Laurie Leshin, Ph.D.
Laurie Leshin is the 16th president, and first woman president, of Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Since joining the university in June 2014, she has embraced what makes WPI distinctive while challenging the university community to in turn embrace changes in order to multiply its impact across the globe.
Under President Leshin’s leadership, WPI has strategically grown its faculty, recruiting those who value the WPI hallmark of effectively balancing research and teaching. Scholarships are now guaranteed for every undergraduate student to be able to participate in the university’s pioneering Global Projects Program, which includes more than 50 locations worldwide. Her vision led to the development of new academic and collaboration spaces on campus, notably the Foisie Innovation Studio and Messenger Residence Hall, a 78,000-square-foot facility that, as the university’s “front door to innovation,” houses active learning classrooms, makerspaces, and labs, along with three floors of student residences. And in Boston, the university opened WPI Seaport, where students and faculty connect with industry and where working professionals can take graduate-level classes. Presidential fellowships are among the investments she’s made in WPI’s doctoral programs—and the WPI research enterprise has grown funding by nearly 45 percent over the past three years.
In 2016 WPI was awarded the National Academy of Engineering’s Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education, and President Leshin was a catalyst for launching the Center for Project-Based Learning that same year. The Center aims to change the face of higher education by helping other institutions implement on their own campuses those facets of the landmark project-based learning model WPI developed in 1970. More than 110 institutions around the world have taken advantage of Center offerings.
President Leshin has made diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives a top priority, and WPI is now proudly positioned among STEM institutions with the highest percentage of female undergraduate students. She is also a champion of outreach to K-12 students, particularly girls and underrepresented students, aiming to foster a love of STEM that may lead to careers in high-impact science and engineering fields.
An accomplished space scientist, Leshin came to WPI after more than 20 years of experience as a leader in academia and government service. She served as dean of the School of Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, as deputy director of NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, and as director of science and exploration at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Before joining NASA, she was the Dee and John Whiteman Dean’s Distinguished Professor of Geological Sciences at Arizona State University.
She is a recipient of NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal, NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal, and the Meteoritical Society’s Nier Prize. She has served on the boards of Women in Aerospace and the Council of the American Geophysical Union.
Among her activities outside WPI, she is a director with the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U), the Association of Colleges and Universities of Massachusetts (AICUM), and FIRST Robotics, and is president-elect of the Association of Independent Technological Universities (AITU). She also serves on the National STEM Advisory Panel and the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.