The WPI Plan
Executive summary: Technical graduates must be accomplished value creators to thrive over their careers. Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has pioneered the experiential education needed for success in the global innovation economy. In 2016 the WSJ selected WPI as the top U.S. school for combining teaching and research.
WPI was formed with a commitment to both theory and practice in order to positively impact both its students and the world. That vision and mission has held true over 153 years of relentless technological and societal changes. WPI’s mission is, if anything, even more relevant and important for society today.
To further its mission, in 1967 WPI pioneered project-based education with a revolutionary curriculum called the “WPI Plan.” Each year the students work on team-based projects that address real societal needs. The freshman year includes a “great problems seminar,” which is focused on the world’s most significant challenges. The sophomore year has a multi-course project in the liberal arts called “the sufficiency.” The junior year contains a multidisciplinary project addressing problems at the intersection of science, technology, social issues, and human needs. The senior team project focuses on the student’s primary discipline.
In addition, as part of the “global projects program,” virtually all teams do a project off campus. Teams of 3 to 5 students don’t just go to a bistro in Paris and sip espresso. Rather they go to China, Africa, or 40 other locations around the world to solve real problems. That experience is transformative.
The result is that students obtain the education they need to be life-long value creators in the global innovation economy. They are prepared to make a positive impact. They get an excellent technical education, hands-on experience in team-based problem solving, a global perspective, and an understanding of customer focused value creation. In 2016 WPI was awarded the National Academy of Engineering Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education.
The excellent new WPI president, Laurie Leshin, has been building on these accomplishments and adding other programs to assure WPI provides the best technical education for our era. Because the goal is societal impact, the core vision and mission of WPI remains the same — theory and practice. It is a very exciting university, especially when you see how accomplished and mature the students are.
I am a physics graduate from WPI and an emeritus trustee. In 2017 I was honored as a “WPI Luminary.” Given my passion for innovation and helping students and professionals learn how to become successful value creators, this was a very special honor.
The first picture below shows my partner, Len Polizzotto, who is also a WPI graduate. He introduced me at the ceremony. The second picture is of my wife and me in front of the WPI wall listing all the previous honorees. This last picture is of Dean Kamen and me at the ceremony. Dean was also an honoree. He shares the passion for innovation and team-based experiential education, having created innovations such as the Segway and the FIRST Robotics Competition.