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President Laurie Leshin talks with Donna Levin

Donna Levin: A Conversation with the President

January 4, 2019

LL:        Donna, welcome to WPI. It's so great to have you here. Our readers may know you as the founder of, or perhaps as an entrepreneur-in-residence at MIT. Now you've joined us as our inaugural Executive Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which to me is all about the third tower of impact at WPI. Tell us what you found when you came to WPI.

DL:        When I first arrived at WPI, I found a warm, welcoming community who were ready to have an impact upon the world. I found a number of fantastic programs already in place, plus a long list of great ideas—there's no shortage of interesting ideas.

LL:        So many of those ideas will be enabled by this fabulous space we're sitting in right now, the Foisie Innovation Studio. Tell me how this building is beginning to manifest around this idea of impact.

Laurie Leshin and Donna LevinDL:       This space is the embodiment of the entire WPI Plan, and it really comes across with our theme of open spaces, open mind, and open possibilities. There's everything from amazing classes in the active learning classrooms, VR training in the global lab, plus hands-on classes in the maker space. It is so fantastic to see—day and night. When you walk into the building, there are students everywhere. They are truly figuring out how to leverage this innovation space to advance their ideas.

LL:        We brought you here to help them do exactly that, to help them facilitate translating their ideas to the world in an even more impactful way. Can you tell us a little bit about your early priorities as you start to move into your work here at WPI?

DL:       We recognize that innovation happens everywhere, so we'll be doing a number of events to really unleash that potential and engage the entire community—That's our number one priority. And then the second, equally important, is that students already arrive with amazing ideas. And in some cases they arrive and it's like, "Hey, look at this flying car I built!"

LL:        We actually have a student who built a flying car (see page 10)!

DL:       Yes! And we really want to help our students marry the frameworks they receive from faculty to provide timely, just-in-time skills that help them move forward. We hope to bring those innovations to life through the thousands of projects they do each and every year.

LL:        There's so much opportunity to translate their skills to the world in even more impactful ways, and I can't wait to see the work you do come to life here in the Foisie Innovation Studio. Thank you again, and welcome to WPI.

DL:       Thank you. I am thrilled to be here!

Conversation with President Leshin & Donna Levin, Executive Director of I&E

Videographer: Steven Andrada