From left, 2019 Luminaries Robert Beckett ’57, Hon. ’13;  Joseph Adams ’75; Debora Jackson ’89 (MS), ’00 (MEng); and Scott Harris ’82

WPI Inducts Ten into the Hall of Luminaries

Festive celebration honors past and future successes
October 31, 2019

On October 24, approximately 200 faculty, students, alumni, staff, trustees, and friends of the university gathered in Alden Memorial for an afternoon of inspiration: The WPI Hall of Luminaries Induction Ceremony.


The Hall of Luminaries celebrates WPI and its long history of theory and practice by honoring individuals who have achieved extraordinary accomplishments of great benefit to society. As the name suggests, WPI Luminaries have not only achieved the pinnacle of their professions or have made exceptional contributions to humanity or to their fields, they also inspire our community and light the way for others.

Nominated by the WPI community and selected through a balloting committee process, the individuals honored during the induction ceremony ranged from our founders, who have impacted generations of individuals, communities, and organizations, to alumni who are considered visionaries and thought leaders in a wide range of fields.

“The induction of the 2019 Class of Luminaries gives us the opportunity to honor the achievements of some extraordinary individuals,” said President Laurie Leshin, “but perhaps more importantly, it enables current and future students to envision and aspire to the kind of impact they might have by leveraging their WPI education.” 

The 2019 WPI Hall of Luminaries Inductees are:

Charles O. Thompson, Founder*

First Principal of the Institute and Visionary in Scientific Education

  • Thirty-one-year-old high school administrator when elected to lead the Worcester County Free Institute
  • Led the institute as its first principal (president) from 1868 to 1882
  • Considered educational visionary for his work designing a curriculum around shop and classroom

Emory Washburn, Founder*

Twenty-third Governor of Massachusetts and Civic Leader

  • Helped secure the Institute’s charter
  • Petitioned for $50,000 in founding support at the state level
  • Known for establishing one of the largest and most successful law practices in Worcester County

Joseph Adams, 1975

Designer and Builder of Iconic Projects Globally

  • Retired President of Energy and Industry for MWH Global, 7,000-person engineering and construction company
  • Worked in more than 30 countries around the world
  • Chairman of the MWH lead design consortium for the $5 billion expansion of the Panama Canal

Robert H. Beckett, 1957, Hon. 2013

Entrepreneur, Visionary, and Philanthropist

  • Inventor of an analog and digital gravimetric feeder for dry granular materials
  • Instrumental in a method to certify the carbon content of gray iron
  • Successfully introduced, distributed, and applied the first microcomputers to industry

Harold S. Black, 1921, Hon. 1955*

Inventor of the Negative Feedback Amplifier

  • Greatly advanced telecommunications technology with the negative feedback amplifier
  • His principle of negative feedback among the most important ideas in electrical engineering during the 20th century
  • Earned 63 U.S. and 278 foreign patents during a nearly 40-year career at Bell Labs

George S. Cowan, 1941, Hon. 2002*

Pioneer in Nuclear Chemistry and Transdisciplinary Research

  • Central figure in the founding of the Santa Fe Institute
  • Illustrious nearly 40-year career at Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • Enrico Fermi Award and Los Alamos National Laboratory Medal recipient

Howard G. Freeman, 1940, Hon. 1996*

Inventor of the Waterfog Nozzle

  • Waterfog and firefighting foam nozzles credited with saving dozens of ships and thousands of lives during World War II
  • Foam nozzle became standard equipment used to fight aircraft fires at airports, saving many more lives
  • Founder of the Jamesbury Company in Worcester

Scott Harris, 1982

Computer-Aided Design Visionary and Thought Leader

  • Co-founder of SolidWorks Corporation and Onshape Inc.
  • His products have become the mainstay for thousands of schools and companies worldwide
  • Deeply committed to state of the art for CAD, engineering, entrepreneurship, mentoring, solving problems of consequence, and advocating for social action

Milton P. Higgins*

First Superintendent of the Washburn Shops

  • Hired experienced tradesmen to teach students the art of manufacturing at WPI
  • Co-founded and led Norton Company with WPI Professor George Alden
  • Considered father of the trade school

Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson, 1989 MS, 2000 ME

Leader, Educator, and Author

  • Paves the way for underrepresented people of color and women
  • WPI’s First African American woman trustee
  • Demonstrated leader and sought-after speaker, consultant, preacher, and author


To learn more about the 2019 Inductees, and the inaugural luminaries inducted in 2017, visit the Hall of Luminaries permanent exhibit on the third floor of the Rubin Campus Center or