Former NASA Scientist Laurie Leshin Selected as WPI President
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Over the past 20 years, Leshin, a geochemist and space scientist, established herself as both an academic and administrative leader, having cultivated a career at NASA, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Arizona State University (ASU), and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Leshin was selected to lead WPI from an initial candidate pool of approximately 200. She is the first woman to head the university in its nearly 150-year history, and she will begin her service to WPI at the start of the university’s academic year, which also happens to be its sesquicentennial year, on July 1, 2014.
“In addition to bringing exceptional academic credentials from some of our nation’s leading universities, Laurie also brings tremendous experience and expertise from her time spent in leadership positions at NASA. She is an academic who understands the role of – and the potential for – academia in the larger world. Laurie has the rare capacity to work as successfully with students and faculty as she does with the White House and Congress. She is well positioned to take WPI to an even higher level of excellence and prominence. We are proud to have her at the helm of this fine university.”
Formerly Dean at RPI
Most recently Leshin served as Dean of the School of Science at Rensselaer, overseeing six departments, more than 30 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, six research centers, and more than 250 faculty and staff. During her time at Rensselaer, she established new interdisciplinary research directions and opportunities; implemented significant curriculum innovations; established fundraising initiatives; increased the faculty and their research endeavors; improved diversity, and significantly increased the School of Science’s communication and outreach. Leshin also continued her extensive research and national service during her time at Rensselaer in three important ways: through her work as a funded science team member for the Mars Curiosity Rover mission; through her appointment by President Obama to the Advisory Board for the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum; and through her appointment by former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to the Advisory Board of the US Merchant Marine Academy.
Leshin joined Rensselaer after spending six years as a senior leader at NASA. She joined the agency in 2005 as director of science and exploration at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, where, as the head of NASA’s largest science organization, she was responsible for the strategic management and organization of more than 300 PhDs working in fields ranging from high-energy astrophysics to climate change. In 2008 Leshin was promoted to deputy center director for science and technology at NASA Goddard, a center with 3,200 employees and a $3 billion budget, responsible for the strategy, planning and implementation of 50 earth and space flight projects. During her time in that role, Leshin initiated and expanded partnerships with universities, with industry, and with other government organizations. As the senior scientist at NASA Goddard, she communicated NASA achievements and plans to numerous and diverse audiences, including a presentation to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.
In 2010 Leshin was tapped to join NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C., the organization responsible for future NASA human spaceflight activities. As deputy associate administrator, her work involved daily oversight and planning for the implementation of the largest proposed shift in human spaceflight activities since the end of the Apollo program. In that role, she and the associate administrator oversaw a budget of $4 billion and a nationwide workforce of over 15,000; she also worked extensively with Congress, the White House, industry, and the public to communicate NASA’s plans and influence support for – and authorization of – its vision and programs. Leshin sought to catalyze a worldwide space exploration movement by engaging with international space organizations, and through oversight of development of new technologies and robotic missions–including commercial capabilities for low Earth orbit transport and new technologies that would allow for humans to travel destinations deeper in the universe.
Prior to joining NASA, Leshin was a scientist and professor at ASU from 1998 to 2005. Her successful research program focused on geochemical analysis of meteorites, the origin of the solar system, water on Mars, and astrobiology. In 2001 she was named the Dee and John Whiteman Dean’s Distinguished Professor of Geological Sciences, and would go on to help lead the development of the first-of-its-kind interdisciplinary School of Earth and Space Exploration at the university. Leshin also served as director of the Center for Meteorite Studies at ASU, which houses the largest university-based meteorite collection in the world.
Leshin began her academic career in 1994 as a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UCLA in the Department of Earth and Space Science. She spent four years at UCLA, where she was also named a W. W. Rubey Faculty Fellow.
Leshin earned a BS in Chemistry from Arizona State University in 1987. From there, she studied at the California Institute of Technology, where she earned both an MS in geochemistry in 1989 and a Ph.D. in geochemistry in 1994.
Her own asteroid
In 2004 Leshin received the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, and in 2011 she received NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal. She is a recipient of the Meteoritical Society’s Nier Prize for her research. She has served on the Board of Directors of Women in Aerospace, the Council of the American Geophysical Union. The International Astronomical Union recognized her contributions to planetary science by naming asteroid “4922 Leshin.”
“A great deal of time and effort was put into finding a leader who would embrace WPI’s commitment to global, project-based learning, who would continue to empower our faculty and students to constantly seek innovative and interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving, and who would appreciate and contribute to the spirit and culture of WPI,” said Interim President Phil Ryan. “Laurie not only brings academic credentials, extensive administrative leadership experience, and superb communication skills, she also brings vision and energy and warmth that will inspire faculty, staff, and students. I expect our university to thrive under her leadership.”
“WPI has been a leading innovator in engineering, technology, and science education for nearly 150 years,” said Leshin. “Other universities look to WPI to see how best to educate and engage students in experiential learning, an approach at the core of the WPI Plan. WPI’s integration of science and engineering with the social sciences, humanities, arts, and business is notable for the truly holistic approach it takes to educating tomorrow’s leaders. I am impressed by the excellence and dedication of the faculty and their scholarship, and I am inspired by the students--by their vision and the work they do through WPI’s interdisciplinary, project-based curriculum. I am truly energized by the prospect of getting to know the members of the WPI community and their aspirations, of working together to expand WPI’s impact, and raising the profile of this great university. I look forward to many productive years of collaboration, and I can’t wait to get started.”
Leshin succeeds Dennis D. Berkey, who served as WPI’s 15th president for nine years, concluding his service to the university last May. Since June 2013, Philip B. Ryan, former chairman of the WPI Board of Trustees, has been serving as interim president.
Related Slideshow: 13 Who Made a Difference in Central MA in 2013
The Lieutenant Governor's return to Worcester as the new head of the Greater Worcester Chamber of Commerce in May was a major move by the business advocacy organization.
Murray, who oversaw the City Square development as Mayor, came to a Chamber that in fiscal year 2011 had reported revenue of $1,285,789 -- but reported total expenses $1,406,306. The move from the public sector to the private didn't leave politics behind, as Murray was ordered in August to pay $80,000 for campaign violations for receiving "unlawfully solicited campaign contributions."
The retiring president of the Worcester Regional Research Bureau, Schaefer has been a constant in debate and discourse in the City of Worcester for the past 30 years.
Under Schaefer’s direction, the Bureau grew from a one-person office preparing studies on municipal issues to a four-person regional center of information and expertise in all areas of public policy in Central Massachusetts. Reports and forums provide well-documented information and recommendations, which public officials and business and community leaders can use for considering important issues and developing sound public policy.
The slots proposal that dictated oftentimes heated debate -- and opposition -- had a major adversary in the way of Ed Moynihan, who spearheaded the "Vote No Slots" effort that helped defeat the effort by Rush Street Gaming to put a slots question before the residents of Worcester.
"When I first heard of the possibility of slots in Worcester, I began educating myself on the issue," Moynihan to GoLocal in April. "This is not the way for positive growth. Slots would change the character of the city, and not for the better. Just look at Atlantic City. This is no way to base an economy."
Branca, the Dunkin' Donuts head whose presence in the community runs the gamut from business leader to supporter of neighborhood organizations, made a difference in Worcester in 2013.
The Chairman of the Dunkin' Donuts Franchise Owners Political Action Committee was elected Chairman of the Dunkin' Donuts Regional Advisory Council of all Dunkin' Donuts franchisees in the Northeastern U.S., and is the Vice Chairman of the Washington-DC based Coalition of Franchisee Associations.
Following a year where the City Council gave mixed grades to his performance, O'Brien in 2013 certainly made an impact when he announced he would be moving on from his City Manager position to one in the private sector with Winn Companies.
O'Brien, who served at the post since 2004, has worked for the City of Worcester since 1994. He was named Commissioner of the Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Department in 1997.
Barger, the President and Chief Executive Officer of JetBlue Airways, certainly made a difference in Worcester in 2013.
After speculation mounted in 2012 that the airline might come to Worcester Regional Airport, Barger made it official this past April, marking the culmination of a year long effort to court JetBlue by local and state officials. The press conference announcing the development had a celebratory feel to it, with a source saying, "This is the political event of the year."
The Worcester Unemployment Action Group. The Worcester Anti-Foreclosure Team. St. John's Church. These are some of the places you might see Horton in action, supporting those in the community in need of an advocate, or an organizer.
He's been a farm-worker, a steel worker, packing house worker, machine tool setter-operator and precision inspector. He worked his way up to non-degreed manufacturing engineer then went back to school to study physics. He's been a medical physicist and a college and high school physics and math teacher. He may be retired now, but he's hardly out of the game. Not by any stretch.
Block 5 and Niche Hospitality guru Covino didn't always set out to take the Worcester restaurant scene by storm. Armed with a masters degree in physical therapy, Covino was drawn back to his roots instead -- his grandfather was a chef and his parents worked in restaurants.
The restaurant scene got a big boost from Covino's efforts -- Bocado, Mezcal, The Citizen at One Exchange Place, The People's Kitchen. Where will Covino be in ten years time? "I just love food and wine so I will be working and I will still be working in the hospitality industry," said Covino in an interview with GoLocal's Susan Wagner earlier this year.
Co-Founder of stART on the Street, Worcester Arts Council chair, Program and Event Coordinator for the Visual and Performing Arts Department at Clark University, Worcester native Zlody was worn many hats in the name of furthering the arts in the city.
While stArt on the Street celebrated its tenth anniversary last year, Zlody and her team stepped up the festival once again this year, expanding food truck offerings and spreading out kids activities throughout and teaming up with Ecotarium to bring science to the arts. Zlody hardly rested on her laurels this year, having garnered 2012's ArtWorcester Award.
The three-time winner of the Central Massachusetts Entertainer of the Year, LePage isn't just a crooner extraordinaire -- he's both fashionable and cool, at least in the eyes of GoLocal -- and legions of fans, of course. LePage told GoLocal upon getting the fashionable nod, "I would consider my style to be nerd chic or modern crooner (with a twist of spanx)." In other words, the consummate Renaissance man.
A native of Templeton, LePage teams up with a cadre of talented musicians for his Duo, Trio, and five piece band, Dale LePage and the Manhattans, to entertain audiences around the region with standards, jazz and swing. And LePage just doesn't sound good and look good, he does good.
Jim Polito and Michael Graham
Polito's move at the end of last year from WTAG to Boston's FOX 25 marked a big shift for an oftentimes controversial voice in the Massachusetts media market. While his straight shooting style was embraced by small but vocal Republican right, the Democratic establishment didn't necessarily hold the same view.
Shortly after Polito's jump to the Boston market, conservative Graham brought his "Natural Truth" show from Boston's WTKK to Central MA's WCRN, ensuring that the Republican right was represented on the radio airwaves.
Carberry and Quinsigamond Community College oversaw a big boost for downtown when in February the lease at 18-20 Franklin Street was finalized. Nearly 600 students and 3 dozen faculty members are expected by December 2014, and future plans will boost the student number to 800.
With a focus on expanding the school's workforce development program and adult education center, Carberry was instrumental in the development for the community college -- and Worcester.
The one-time gubernatorial candidate, community activist, and author of Main Street Smarts, Ross worked to unveil earlier this year that five of the nation’s largest banks were in violation of an agreement with the federal government in Massachusetts, according to an investigation of local foreclosure affidavits conducted by GoLocalWorcester.
The investigation involved nearly 200 affidavits from Ally, Bank of America, Citi, Chase, and Wells Fargo filed with the Registry of Deeds in Worcester and Essex Counties and found that these documents had been expedited and signed without required knowledge of the signer, which is in violation of federal standards banks agreed to uphold with the federal government.
- WPI + UMass Medical Team Discover Breakthrough in Deadly Infection
- WPI Research Shows Pros and Cons of Student Texting
- NEW: 11 WPI Students Awarded Prestigious Scholarship
- Holy Cross, Clark + WPI Named Top Colleges by Forbes
- WPI Alumna Judy Nitsch Commits 7-Figure Gift To University
- Becker, WPI Ranked Nationally for Video Game Programs
- WPI Hosting Visual Art and Poetry Exhibition
- Girl Scouts to Host Geek Is Glam STEM Expo at WPI
- WPI Attracts Record Number of Employers to Fall Career Fair
- NEW: Biogen Idec Collaborates with WPI
- WPI Professor Is The Voice Of The Incredible Hulk
- NEW:WPI Gets $42 Million from MassDevelopment for New Residence Hall
- NEW: WPI to Host LEGO Robot Competition
- NEW: WPI Students Tackle Real-World Issues in “Great Problems” Seminar
- WPI Summer Program Inspires Teen Girls With Science