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Grace Jinliu Wang, PhD, a materials scientist and highly accomplished and collaborative leader in higher education, government, and industry, has been selected as the 17th president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute and will join the university on April 3, 2023.
The WPI community welcomed Wang at an on-campus event on Nov. 7 when she was introduced as the successor to Laurie Leshin, who served as WPI president for eight years before joining NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as director in May 2022. Wang and Winston “Wole” Soboyejo, WPI provost and senior vice president, who has served as interim president since Leshin’s departure, have already begun the transition process. Soboyejo will resume his former roles in April.
With a long-established record of building collective vision and developing partnerships and resources that advance missions, Wang believes WPI’s approach to hands-on teaching and learning helps students become more effective, and more thoughtful, professionals.
I look forward to listening and learning from the great minds who make WPI what it is and whose voices will play an essential role in defining our way forward. To lead this amazing university, one I have always held in high esteem, is an honor and a privilege.
“WPI is a unique and distinctive institution that is innovative and also practical enough to focus on the real world,” says Wang. “WPI’s founding principles of theory and practice resonate strongly with me. This is a world-class institution with a unique and vital approach to teaching, learning, and discovery. Preparing STEM-focused professionals to see the world through technological, human, societal, and cultural lenses is distinctive, especially when so brilliantly coupled with WPI’s research and innovation ecosystem.”
With an appreciation for WPI’s reputation as a respected institution with a history of cutting-edge progress, Wang says this forward-thinking perspective is an essential component of WPI’s future. “WPI has been staying ahead of the curve as a learning institution since its founding,” she says. “In a community deeply dedicated to advancement that helps people, I look forward to working with the WPI community as together we will continue to innovate in project-based learning, in purpose-driven research, and in building an innovation ecosystem.”
Wang also shares the university’s deep commitment to wellness, diversity, inclusion, and belonging—and extends those efforts into the wider community. In reference to her own WPI interview process, she pinpointed a key turning point when her interview shifted into discussions that felt more like conversations between colleagues who care deeply about the university and about the future of WPI. “That was the moment I realized I belonged at WPI,” she recalls. “The question is, what can we do together to continue to cultivate that kind of sense of belonging? When faculty, students, staff, neighbors, and local leaders come to our campus, they are not just here to study or work. They also join our community.”
WPI Board Chair Bill Fitzgerald ’83
Dr. Wang is precisely the leader WPI needs to take project-based learning and purpose-driven research to the next level.
And she is eager to continue and to amplify the campus work around mental health and well-being. “What can we do to redefine academic success and make that excellent and revolutionary learning as fun, stimulating, and interactive as it always has been,” she asks, “but at the same time reduce academic stressors?”
Wang’s selection follows an extensive national search that attracted a strong and diverse candidate pool. The presidential search committee, chaired by WPI Trustee David LaPré ’74, applied feedback from community listening sessions to determine the characteristics and experiences essential in a new president.
As an esteemed materials science engineer, Wang earned BS and MS degrees in polymer materials from Beijing University of Chemical Technology, and a PhD in materials science and engineering at Northwestern University; she holds seven U.S. patents. Her career has taken her from industry research and development at IBM/Hitachi Global Storage Technologies to government, where she was deputy assistant director for engineering at the National Science Foundation, to academia, including leadership roles within the SUNY System. She most recently served as executive vice president for research, innovation, and knowledge at The Ohio State University and holds several leadership roles with national organizations, including the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Wang, her husband, and their daughter are looking forward to moving to Worcester and joining the WPI community. Their son is a sophomore engineering student at Northwestern University.
WPI Board Chair Bill Fitzgerald ’83 highlighted Wang’s reputation as a collaborator who is focused on advancing the entire community. “I speak for the Board of Trustees in expressing my confidence that we have found the ideal leader to guide us in this journey.”
LaPré gave a special acknowledgement to “those who served on the search committee and the advisory group for their efforts, diligence, and commitment” as they considered a wide and highly qualified field of candidates.
Soboyejo reflected on WPI’s continued growth and momentum as a global leader in project-based learning. “We have really important work ahead,” he said. “It’s exciting to be part of this as we work with the 17th president to realize the potential of WPI.”
Watch as President-elect Wang was introduced to the WPI community during a welcome program and reception on November 9, 2022, including remarks by interim president Wole Soboyejo.