Project Center Rendering

WPI Board of Trustees Names Global Project Center Building for Outgoing President Laurie A. Leshin

In addition to serving as a hub of WPI’s Global Work, the building named for the next director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was used by WPI Alum Robert Goddard, the “Father of Modern Rocketry".
Media Contact
April 07, 2022

Earlier this evening, during a reception thanking donors who have supported the university’s current fundraising effort, Beyond These Towers: The Campaign for WPI, Jack Mollen, Chair of WPI’s Board of Trustees, surprised guests with an announcement that the building on WPI’s campus currently known as the “Project Center” will be named the Laurie A. Leshin Global Project Center in honor of the university’s 16th president. WPI announced in January that Leshin would be leaving WPI in May to become the first woman to serve as Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), one of our nation’s leading space exploration organizations with a focus on using robotic spacecraft to advance humanity’s understanding of the Earth, Solar System, and beyond.

Naming a building on a college campus recognizes commitment: to the university, to its mission and values, and to its community,” said Mollen “Laurie Leshin, WPI’s first woman president, has been a transformational leader who has tremendously helped the growth of this university from a regional engineering school to a globally recognized STEM institution with a flourishing research enterprise.  Over the past eight years, President Leshin has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to WPI, and has led the university to profound accomplishments. For decades WPI was described as a hidden gem, and Laurie helped make this gem of academia shine like a beacon of knowledge and inspiration. She is an inspirational model for how to lead a life of curiosity, perseverance, insight, integrity, and excellence, and it is especially fitting that the same building used by WPI alum Robert Goddard, who is known around the world as the father of modern rocketry, should now be named for Laurie Leshin as she leaves WPI to become the next Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.”

She is an inspirational model for how to lead a life of curiosity, perseverance, insight, integrity, and excellence, and it is especially fitting that the same building used by WPI alum Robert Goddard should now be named for Laurie Leshin.
  • Jack Mollen, Chair of WPI’s Board of Trustees

In particular, naming the university’s Project Center Building for Leshin is a recognition of the considerable focus she placed on building upon and expanding WPI’s position as a pioneering global leader in project-based education. With the establishment of the WPI Plan in 1970, the university built upon its core philosophy of balancing theory and practice in education with a flexible and academically challenging program aimed at helping students learn how to learn by synthesizing classroom learning with high-impact, off-campus projects that solve real-world problems. In 1974, WPI launched a global component to its project-based curriculum and now, thanks to the university’s efforts under Leshin’s leadership, has expanded the program to include more than 50 project centers around the world  and has also provided the support systems to increase participation to 89 percent of all students. For nearly 50 years, students, faculty members, and global partners have been collaborating to develop culturally appropriate solutions to local problems—most notably through faculty research and student project work. At these centers, students work in teams to focus on issues such as energy, food, health, and urban sustainability. They gain hands-on experience in tackling real-world problems, develop an understanding of other cultures, and see how their lives and work can make a real impact. Specifically, since Leshin’s arrival in 2014, WPI has:

In addition to building upon WPI’s strong foundation, Leshin created new priorities for increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion, including developing an innovative and equitable promotion policy to help address important diversity goals, fostering a more inclusive and supportive environment for all faculty, and positively impacting the career trajectory of midcareer female faculty members through WPI’s ADVANCE grant. WPI also worked to increase access to students from more diverse backgrounds through a test-blind admissions program and by investing heavily in financial aid. During her tenure, WPI saw considerable increases in the number of women undergraduates and dramatic increases in the diversity of university leadership, and the university’s new strategic plan—Lead With Purposewill continue to drive those efforts forward.

In 2016, Times Higher Ed and The Wall Street Journal honored WPI as the university best at balancing teaching and research. Within the first five years of Leshin’s presidency, and guided by the Elevate Impact strategic plan, WPI established the Research Solutions Institute and saw a 60 percent growth in research funding. The university also invested in presidential fellowships, saw a dramatic expansion of doctoral programs, and just last year pioneered an innovative new teaching track to tenure and extended secured contract appointments 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 past eight years have brought the improvement and/or creation of  academic and collaboration spaces on campus, most notably The Innovation Studio, Messenger Residence Hall, Unity Hall, Kaven Hall, and WPI Seaport.

Leshin also has been unwavering in her commitment to mental health and well-being and has worked with faculty, staff, and students to take important steps to ensure holistic wellness for the community, most notably through the establishment of the Center for Well-Being (CWB), which will span academic and non-academic aspects of the student experience and aspects of work/life balance. The CWB will apply evidence-based practices to promote well-being for students and the broader WPI campus community and recognize the importance of faculty and staff in creating, maintaining, and modeling a healthier environment for all.

In her role as president, Leshin also undertook numerous public service activities, including as director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library Foundation, vice-chair of FIRST Robotics, director of the  Association of American Colleges & Universities; co-chair of the Government, University, and Industry Research Roundtable; vice-chair and chair of the Association of Colleges and Universities of Massachusetts; president-elect of the Association of Independent Technological Universities, and co-chair of the Council on Competitiveness’s University Leadership Forum as well as commissioner of its new flagship initiative, the National Commission on Innovation and Competitiveness Frontiers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to overseeing the university’s comprehensive efforts, she served as the higher education representative on the Governor’s Reopening Advisory Board, served as chair of the statewide Higher Education Working Group, and led the development of the plan to safely reopen colleges and universities in Massachusetts.