Outstanding Collegiate Member

Francesca LaPinta

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

For resourceful programming to strengthen SWE’s outreach initiatives; for inspiring and exciting students’ interest in STEM; and for being a servant leader within SWE at the section and Society levels.

Francesca LaPinta, of Queens, New York, began her consistent and devoted participation in the Society of Women Engineers in her first year at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) after joining its SWE section. She served as co-first-year representative and led a series of events for professors and engineering professionals to interact with students and describe their work.

During her sophomore year, LaPinta served as co-engineering events director and coordinated an expanded Exploring Engineering Day to introduce children in third to sixth grade to the engineering profession. She worked with 13 student groups to offer assorted hands-on activities and provide giveaways to 360 children.

LaPinta took on the duties of president in 2020 during the global pandemic and led the RPI SWE Section to pivot to all virtual events, one of the only campus organizations to be fully active, albeit virtually, during the year. Membership increased 30% through recruitment initiatives such as social media challenges and information sessions. LaPinta has also served at the Society level, participating in Introducing Engineering Concepts, a work group tasked with developing modules geared for middle school students as a means to maintain their interest and engagement in STEM. These modules are being considered for SWE’s Advanced Learning Center, available to all SWE members.

One of LaPinta’s key roles on campus was serving as an RPI engineering ambassador (EA), a highly competitive program for undergraduate students who are responsible for inspiring and guiding pre-college students investigating careers in engineering. LaPinta visited several area high schools, giving 15-minute presentations about engineering research, conducting hands-on activities and projects, and mentoring students who expressed interest in studying a STEM field in university. She also developed a three-day module for 40 high school students to learn signal and image processing as it relates to medical devices. For her consistent and effective participation as an ambassador, she received the 2019 RPI EA Linchpin Award, which honors a student whose contributions were essential to the program’s success.

In addition to her work with SWE, LaPinta is a graduate researcher in the Mills Lab where the focus is on cell biomechanical research. She utilized atomic force microscopy (AFM) to gather and analyze data regarding the complex mechanical properties of agarose hydrogels for tumor growth applications. LaPinta also conducted a literature review of 15 research papers for defining the mechanical properties of tumor cell growth in agarose gels. Her motivation, initiative, persistence, and communication are recognized as strong assets to the lab.

For her exemplary service on campus and beyond, LaPinta received a 2022 WE Local Guiding Star Award. She also received the RPI Founders Award of Excellence and has been inducted into Phalanx, RPI’s honor society for leadership and service; and Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society.

LaPinta holds a B.S. in mechanical engineering and an M.Eng. in mechanical engineering, both from RPI. In her free time, she enjoys lifting weights, cooking, baking, and calligraphy.