WPI Professor Helen Vassallo Receives Women of Consequence Award from the City of Worcester

Media Contact
March 26, 2008

WORCESTER, Mass. – The Office of the City Manager of the City of Worcester today honored Helen Guillette Vassallo, professor of management at WPI, with its 2008 Women of Consequence Award. Vassallo was recognized for her demonstrated leadership and her longstanding commitment to advancing the status of women and girls in the Worcester community.

The award was established in 1996 by the City Manager’s Advisory Committee on the Status of Women to recognize women who have shown exceptional leadership and who have made tangible contributions to enhancing the lives of women in Worcester. It is presented annually to a woman or women whose actions best demonstrate courage, integrity, and a commitment to creating change.

Vassallo is the third WPI employee to receive the award. In 2005, it was presented to Stephanie L. Blaisdell, then director of diversity and women's programs, and, posthumously, to Denise W. Nicoletti, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering from 1991 to 2002 and co-founder of the Camp Reach summer program for girls.

“I cannot think of anyone more deserving than Helen,” said WPI President Dennis D. Berkey. “In her life and work, she provides vivid examples of courage, creativity, and a true commitment to serving others. An inspiration to her students and colleagues at WPI, she has made a positive difference in the lives of countless individuals both here at the university and in the City of Worcester.”

At WPI, Vassallo is an advisor to Phi Sigma Sigma sorority, advises freshmen women, and mentors and counsels new young women faculty members. The second female professor at WPI (a distinction she earned when she taught molecular biology in WPI’s Chemistry Department in 1967), and the second women at WPI to be named a full professor, she was also the first woman to be elected secretary of the faculty, the highest faculty post at the university. A member of the President's Council for the Advancement of Women and Minorities and chief justice of the Campus Hearing Board, she earlier served as chair of the Committee on the Status of Women, which was established 1996.

Within the Worcester Community, Vassallo is frequently invited to serve as a motivational speaker, and has spoken often for the Girls Scouts, youth organizations, local rotary meetings, and women's events. Earlier this year, WPI’s Office of Women’s Programs and the steering committee for the Athena Project, which organizes and oversees a wide range of programs and services for women at WPI, selected Vassallo to receive one of its 2008 Women of Strength Awards.

Vassallo joined the faculties of WPI’s Management and Biology and Biotechnology departments in 1982 after a distinguished career as an educator, researcher, and business leader in the fields of physiology, pharmacology, and anesthesia. She received a B.S. from Tufts University and an M.S. in pharmacology from the Tufts University Medical School and then taught at Tufts, Brandeis University, Clark University, and WPI before joining Astra Pharmaceutical Products, where she would ultimately become director of scientific and professional information. While at Astra, she completed a PhD in physiology at Clark University and an MBA at WPI, and was a visiting fellow and special student at MIT’s Sloan Institute, where she studied organizational behavior.

At WPI, her research interests include organizational behavior, project management, management of planned change, management of biotechnology, and medical product liability. She served as head of the Management Department from 1989 to 1995 and held the Harry G. Stoddard Professorship in Management from 1991 to 1996. In 2003, she received the university’s Board of Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Teaching.

She is the author of numerous articles, two books, and one monograph, and the co-holder of two patents. She has also served frequently as an expert witness on the pharmacology and toxicology of local anesthetics. Among her many honors and awards, she was named the 1981 American Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Woman’s Association.

She has been active in a number of community and civic activities through the years, including the Girl Scouts, which she served as a troop leader, trainer, consultant, and speaker, and the Worcester Catholic Diocese. She is a former member of the Worcester City Manager’s Advisory Committee on the Status of Women.