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Laurie Leshin, the president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), will serve as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s first female director and as the vice president of Caltech.
Since 2014, Leshin served at the first woman president of WPI. In her over seven years in the position, Leshin worked to expand research, address gender disparity in STEM, and further WPI’s Global Projects Program. Before that, she was the dean of the school of science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
From 2005 until 2011, Leshin worked in various different roles at NASA, including as the director of science and exploration at the Goddard Space Flight Center, deputy director for Goddard’s science and technology and deputy associate administrator of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.
“I am both thrilled and humbled to be appointed the director of JPL. In many ways, this feels like a homecoming. Some of the most impactful experiences of my career have taken place on the Caltech campus and at JPL – lessons learned and goals achieved that have shaped me as a leader and a space scientist. The opportunity to return to working closely with so many colleagues across Caltech – at the Lab and on campus – and at NASA is a dream come true,” Leshin said.
“We have enormous opportunities ahead to leverage JPL’s global leadership in robotic space exploration to answer awe-inspiring scientific questions and improve life here on Earth. I look forward to my work with Caltech and NASA to ensure that JPL continues to drive innovation across the global space ecosystem. Finally, I am especially honored to be the first woman to hold the title of director of JPL. I know from personal experience that diverse teams make greater impact, and I will work every day to ensure that JPL is a place where all belong and thrive. We will dare mighty things, together.”
In her scientific endeavors, Leshin has focused on examining the record of water on objects in our solar system. Leshin was part of the Mars Science Laboratory team that analyzed data that showed evidence of water on Mars, collected by the Curiosity rover.
Leshin has also achieved two presidential appointments in her career. In 2004, President George W. Bush appointed her to his nine-member Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy. In 2013, President Barack Obama appointed her to the advisory board of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.
Leshin will assume the position on May 16, 2022, after the semester ends at WPI. She succeeds Michael Watkins, who retired in August 2021, and Lieutenant General Larry James, who is currently serving as JPL interim director.