“Grace” Jinliu Wang, PhD, is named as Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s 17th President
“Grace” Jinliu Wang, PhD, a materials scientist and highly accomplished and collaborative leader in higher education, government, and industry, has been selected as the 17th president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).
Elected by the WPI Board of Trustees after an extensive national search, Wang will assume the presidency on April 3, 2023. She succeeds Laurie Leshin, who served as WPI president for eight years before joining NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as director this past May. Winston “Wole” Soboyejo, WPI provost and senior vice president since 2019, has served as interim president since Leshin’s departure.
“WPI’s founding principles of theory and practice resonate strongly with me,” Wang said. “WPI is a world-class institution with a unique and vital approach to teaching, learning, and discovery. Preparing STEM-focused professionals to see the world through technological, human, societal, and cultural lenses is distinctive, especially when so brilliantly coupled with WPI’s research and innovation ecosystem.
“Having consistently immersed itself in addressing the world’s grand challenges, the WPI community is already making a positive difference. I look forward to listening and learning from the great minds who make WPI what it is and whose voices will play an essential role in defining our way forward. To lead this amazing university, one I have always held in high esteem, is an honor and privilege.”
Inclusive, Consultative Search Process
Informed by multiple community listening sessions with students, faculty, staff, trustees, parents, and alumni, consistent themes emerged in the presidential search: a leader able to advance WPI as a model for what the future of higher education should look like; to grow WPI’s reputation as a premier STEM university that integrates social sciences, the humanities and arts, and business; and to manage the multiple priorities of well-being, belonging, equity, and inclusion, and attracting and supporting students, faculty, and staff from diverse backgrounds and lived experiences.
“Dr. Wang is precisely the leader WPI needs to take project-based learning and purpose-driven research to the next level,” said WPI Board Chair Bill Fitzgerald ’83. “She is a proven consensus builder who gets to the right decisions at the right time for the right reasons. Building mutually beneficial collaborations has been central to her success and that of the institutions she has served. She is as passionate and skilled at advancing community well-being and sustainable inclusive excellence as she is at investing in global education and research, and she will give our students, faculty, and staff the support they need to thrive in an increasingly interconnected world.”
The presidential search committee was chaired by WPI Trustee David LaPré ’74, whose leadership across the past eight months ensured an inclusive and consultative process for defining the position profile and executing the search.
“Dr. Wang brings stellar credentials, wide-ranging experiences, and a global perspective to WPI. I am confident in her ability to collaboratively set a future course for the institution,” said LaPré. “Community members serving on the search committee and advisory group brought a rich and diverse set of backgrounds and perspectives to the effort, an unwavering commitment to an inclusive and consultative process, and a focus on the best possible outcome for WPI. Our president-elect’s professional qualifications and personal characteristics—along with her appreciation for WPI’s past and her creativity in thinking about its future—set her apart in a very strong and diverse applicant pool.”
Early and Sustained Achievement
Wang began her career at IBM/Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, focusing on research and development of thin-film magnetic recording media and carbon overcoat for data storage. She holds seven U.S. patents.
From industry, Wang joined the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2009 as a program director in the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships, becoming division director in 2012. In her subsequent role as the deputy assistant director for engineering, she oversaw the operation of the Directorate for Engineering and helped to identify and implement engineering research, innovation, and education priorities. Later, as acting assistant director for engineering, she managed a funding portfolio of over $900 million dedicated to investments in frontier engineering research, supporting engineering education, and fostering innovation and technology commercialization.
Wang left the NSF to join the State University of New York (SUNY) System in January 2017 as a professor in the Department of Materials Design and Innovation at the flagship University at Buffalo and as vice chancellor for research and economic development of the SUNY System. By September 2017 she was also serving as the interim provost for the SUNY System. She was soon tapped to serve as interim president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute (SUNY Poly) and, simultaneously, was promoted to senior vice chancellor for research and economic development of the SUNY System.
In her SUNY roles, she supported faculty, staff, and students; drove collective vision; advanced education and research; and grew strategic partnerships. Her hands-on leadership through the COVID-19 pandemic included fostering a caring, inclusive, and supportive environment with the health and safety of the campus community at the forefront. Wang led the SUNY research enterprise with about $1.7 billion in annual R&D expenditures, advanced the research and economic development growth strategy, and significantly expanded research capacity in key strategic areas. She supported a strategic focus on enabling pathways for student success and completion; identifying and implementing tools and resources to improve access and affordability at scale; and fostering a diverse, inclusive, and welcoming campus culture. At SUNY, Wang was also instrumental in building large-scale strategic partnerships to grow impact-driven research and innovation.
Moving from SUNY to her inaugural role as executive vice president for research, innovation, and knowledge at The Ohio State University (OSU), Wang spearheaded efforts to consolidate functions and grow the university’s research and innovation ecosystem, ultimately creating the Enterprise for Research, Innovation, and Knowledge. With a strong focus on supporting faculty, staff, and student researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs, Wang empowered the team to provide seed funding for curiosity-driven research; pursue large-scale, impact-driven, interdisciplinary research centers; build long-term strategic partnerships with industry; launch campus-wide entrepreneurial activities; and enable experiential learning opportunities. Wang also played a lead role in forming the STEAMM Rising (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics and Medicine) partnership with the Columbus City Schools by providing training to K-12 teachers with the goal of increasing STEAMM awareness at scale.
Wang was appointed by the U.S. Department of Energy to serve on the National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee in 2020 and 2021. She is currently a council member of the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable (GUIRR) at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. She is a member of the Board of Governors for the New York Academy of Sciences, and the incoming Board Chair for the University-Industry Demonstration Partnership (UIDP).
Wang earned a BS and MS in Polymer Materials from Beijing University of Chemical Technology, and a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University.
Wang, her husband, and their daughter are looking forward to moving to Worcester and joining the WPI community. Their son is a sophomore engineering student at Northwestern University.