Catherine M. Culnane ’84 and Patrick J. Torosian

Gift Addresses Barriers to Women in Technical Careers

Catherine Culnane ’84 still marvels that her widowed, homemaker mother managed to put four of her children through college. And although Culnane offers the utmost gratitude to her mother for those nearly heroic efforts, she is acutely aware of the accompanying role WPI’s generous donors played in her university experience. “My siblings and I benefited from financial aid. I’ve always believed in the importance of paying it forward and that contemporary alumni contributions make a difference at WPI,” she says.

Living her beliefs, Culnane has been an active donor since graduating from WPI, and, with her husband, Patrick, recently established the Catherine M. Culnane ’84 and Patrick J. Torosian Endowed Scholarship—and established a bequest to further support WPI students in the future. Their generous contributions support a key priority of the university’s $500 million fundraising effort, Beyond These Towers: The Campaign for WPI: removing financial barriers to a WPI education.

My memories and attachment to WPI are so strong that I feel compelled to give back and leave an impactful legacy at WPI.

She is concerned about waning interest in engineering and technology careers in the United States, particularly among women. “I believe the number of women in engineering and technology positions doesn’t seem to have grown much since I graduated, and may, in fact, be shrinking. As a female technology professional and leader, I benefitted from making my way with the support of teachers and mentors in a mostly male setting. I was comfortable working in the traditionally male companies and industries where I built my career, and it is my greatest honor to be able to assist similar students in making their way for years to come.”

Reflecting on her time on the Hill, Culnane shares, “WPI stood out to me for its fit; it was just the right size. I liked the humanities and project focus, and I got the sense the staff really cared about the students—it truly felt like a family. I started as a computer science major and, with helpful guidance from my advisor, I incorporated management and accounting coursework to prepare me for the business-oriented career I aspired to. I absolutely loved my time at WPI and couldn’t have imagined a more perfect campus experience.”

Following graduation, she began her career developing and supporting commercial software for American Management Systems (now CGI Group). She later held executive leadership roles at Dell as well as at several large industrial businesses within General Electric; she recently retired from AutoZone as vice president, information technology. Relating her WPI experience to her successful career, Culnane says, “WPI’s ‘learning to learn’ philosophy resonated and really carried through my college, graduate, and career development. The seven-week terms and project work were very beneficial; completing a course in seven weeks forces one to get serious early, a discipline that proved beneficial in meeting business objectives and deadlines. Additionally, working together with classmates on projects also translated directly in my professional roles, where teamwork was so important.”

She feels a sense of pride when she looks at her alma mater today. “The campus and programs have continued to evolve and improve; the new buildings are amazing, and the degrees and project experiences offered have grown. WPI has more than kept pace with the times, benefitting from strong leadership, great alumni support, and phenomenal staff. Our alumni accomplishments are impressive, as are the interests and developments of today’s students. I see a bright future for WPI and its graduates.”

This pride motivated her to get an early start at giving back to WPI. “Knowing I would not have been able to attend such a great university without the financial assistance that was provided to me at the time, I began annual contributions to WPI my first year working professionally,” she says. “My memories and attachment to WPI are so strong that I feel compelled to give back and leave an impactful legacy at WPI.”

If you see yourself in Culnane’s story, consider the many opportunities to give back through Beyond These Towers: The Campaign for WPI.

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