Pioneering Women in STEM Honored with Scholarship
The legacy of WPI’s first female students will live on in perpetuity through the newly established Lesley Small Zorabedian ’72 and Jayne Rossetti ’72 Endowed Scholarship. The financial need-based scholarship was funded by an anonymous member of the Class of 1972 to honor and celebrate the great accomplishments of Zorabedian and Rossetti.
According to the donor, “These two very smart and very accomplished women have earned and deserve respect, recognition, and admiration. Leslie and Jayne were true pioneers at WPI. Nothing was easy for them. Nothing was designed for them, not even the living conditions. Yet, they put on a brave face every day and accomplished something every day.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first woman undergraduate to earn a bachelor’s degree from WPI. In 1968, the Board of Trustees voted to admit women undergraduates to the university, breaking WPI’s century-old tradition of an all-male student body. Mathematics majors Zorabedian and Rossetti were the first women to enroll in the university in fall 1968. The following year, 24 women were admitted to the university.
I am in awe that our classmate thought enough of us to honor us in this truly meaningful and impactful manner.Jayne Rossetti
Reflecting on her time at WPI, Zorabedian says, “I was happy to be able to enroll at one of the top engineering schools in the country. Many doors have been opened to me and many opportunities have been made available because of that degree. Even in my work at a law firm, I have drawn greatly on my WPI education.”
Rossetti shares Zorabedian’s sentiment. “WPI taught me how to think,” she says. “I now approach problems with an open mind. I bring no preconceived thoughts into a problem. I have used this approach in all facets of my life.”
Reflecting on those early years at WPI, she says, “Lesley and I were both naïve, small-town girls, each a class valedictorian. When I got to Worcester Tech, it felt as if I was infringing on 100 years of deep-seated male traditions. But I wasn’t alone. Lesley and I were joined at the hip, taking the same classes, and eventually choosing the same major. It was a great relief when the women from the Class of 1973 arrived; not only did we then have dorm space, we were no longer the objects of curiosity.”
It is the donor’s hope that Zorabedian and Rossetti will serve as role models for WPI students. “They were always recognized; they must have felt they were constantly under the microscope,” the donor says. “There must have been times when they really wished for some privacy. However, they figured out how to do things, and they persevered.”
“It was a very a humbling experience to learn a member of the Class of 1972 endowed a scholarship in our honor,” says Rossetti. “I am in awe that our classmate thought enough of us to honor us in this truly meaningful and impactful manner.”
When asked about women in STEM at WPI, biomedical engineer Dana Maloy ’22 says, “It feels especially rewarding to be a woman in STEM today. And as more and more women enter the STEM fields, we are changing the long-held status quo and giving voice to the world’s many talented women engineers. It can be a challenge and feel daunting at times, but I know my peers and I will continue to work toward change and try to make a difference every day.”
Contemplating the gravity of Zorabedian’s and Rossetti’s impact on women in STEM today, chemical engineering major Olivia Gedgaudas ’22 offers a note of gratitude to WPI’s first undergraduate women. “Thank you for your bravery and perseverance in paving a path for women in STEM. Because of you, WPI has made leaps and bounds toward gender equity with WPI’s first woman president and its current student body [of which almost 40 percent are women],” she says. “We proudly stand on your shoulders.”