Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) President Laurie Leshin was named recently to the board of directors of FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an international K-12 not-for-profit organization that inspires young people's interest and participation in science and technology with a special emphasis on robotics programs and competitions.
Leshin will join a board composed of a cross-section of leaders from business, government, education, industry, and the sciences who have the fiduciary responsibility to provide direction and oversight for all the activities of FIRST internationally. She will also support longer-term strategic objectives of FIRST.
"We are very fortunate to add Laurie Leshin to the FIRST board of directors," said FIRST President Donald E. Bossi. "President Leshin’s real-world experience as a leader in academia, government service, and the scientific community will be extremely valuable in promoting the mission of FIRST. That, coupled with WPI’s long history as a FIRST supporter, will allow President Leshin to hit the ground running as a board member."
WPI’s association with FIRST dates back to its sponsorship of events and teams since the early days of the organization. FIRST was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, who attended WPI in the early 1970s.
Since 1995, WPI has been offering scholarships to FIRST participants, being the first institution in the country to do so, and paving the way for the FIRST Scholarship Program that now makes available more than $20 million to participants each year.
Over the years—and primarily through WPI’s Robotics Resource Center—WPI faculty, staff, and students have played a leadership role in the development and expansion of the FIRST Progression of Programs, which involves more than 400,000 students ages 6-18 each year, around the world.
WPI has hosted nearly 90 robotics tournaments since 1998. Additionally, the university has developed platforms, software and interactive communications tools in order to help FIRST teams improve their performances.
Leshin has been an active supporter of FIRST activities for years, and in April attended the FIRST Championship in St. Louis as well as the New England FIRST District Championship at WPI. She is eager to play a leading role with FIRST.
"I’ve seen firsthand the level of passion and creativity exhibited by students participating in FIRST events, and it's truly gratifying," she said. "In my new role, I look forward to working closely with the entire FIRST board to champion our highly impactful programs and activities across the globe, and to encourage young people to explore new opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics."
During the past 20 years, Leshin, a geochemist and space scientist, has established herself as both an academic and administrative leader, having cultivated an impressive career at NASA, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Arizona State University (ASU), and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
In her last position at NASA, Leshin was tapped to be the deputy director of NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, the organization responsible for future NASA human spaceflight activities. She continues to serve as a member of the Mars Curiosity rover mission team.