Inspired to Innovate

WPI Symposium to Highlight Critical Issues in Higher Education
November 06, 2014

The inaugural festivities for President Laurie Leshin will officially kick off tomorrow (Friday, Nov. 7) with “Inspired to Innovate: A Future-Focused Conversation,” a symposium that brings together leaders from academia and industry to discuss some of the major challenges and opportunities facing higher education. The event will begin with a reception at 2 p.m. in Alden Memorial, with the program starting at 3. The symposium is expected to draw more than 500 attendees from academia, industry, and government.

President Leshin will moderate the talk show–style symposium, which seeks to create an open dialogue around three timely themes: the Global Impact of STEM Higher Education; Technological Innovation and Entrepreneurship; and Disruptive Innovation in Higher Education.

Four speakers, all hand-picked by Leshin based on both their professional achievements and commitment to STEM education and technological innovation, will offer unique perspectives on the themes. They include Wanda Austin, president and CEO of the Aerospace Corporation; Craig Barrett, retired chairman and CEO of Intel Corporation; Mariko Silver, president of Bennington College; and Subra Suresh, president of Carnegie Mellon University and former director of the National Science Foundation.

“President Leshin was eager to include this symposium as part of her Inauguration to underscore her commitment to STEM challenges in higher education.” – Provost Eric Overström

According to Provost Eric Overström, who will give a brief welcome at the symposium, while the event will feature a relaxed, open atmosphere, panelists will delve into some weighty topics.

“As the moderator, President Leshin will be asking questions about several critical issues that define the future of higher education,” says Overström. “She will also be able to speak to how WPI is tackling these areas, as well as learn from other experts on the panel.”

For example, under the theme “Disruptive Innovation in Higher Education,” the panelists are likely to discuss challenges and opportunities presented by the proliferation of online education.

“The higher ed community is still trying to find its way around issues such as online degree programs and MOOCs,” says Overström. “WPI has had some great success with our online initiatives, but we are now looking forward to see what this might look like in five or ten years. We also need to ensure that online courses in subjects with labs and experiments can offer the same robust experience as in a classroom.”


Other topics for discussion range from the need to produce more STEM graduates—especially women and minorities—to help solve global problems, such as health and environmental threats, to how students can learn to translate classroom learnings in entrepreneurship into the real world.

As Overström notes, the symposium is only the beginning of many conversations, and he anticipates that WPI and Leshin will continue to serve as leading voices for innovations in STEM education and technologies.


“President Leshin was eager to include this symposium as part of her Inauguration to underscore her commitment to STEM challenges in higher education,” says Overström “It is also significant that this event coordinates with WPI’s sesquicentennial celebration, as it offers a chance to show how we are building on the strengths of the past 150 years to focus on key initiatives of today and tomorrow.”

All students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends are invited to attend the event and are invited to ask questions during a Q&A session after the discussion. As event registration has reached full capacity; it will be standing room only for those who did not pre-register. The event will be also streamed live online through