategic plan—Lead With Purpose—puts the important work of DEI at the fore.
  • The development and implementation of a more innovative and equitable promotion policy to help address important diversity goals, foster a more inclusive and supportive environment for all faculty, and, through WPI's Advance grant, align promotion systems for more equitable outcomes by gender.
  • The establishment of presidential fellowships to help dramatically expand WPI’s doctoral programs. 
  • An increase in access to a high-quality STEM education for all students through a heavy investment in financial aid. 
  • The piloting of a fully test-blind admissions policy, recognizing that test scores are not evidence of student persistence and performance.  
  • The launch of an innovative new tenure track and extended contract terms for full-time teaching faculty, which not only fosters equity (and representation within faculty governance) and guarantees academic freedom, but also reinforces and rewards excellent and innovative teaching.  
  • The careful stewardship and growth of the university’s finances and launch of “Beyond these Towers” —our largest fundraising campaign ever—allowing WPI to continue to transform lives, turn knowledge into action to confront global challenges, and to revolutionize STEM through distinctive and inclusive education, projects, and research.

While impressive, this list just scratches the surface. Of course, the past eight years have also seen tremendous challenges and some profound sadness; I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this moment to recognize the work that each of you have done to navigate a global pandemic and the efforts underway on a comprehensive plan of action to help improve mental health across the WPI community. We’ve done a lot together, and we will continue to do so. Although the timing of Laurie’s departure means that she won’t get to see Lead With Purpose, the current strategic plan, come to fruition, I know WPI will always hold special meaning to her. Her eyes may be looking skyward, but with the new Leshin Global Project Center, her legacy will continue, here on the hill.  Please join me in congratulating Laurie as she embarks on her next chapter, confident in all of you, and ready to make her next impact. Jack Mollen Chair, WPI Board of Trustees