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November 7, 2022

WPI selects research administrator as first person of color to permanently serve as president

Photo | Courtesy Worcester Polytechnic Institute "Grace" Jinliu Wang will serve as executive vice president for research, innovation, and knowledge at The Ohio State University until she takes over as WPI president on April 3.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute has named “Grace” Jinliu Wang as its 17th president, becoming the first person of color to lead WPI and succeeding Laurie Leshin, who left WPI for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in May.

“WPI is a world-class institution with a unique and vital approach to teaching, learning, and discovery,” Wang said in a Monday press release from WPI. “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.”

Wang will assume the presidency on April 3. Winston “Wole” Soboyejo, WPI provost and senior vice president since 2019, has served as interim president since Leshin’s departure.

Wang, who is Chinese-American, is the first person of color to hold the office of WPI president at the university on a non-interim basis. Soboyejo, who is Black, held the office as interim president in between Wang and Leshin, who was the first woman to lead the university.

Wang most recently served as executive vice president for research, innovation and knowledge enterprise at The Ohio State University in Columbus in 2020, after serving with the State University of New York system, and the National Science Foundation. Wang led the SUNY research enterprise with about $1.7 billion in annual research and development expenditures.

“Having consistently immersed itself in addressing the world’s grand challenges, the WPI community is already making a positive difference,” Wang said. “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 privilege.”

At Ohio State, Wang created the Enterprise for Research, Innovation, and Knowledge, supporting the entrepreneurial efforts of students and staff. Wang also lead efforts to create the STEAMM Rising (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics and medicine) partnership with the Columbus City Schools by providing training to K-12 teachers with the goal of increasing STEAMM awareness at scale.

Wang holds seven U.S. patents as materials scientist. She who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees polymer materials from Beijing University of Chemical Technology in China, and a PhD in materials science and engineering at Northwestern University in Illinois. She began her career at IBM/Hitachi Global Storage Technologies in California, focusing on research and development of thin-film magnetic recording media and carbon overcoat for data storage. 

“She is as passionate and skilled at advancing community well-being and sustainable inclusive excellence as she is at investing in global education and research, and she will give our students, faculty, and staff the support they need to thrive in an increasingly interconnected world,” WPI Board Chair Bill Fitzgerald said in the press release.

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