Helen Vassallo '82
Helen Vassallo '82
Title: Second woman full professor at WPI and a supporter and mentor to many student-athletes

Helen Vassallo ’82 was the second woman to become a full professor at WPI— a professor whose far-ranging interests included performing in WPI theatre productions and flying helicopters, a sought-after public speaker renowned for her inspirational talks to organizations near and far. She concluded 36 years as a full-time faculty member in December 2018.

Her arrival at WPI was the demarcation point between two eras in her career. The first was rooted in the life sciences. With a BS in biology and an MS in pharmacology from Tufts University, she taught at Brandeis, Clark, Tufts, and WPI before joining Astra Pharmaceutical (now AstraZeneca), where she rose to become director of scientific and professional communication.

While at Astra she earned a PhD in physiology at Tufts and an MBA at WPI. The Institute was looking for a faculty member with street smarts for its Management Department, so they hired her (even though she told her recruiters that what she really had were “street dumbs”). She earned the Harry Stoddard Professorship and headed the department for five years. Active in faculty governance, she was the first woman elected Secretary of the Faculty and was a longtime parliamentarian at faculty meetings.

She chaired or served on three commissions on the state of women—two at WPI and one for the City of Worcester. She was the advisor to Phi Sigma Sigma sorority and to first-year women students, and is beloved by generations of alumnae. She was active in many community organizations, including the Girl Scouts. The city recognized her with its Woman of Consequence Award; WPI recognized her with its Board of Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Teaching and its Goat’s Head Lifetime Commitment Award.

These and so many other milestones were on the minds of the faculty when they surprised her with testimonials and a cake at her last faculty meeting—lauding her, in the words of one colleague, as “a model for what we all should aspire to.”

—Mike Dorsey (excerpt from WPI JOURNAL, Summer 2019)

 
“Helen Vassallo was a great supporter and mentor to many student-athletes, as well as to all other students—she provided academic support, leadership, advising, and counseling. Students could approach her knowing she would present them with worldly advice and insight during their growth and maturity as college students.”
 
—Phil Grebinar, Hall of Fame wrestling coach