Like his predecessor, Edward Parrish was an electrical engineer who brought to WPI a record of success as an academic administrator, including posts as head of the Electrical Engineering Department at the University of Virginia and dean of the School of Engineering at Vanderbilt University. Before coming to WPI he had also won recognition for his work in engineering accreditation. As chair of the Engineering Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, he played a pivotal role in the development of new accreditation criteria for engineering programs that, coincidentally, closely mirrored the philosophy of the WPI Plan. During his first year at WPI, the university became one of two schools to pilot-test the new criteria.
Early in his tenure, Parrish oversaw the development of a strategic plan that guided the university toward such milestones as the significant expansion of its global project program, major campus improvements (including a $14 million program to renovate all major residence halls), significant growth in sponsored research, increases in the size and stature of the faculty, a major commitment to outreach and enrichment programs for students in grades K-12 (particularly girls and students of color), and consistent recognition as one the nation's top universities.
Parrish also oversaw a $154 million capital campaign that included among its many successes the construction of the Campus Center (a long-anticipated campus addition), the creation of many new teaching and research facilities, and a major upgrade to the campus computer network. With the establishment of the Worcester Community Project Center, for student project work aimed at improving the city, and the Bioengineering Institute, which translates faculty research into commercial ventures, and with the launch of a joint venture with the city's redevelopment authority to transform an 11-acre former industrial site into Gateway Research Park at WPI, a mixed-use life-sciences based development, WPI also became a significant partner in the economic development of its home city and region during President Parrish's term.