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Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Take 2)

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (visited 7/28/19) (Click HERE for notes and pictures from my visit on 3/22/14)

WPI 2I love “looping back” to schools after a few years to remind myself of what’s going on there as well as seeing what’s new. The nice thing about WPI is their consistency – with a willingness to grow! One my original trip, 2 other counselors and I sat in on the regular info session and tour offered to all visiting families. This time, I was with a group of 26 international students learning about their college options. Much of what I heard about the curriculum and the “WPI Plan” was the same as 5 years ago, but I got a broader perspective of the international experience on campus as well as finding out about some new programs/majors being offered.

WPI quad 1Just about 11% of the 4500 undergrads are international citizens. An Iranian student helped give the information session, and students from Japan, Vietnam, and Kenya spoke on the student panel. They also showed a great YouTube video (produced entirely by international students) on the International Experience at WPI. “For such a small school, I love how much I can do and get the most out of the experiences.”

WPI maker space

One of the maker spaces on campus

Engineering remains the largest concentration/school on campus. They were the first in the US to offer Robotics Engineering and is only one of a few schools with Fire Protection Engineering.

Computer Related fields are the next largest concentration at WPI; these are housed within the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Data Science is the newest major (starting fall 2019); Interactive Media and Game Development and Bioinformatics are also relatively new. Students can earn a Concentration in AI as part of CompSci major. They offer multiple math tracks including Applied, Actuarial, Financial, and Industrial Mathematics, Math Sciences, and Math for Educators.

WPI lab bldgThe Business School focuses on the intersection of technology and business. In addition to generic business degree, students can major in Management Engineering or Management Information Systems.

There’s lots of academic and social support. Admissions is test-optional because they know that these exams don’t measure creativity and problem-solving ability. They want people who can work in a team and who are passionate about math and science since they’re taking those classes from the beginning.

WPI dorm 2WPI Plan: It’s what makes it unique; they implemented in 1971. It has 4 parts:

  • The Academic Calendar is divided into four 7-week terms; students take 3 classes each term. Summer is almost 4 months long, giving students more time for internships. Students only need 45 credits to graduate (equivalent to 15 terms) but most will complete 48 (16 terms) by graduation.
  • Non-punitive grading policy: students earn A, B, C, or NR (no record). They want students to feel more comfortable challenging themselves with classes they may not have taken otherwise. If they get a grade lower than a C in a class needed for the major, they need to retake it (“Who wants to drive over a bridge built by an engineer who didn’t pass some of their classes?”). There is also no + or – in the system so people don’t compete over points; it creates a more collaborative environment.
  • WPI mascot 3

    “Gompei the Goat,” WPI’s mascot

    They offer a Flexible Curriculum: “We Advise, You Decide.” There are no pre-requisites, only recommendations.

  • Project-based curriculum (it’s worth checking out the YouTube video Innovate Everything)
    1. 1st year: Great Problems Seminar: Students look at a world-wide problem (like water shortage) and try to solve it.
    2. 2nd year: Humanities and Arts: All students have to take 6 courses in a concentration within the Humanities or Arts, 1 of which is an immersive project.
    3. 3rd year: Interactive Qualifying Project. Students work with a community, NGO, or company. They come up with a project that will help the community such as making a hospital more accessible for hearing and visually impaired people.
    4. 4th year: Major Qualifying Project, equivalent to a capstone or thesis for the major. This is a 3-course equivalent (FT for 1 term or PT for 3 terms). All students get a $5000 global scholarship to help cover travel and project costs. They have 40+ project centers around the world.

WPI 7WPI boasts a retention rate of 95%, well over the national average. They take excellent care of students, starting with almost all freshman (97%) living on campus which is proven to help students succeed academically and socially. They have more than 200 clubs; the rep said, “We have plenty of more serious clubs like math club – there are 5 of those – but also a lot of fun things like Underwater Hockey and 2 cheese clubs, 1 for making and 1 for eating. Worcester itself is the 2nd largest city in New England and ranked 9th (by Forbes) Most Livable City with easy access to Boston, NYC, beaches, and Skiing. With 12 area colleges, there are over 38,000 area college students so local establishments cater to them well.

© 2019

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

~WPI bridgeWorcester Polytechnic Institute (visited 3/22/14) (Click HERE for pictures and notes from my visit on 7/28/19)

Like other Polytechnics, WPI offers strong STEM programs, but is hardly limited to these. Why come here rather than a different polytechnic or a larger university? The students enthusiastically said, “Interaction between disciplines!” The flexible curriculum means that it’s not uncommon for cross-disciplinary majors and minors. Sarah, a senior who spoke at the info session, is a robotics major and history minor. She came here because of the flexibility and for the humanities and arts component. One of our tour guides was a Biochem major and Spanish minor. The other tour guide was a Civil Engineer doing his BS/MS in Fire Protection.

~WPI projectsWPI prides itself on its curriculum that combines theory and practice, traditional classroom education with laboratory and hands-on experiences. Benefits include understanding global issues, developing teamwork skills, and communicating with others. Flexibility also comes into play in the distribution requirements. It’s recommended that students complete certain things, but how they get there is up to them. Students decide which classes to take and when (under the guidance of faculty advisors). Classes have “Recommended Backgrounds” but if they come in with that knowledge already (perhaps with AP or IB credit), they can skip the prereq.

~WPI engo lab

One of the many labs

The university’s non-punitive grading policy means that students earn grades of A, B, C, or No Record. Students retake classes to get rid of NRs so they actually learn the material. Additionally, there are no + or – in the grading system. A 92 and a 98 are both As. Students worry less about GPA, are more likely to work collaboratively, and are encouraged to take risks and challenge themselves. They help each other to learn as much as possible in labs, projects, or whatever they’re working on. Grades are heavily based on projects and presentations. Students can request a GPA when they graduate, but it’s not normally given out.

The school year is divided into four 7-week terms with an optional summer term; students take 3 classes per term. Forty-five classes are needed to graduate, but most students take 48. With that buffer, students take classes for fun or redo a class. One of the tour guides said that it did take some time to adjust to the quarter system but now she loves it.

~WPI campus centerThe educational program has several components:

  • Great Problems Seminar, a first-year project addressing real-world problems: How do you break down issues into solvable pieces? This is optional, but most students complete it.
  • Humanities and Arts is required, but has flexibility: students select courses in an area of interest culminating in a seminar or practicum.
  • The Interactive Project: students study the impact of science and technology on society, looking at the larger picture. Students work interdisciplinarily with people outside the major.
  • Major project.
  • Team projects, often sponsored by companies, non-profits, or government agencies such as Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, London’s Museum of Science, Puerto Rico Tourism, UNESCO, US Patent and Trademark Office, Coast Guard, Gillette, Fidelity Investments, EPA, eBay, Deutsche Bank, Namibia’s Desert Research Foundation, Thailand’s Bureau of the Royal Household, or Children’s Hospital Costa Rica. This is the equivalent of 3 courses completed full-time in one term or part time over 3 terms. 60% of students complete this off campus; 50% go overseas. Study-Abroad locations are vetted for safety, housing, and academic standards.~WPI bridge and bldg
    • One project involved accompanying faculty to start a new site.
    • One on-campus project was building a fountain. It sits flush with the ground; a sensor on a nearby roof reads wind speeds, and the height of the water adjusts based on the readings. Students like these sorts of projects and will do them for fun. The rep said, “You can build your own computer for all we care. That happens a lot . . . .”

~WPI quad 3Co-op programs are available but are underutilized compared to other universities. They usually last for 6-8 months, running through the summer and 1-2 terms. Students completing these usually come in with AP or IB credits. Even those students who don’t complete co-ops feel like they have solid resumes. They’re used to working in groups, in a tight time frame, and out of their comfort zone so employers like hiring them. Hundreds of career and grad-school recruiters come to campus every year. 90% of graduates are working in their chosen profession or in full-time Grad Programs (the rep said that “the career services person is stingy with that number”). Princeton Review ranks WPI’s career services 17th, and Payscale.com ranks WPI 15th for Return on Investment and 5th highest starting salaries among national universities.

~WPI quad 2Applicants must complete Pre-Calc in high school since WPI doesn’t offer that class. Admissions requires a math or science teacher rec in addition to the counselor letter. They are test-optional; students not wishing to submit scores submit something that shows organizational skills and commitment such as having completed extensive research, etc. Valedictorians, salutatorians, National Merit, National Achievement, and National Hispanic Recognition Finalists are guaranteed at least $20,000. They are need-blind for domestic applicants but need-aware for international students. 20% of the students come in as undecided (less than other schools).

First year housing is guaranteed. 97% of first-year students and 62% of total students live on campus (including on-campus apartments and suites). They had a wait-list of 24 students this year; they all got rooms. Many off-campus students live within 2-3 blocks (close enough for the school wireless). There are over 180 clubs including music and theater, community service, Greek life, art and lit, professional and honor societies, and ROTC (Army and Air Force at WPI, Navy at Holy Cross through the consortium). The T stop is a mile away; students can be in Boston in an hour.

WPI has developed the Insight Program as part of the First Year Experience. Every student gets assigned to a team during freshman orientation. The team gets a faculty advisor, resident advisors, and a peer advisor to help them be successful transitioning to college. 97% of freshmen return for sophomore year.

© 2014

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