Global Nonprofit FIRST Appoints Visionary Women in STEM to FIRST Board of Directors

Board of Directors for the World’s Largest Youth Robotics Community Promotes Dr. Laurie Leshin to Board Chair; Welcomes Argosy’s Dr. Emily Van Dunk and RTX’s Dantaya Williams as New Board Members


MANCHESTER, N.H., JUNE 12, 2024FIRST®, a global robotics community that prepares young people for the future today announced the promotion and elections of three visionary women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) to the FIRST Board of Directors.

Dr. Laurie Leshin, Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and FIRST Board of Directors member since 2015, will serve as the new Chair of the Board. Former Chair, Kelly Ortberg, held this role since 2017 and will remain a member of the Board.   

New members elected to the FIRST Board of Directors are Dr. Emily Van Dunk, Executive Director, Argosy Foundation, and Dantaya Williams, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, RTX. 

“We are honored to celebrate three inspiring STEM leaders as they assume their new and impactful roles on the FIRST Board of Directors,” said Chris Moore, CEO, FIRST. “Each woman brings a unique perspective, legacy of leadership, and a collective wealth of knowledge and expertise that will be invaluable as we accelerate plans to grow FIRST and make it accessible to every student, everywhere. I look forward to working with Laurie, Emily, Dantaya, and the entire Board, to further our mission and create pathways to a diverse STEM workforce.”

Commenting on Dr. Leshin’s appointment to Board Chair, FIRST Founder Dean Kamen said, “Laurie has long been a trailblazer and an outstanding inspiration to many. She was the first woman in key leadership roles at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She has never wavered in her commitment to FIRST. Her devotion to making sure anyone with an interest in impacting humanity positively through STEM has a path to do so is precisely in line with the mission and values of FIRST. I am proud to welcome her into this new role as Chair of the FIRST Board of Directors.”

“My hope is that anyone with an interest in impacting humanity positively through STEM has a path to do so,” said Dr. Leshin. “FIRST does an incredible job of making science and technology exciting and accessible for young people. They are inspiring the next generation and fostering a spirit of innovation, which sparks life-long passions and careers in STEM. It’s about encouraging curiosity and creativity, and I’m thrilled to step into this role with FIRST and be part of that journey for students across the nation.”

The FIRST Board of Directors is comprised of a cross section of leaders from business, government, education, philanthropy, and the sciences that have the fiduciary responsibility to provide strategic direction and organizational oversight for all activities of FIRST. The Board’s Governance Committee periodically reviews candidates to nominate individuals who will bring the most to the organization and Board in terms of experience and expertise to support the longer-term strategic objectives of FIRST. Learn more about FIRST Leadership.

Newly appointed FIRST Board members who are also leaders at FIRST Strategic Partners, include:

Dr. Laurie Leshin, Chair, FIRST Board of Directors; Director, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Dr. Laurie Leshin

Dr. Laurie Leshin is a distinguished geochemist and space scientist with a career including leadership roles in academia, senior management at NASA, and presidential appointments. Her numerous honors include NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal and Distinguished Public Service Medal, and the Meteoritical Society’s Nier Prize for outstanding research by a scientist under the age of 35.

Leshin was president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute from 2014 to 2022 and previously served as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute School of Science Dean. Leshin is the first woman to serve as JPL director, a role that also includes serving as Vice President at Caltech, which manages JPL for NASA. Leshin is also a Bren Professor of Geochemistry and Planetary Science at Caltech and continues to be a member of NASA’s Curiosity Rover science team. 


Dr. Emily Van Dunk, Executive Director, Argosy Foundation

Dr. Emily Van Dunk became the Executive Director of the Argosy Foundation in 2011 after first joining the foundation as a program officer in 2006. Before joining the foundation, Van DunkEmily Van Dunk served as the Budget Operations Manager for Milwaukee County. Prior to that, she was Research Director for the Wisconsin Policy Forum. Van Dunk earned a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a master’s from Iowa State University, and a bachelor’s from Luther College.

Van Dunk has spent over a decade learning about all aspects of FIRST. As a volunteer for the organization, she founded the Milwaukee Robotics Academy where three FIRST teams operate during the competitive season and year-round training is offered to City of Milwaukee high school students. Since the launch of the Academy in 2021, Van Dunk has raised over $500,000 to fund the expansion of FIRST programming in Milwaukee. 


Dantaya Williams, Chief Human Resources Officer, RTX

Dantaya M. Williams

Dantaya Williams is the Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at RTX. She is responsible for the company’s Global Human Resources function, which is focused on its people strategy – including talent development; diversity, equity and inclusion; employee and labor relations; total rewards and employee experience.

Williams has 25 years of human resources and leadership experience and is passionate about encouraging young people to pursue careers in STEM. 

She often dedicates time to support organizations who are preparing the next generation of leaders and elevating the voices of underrepresented groups in the workforce. Previously, Williams served on the board of directors for the YWCA Hartford region and Boys & Girls Club of Hartford. She is also a member of the advisory board for Michigan State University’s School of Human Resources and Labor Relations.

Williams believes that FIRST builds a strong and diverse pipeline of talent that will drive innovation and shape the technical workforce of the future.


About FIRST® 

FIRST® is a robotics community that prepares young people for the future through a suite of inclusive, team-based robotics programs for ages 4-18 (PreK-12) that can be facilitated in school or in structured after-school programs. Boosted by a global support system of volunteers, educators, and sponsors that include over 200 of the Fortune 500 companies, teams operate under a signature set of FIRST Core Values to conduct research, fundraise, design, build, and showcase their achievements during annual challenges.

An international not-for-profit organization founded by accomplished inventor Dean Kamen in 1989, FIRST has a proven impact on STEM learning, interest, and skill-building well beyond high school. Participants and alumni of FIRST programs gain access to education and career discovery opportunities, connections to exclusive scholarships and employers, and a place in the FIRST community for life. Learn more at