Today Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) inaugurated Laurie A. Leshin, PhD, as the university's 16th president. Leshin is the first woman to lead WPI, the third oldest technological university in the nation, during its nearly 150-year history. An accomplished space scientist, she brings to the position more than 20 years of experience as a leader in academia and government service.
More than 1,200 people gathered for the historic event, which took place in the university's Sports and Recreation Center. Attendees included U.S. Senator Edward M. Markey (D-Mass.) and government officials at the state and local levels, college presidents and other academic and administrative leaders from colleges and universities from around the nation; representatives from the business, nonprofit, and civic communities; as well as WPI students, faculty and staff members, alumni, parents, and other friends of the university.Virtual participation in the inauguration spanned the globe, as students and faculty members currently off-site at several of the university's international project centers sent video greetings and watched the live-streamed event.
In his remarks, Senator Markey said that only a couple of weeks ago he visited WPI and toured the robotics lab with Congressman James McGovern, where they learned of the potential for using robots to work in Ebola hotspots in Africa, as well as other applications of WPI technologies that can be useful. “At President Leshin’s request, I have asked the Obama Administration to establish a Center of Excellence for first responder technology within the Department of Homeland Security and to name WPI as the lead institution in the United States of America.”
The space-inspired celebration was taken to even greater heights when NASA Astronaut Reid Wiseman sent greetings and congratulations from his post on the International Space Station; President Leshin is both a former NASA administrator and a self-proclaimed "space nerd." This greeting was also particularly fitting because WPI has enjoyed strong ties with NASA, and in June 2015 will host the fourth Sample Return Robot Challenge, a Centennial Challenges competition with a NASA-funded purse of $1.5 million.
In addition to formally installing WPI’s new president, the inauguration kicked-off the university’s sesquicentennial celebrations—a year-long series of events celebrating its 150th year.
In her inaugural address, titled “Imagine More,” President Leshin told the audience, “I realize that you are entrusting me with something precious—the opportunity to guide this university onward into its next 150 years.” She then issued a challenge to the WPI community to be bold and “audacious as we imagine more.”
During her speech, President Leshin most boldly called for the university to “commit itself to achieving the goal of becoming the premier global polytechnic,” adding that, “We must expand WPI’s global presence to increase our impact in communities locally, nationally, and worldwide. WPI is engaged in a quest with a critical focus: to prepare the next generation of STEM leaders who are vital to the future competitiveness and prosperity of our nation. If we want to prepare our students to become these leaders, then we must give them the opportunity to work within the world, out in the world, as a part of the world.
"Doing so will bring even greater benefits to those communities and to the heart of our enterprise, our students,” she added. “We know that doing off-campus projects has a huge and positive impact on our students, so I believe we must commit ourselves to make it possible for all undergraduates to have the opportunity to pursue at least one of their projects off-campus. By making this possible for every student, WPI will lead a new movement in STEM education, one that makes deep global engagement the way we teach and learn STEM, not just a single option among many, or an opportunity only for those who can afford it.”
Leshin concluded her speech by saying, “As the President of this fine university, it will be my sincere privilege to work with our outstanding faculty and staff as we nurture and then launch students to a bright and bold future. It will be a tremendous point of pride to watch our research efforts grow. To see the fruitful realization of ideas and the creation of enterprises. To open new pathways for life-long learning and engagement. To build upon a foundation of excellence to become the premier global polytechnic. To take theory to practice to impact.”
On Friday, Nov. 7, WPI hosted “Inspired to Innovate: A Future-Focused Conversation.” That discussion, moderated by President Leshin, focused on three topics: the impact of STEM higher education; technological innovation and entrepreneurship; and disruptive innovation in higher education. The conversation featured Wanda Austin, president and CEO of the Aerospace Corporation; Craig Barrett, retired chairman and CEO of Intel Corporation and chair of Change the Equation; Mariko Silver, president of Bennington College; and Subra Suresh, president of Carnegie Mellon University and former director of the National Science Foundation.
At today’s installation ceremony, President Leshin bestowed presidential medals on all four of the speakers from the “Inspired to Innovate” conversation, and also upon Barbara Barrett, chairman of the Aerospace Corporation and former U.S. Ambassador to Finland.
In addition to receiving her medal, Barrett addressed the audience, noting, “President Leshin will lead WPI knowing that theory must lead to practice, and that intellect must be matched by character. The solutions that you help develop to the problems we face will determine the future of our planet. From curing disease to protecting the environment to securing our national defense to alleviating poverty – the world looks to universities like WPI for ideas and leadership, for intellect matched by character, theory matched by practice, and for both the microscope and the telescope.”
In concluding her speech, Barrett said, “Just over a hundred years ago, these halls were walked by Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry. One hundred years from now, people will remark that WPI was the home of President Laurie Leshin.”
The two-hour program began with a procession led by faculty marshal and WPI provost Eric Overström. Stepping off from the Rubin Campus Center, President Leshin, the five presidential medal recipients, delegates from more than 70 colleges, universities, and learned societies, as well as WPI faculty and academic department heads and the ROTC color guard made their way to the Sports and Recreation Center. Under sunny skies and in crisp autumn air, the contingency traversed the university Quadrangle where they were greeted—and joined—by enthusiastic crowds of WPI student organizations.
WPI Chairman Philip B. Ryan served as master of ceremonies, provided opening and closing remarks, and performed the Investiture ceremony. This included bestowing upon Leshin the university charter and seal (in the form of a medallion), an honor he shared with John Sullivan, professor of mechanical engineering and secretary of the faculty, and Chrysanthe Demetry, associate professor of mechanical engineering and chair of the faculty Committee on Governance.
In addition to the welcome she received from Senator Markey, President Leshin also received greetings from Mayor Joseph M. Petty on behalf of the City of Worcester; from Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Gregory P. Bialecki on behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; and from Clark University President David Angel on behalf of the Community of Academic Leaders. From the WPI community, President Leshin was officially welcomed by representatives of the undergraduate and graduate student bodies, the faculty and staff, the Alumni Association, and Global Project Centers, including those in Cape Town, South Africa; Melbourne, Australia; China; Venice, Italy; Washington, D.C.; and Nantucket, Mass.
This celebration featured Confictura, an original musical composition by 16-year-old Alistair Coleman, an award-winning composer whose work has been performed at the New York Summer Music Festival and at festivals and young composer’s competitions throughout the country. The piece was performed by the WPI Brass Ensemble; other musical performances were given by the WPI Concert Band, the university’s Vocal Performance Lab, and the WPI African Percussion Ensemble.
Events following the installation ceremony included a luncheon in the Morgan Dining Commons and the Intergalactic Inaugural Ball in Harrington Auditorium. Features of the Intergalactic Inaugural Ball include a futuristic, space-inspired theme, live music, and a laser light show. The aim of all the Inauguration events was to bring together administrative leadership, faculty and staff members, students, alumni and friends to celebrate WPI, President Leshin, and all that makes this university a distinctive institution of higher education—and to kick off WPI’s sesquicentennial year.