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PASADENA, Calif. – Laurie Leshin is slated to become the first female director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in May, facility officials confirmed Thursday.

Leshin, a geochemist and space scientist who currently serves as president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, will also serve as vice president of the California Institute of Technology, her alma mater, the Los Angeles Times reported.

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Leshin succeeds Michael Watkins, who retired as the lab’s chief in August 2021, and Lt. Gen. Larry D. James USAF (Ret.), who currently serves as JPL interim director, facility officials said in a prepared statement.

“L.A. is a land of inspiration, and JPL’s missions inspire people every day,” Leshin told the Times in a Friday interview, calling Southern California a cradle of space exploration, rocketry and the aerospace industry.

“California is the place to be if you want to be a space explorer — especially Southern California,” she added.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson applauded Leshin’s “track record of scholarship and leadership,” qualifications needed to serve as director of JPL and “cement the center’s status as a global leader in the 21st century.”

“Under Dr. Leshin, the technology invented at JPL will continue to allow humans to explore the places in our universe that we cannot yet reach and spark the imaginations of future mathematicians, engineers, and pioneers in classrooms across America,” Nelson said in a prepared statement.

According to the Times, Leshin previously held two senior positions at the space agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, where she worked on more than four dozen projects. She also explored human spaceflight and deep-space exploration strategies at NASA’s Washington, D.C. 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 in a prepared statement.

“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,” she added.