Summer 1997

The Year in Review: 1996-97

By Michael W. Dorsey.

The progress made by the WPI community toward the development of a new strategic plan (see Putting the Pieces Together) was one of the most significant events of 1996-97, but it is not the only reason to look back on the academic year just concluded. WPI also became one of the first two universities in the United States to be evaluated under a new set of engineering accreditation criteria. It inaugurated its 14th president. And, aided by an award-winning World Wide Web site, it recorded an exceptional year in admissions. Here are the details behind these and a number of the year's other accomplishments.

Accreditation Brings Rewards for WPI and Its President

Engineering accreditation figured prominently in the events of 1996-97, although two of the most significant developments occurred after the academic year officially closed. In the first, WPI's programs in chemical, civil, electrical, manufacturing and mechanical engineering were re-accredited and the program in industrial engineering gained initial accreditation by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). In the second, WPI president Edward A. Parrish received one of the highest honors bestowed by ABET. The common thread in both events was a bold new set of engineering accreditation criteria developed under the leadership of Parrish and first applied to WPI and one other technological university.

In October 1997, at its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., ABET, the organization responsible for accrediting engineering and technology programs at the nation's colleges and universities, bestowed its 1997 Fellow of ABET Award on Parrish. WPI's president was one of three educators honored for giving "sustained quality service to the engineering profession, in general, and to engineering education, in particular, through the activities of ABET."

Parrish was honored for his leadership of ABET's Engineering Accreditation Commission and the commission's Criteria Committee. The committee paved the way for the creation of a new approach to accrediting engineering programs, one that departs dramatically from the methodology ABET has employed for decades. Called Engineering Criteria 2000, the new approach shares many of the qualities of the WPI Plan, the University's outcomes-oriented curriculum. In a major address to the ABET annual assembly, Parrish explained why the new criteria were needed.

He noted that ABET's criteria had expanded from 11/4 pages of simple precepts in 1957 to 191/2 pages of detailed rules by 1997. Accounting for a significant portion of the growth were increasingly detailed and prescriptive discipline-specific criteria requested by various engineering professional societies and associations. The result, he said, was "a document that some view as encouraging a 'cookie-cutter' approach to engineering education....Consequently, the emphasis has been on examining what courses students passed rather than what they learned and could do, as well as a lack of encouragement for experimentation with new pedagogy or curricula."

In the early 1990s, concern about ABET's bean-counting approach to accreditation came to a head. The organization's board appointed the Accreditation Process Review Committee, which confirmed the need to overhaul the criteria. In 1994, with support from the National Science Foundation, ABET sponsored a series of workshops on accreditation. The criteria workshop, chaired by Parrish and Ira Jacobson, chair-elect of ABET's Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC), brought together 60 participants from industry, government and academia, who recommended that ABET throw out its existing criteria and build a new set of rules from the ground up.

Over the course of a year, the Criteria Committee developed new criteria, called Engineering Criteria 2000, that were unanimously approved at the 1995 annual meeting of the EAC. In November 1995, Parrish, as newly elected EAC chairman, brought the new criteria before the full ABET board, which also approved them unanimously.

Because of the major philosophical change represented by the new criteria, they are being phased in between now and 2001. In the interim, five universities are being evaluated under the new rules in a pilot test program. Because of its experience with outcomes-oriented education, WPI was asked to be one of the first two schools to experience Engineering Criteria 2000.

A team of visitors arrived at WPI in the fall of 1996 to begin a thorough review of six of the university's engineering programs. The exercise proved a learning experience for ABET and WPI. ABET learned from WPI's experience with designing and implementing outcomes-oriented programs and WPI gained insight into the strengths and weaknesses of its own methods for measuring outcomes. The result, accreditation for all six programs, was a significant accomplishment, Parrish says. "A great many members of the faculty and administration worked hard to prepare for the ABET visit and to compile the information ABET needed to evaluate our programs," he says. "I think the positive outcome is as much a tribute to their tremendous effort, as it is an affirmation of the quality of the education we offer."

Student Authors/Web Help Snare Record Applicant Pool

WPI had one of its most successful admissions years ever in 1996-97. More than 3,100 students applied for admission to the Class of 2001, the largest applicant pool in the University's history. When all was said and done, 688 of those students matriculated in the fall of 1997. The class, one of the largest and most academically accomplished that WPI has enrolled, included 155 women and 34 students of color. With these additions, the proportion of women and students of color in the undergraduate student body rose to 22 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively.

The Admissions Office credits some of its success to the World Wide Web. WPI was one of just a few universities in the nation to offer prospective students the opportunity to submit an application through the Web last year. WPI's Web form was unique in enabling students to save a partially complete application if they needed time to obtain information or to think. Nearly half of applications for the Class of 2001 were received electronically - 800 over the Web and another 700 on computer disk.

The content and design of the University's Web site may also have played a role in the successful admissions year. The site was recognized for its completeness and utility by two publications. NetGuide, an online magazine about the Internet, named WPI's Web a Gold Site, a designation reserved for the top places on the Web. WPI was one of 15,000 sites so honored. WPI was one of 300 colleges included in Your Personal NetCollege 1997, a guidebook that rated the technological sophistication of schools. WPI earned a perfect 5 out of 5 "wired" rating and an A+ rating for its Web site.

Another plus for the Admissions Office was its 1996-97 viewbook—the glossy marketing publication sent to prospective students. In an innovative move, the office asked some WPI students (above) to write the book. "If there's one thing college students are always willing to share, it's their opinions," notes Robert G. Voss, executive director of admissions and financial aid. "If there's one thing prospective students most want to hear as they move through the college admissions process, it's the opinions of students already attending the school they are interested in applying to." The book garnered high praise from students, parents and college marketers, Voss says.

WPI Installs 14th President With Style

On Sept. 20, 1996, in a ceremony in Harrington Auditorium, Edward A. Parrish accepted the WPI charter and the mantle of leadership, formally becoming the University's 14th president. In addition to the formal installation event, the daylong inauguration included a luncheon for about 1,800 guests under a huge white tent, a symposium on the future of technological education held in Alden Memorial, a reception in Higgins House that showcased the performing arts at WPI, and a gala dinner back in Harrington.

Special guests included Claire Gaudiani, president of Connecticut College, who delivered an inspirational address during the installation ceremony, and symposium participants Eleanor Baum, dean of the School of Engineering at Cooper Union; Douglas Bowman, director of electronics and information technology at Lockheed Martin Corporation; Frederick E. Hutchinson, president of the University of Maine; David A. Kettler, executive director of science and technology at Bell-South Corporation; Mark M. Little, vice president for power generation at GE Power Systems; and George D. Peterson, executive director of ABET.

In his address, titled "Making a Difference," Parrish pointed to the "clarion calls" for change in technological higher education that have been sounded by industry, government and academia, and to the national studies that have made recommendations for improving the quality and effectiveness of technological education. "As one of a relatively small number of technological universities in this country," he said, "WPI has a special responsibility in helping to meet those challenges. It is in these challenges that I envision great opportunities for WPI over the next decade."

In fact, he noted, WPI, with its considerable experience in project-based learning and outcomes-driven education, is in an excellent position to lead the "cultural change" that will sweep the nation's universities. (The complete text of Parrish's address and a report on his inauguration can be found in the December 1996 WPI Journal).

New Initiatives Improve Student Services

WPI added a number of new services and programs for its students during the academic year. The first is aimed at helping undergraduates become better leaders, communicators, team members and team builders - skills that are highly valued by business and industry today. Called LEAP (Leadership Education and Practice), it is a four-year self-assessment, education, training and practice process established to prepare undergraduates for their future roles as professionals.

LEAP was the brainchild of Yvonne Harrison, director of the Career Development Center, Andrea Dorow, assistant director for student activities, and Thomas Balistrieri, director of student development and counseling. An advisory board made up of 18 representatives from the business and Worcester communities and the WPI faculty, staff and student body helped plan the noncredit program, which was offered to 75 students during its initial year. "LEAP is a cutting-edge program unlike any other in the country," Balistrieri says. "It gives WPI students leadership opportunities few other universities can offer."

In another pilot program, 12 members of the Board of Trustees (many of whom are WPI graduates) have been paired with a like number of undergraduates, with whom they have been exchanging personal and professional experiences. The Trustee/Student Mentor Program was the idea of trustee Leonard E. Redon '73, Rochester site services manager for Eastman Kodak Co.

WPI expanded its commitment to its international students last year by creating the Office of International Students and Scholars, headed by Tom Hartvig Thomsen, associate dean of student life, who has been WPI's international student advisor for many years. The office, located in the new International House, just south of the main campus, is responsible for helping international undergraduate and graduate students make the transition from their home countries and cultures to life at WPI.

Also located in International House is WPI's new English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Directed by Billy McGowan, the program helps foreign students prepare for studies in science or engineering at American universities through a five-week summer English program with a focus on technical terms and phrases. In addition, McGowan serves as a resource to WPI's international students and offers ESL instruction to the University's international students and teaching assistants.

"I hope International House will help our international students and scholars create a sense of community," says Thomsen. "I envision it as a center for international education that will draw on the diverse resources of the campus."

Commencement Focuses on Global Opportunities

WPI's 129th Commencement exercises on May 24, 1997, were dedicated to the theme "Global Perspectives: The Key to the New Millennium." The theme reflected the need for today's technological professionals to gain global experience and an appreciation for other cultures. It was also an opportunity to showcase WPI's recognized leadership in global technological education. WPI awarded 810 degrees during the ceremony: 580 bachelor's degrees, 218 master's degrees and 12 Ph.D.s.

The speaker was R. Nicholas Burns, then the Department of State's principal assistant secretary for public affairs and currently U.S. ambassador to Greece. Burns noted that the Information Age and the "International Age" are changing the world and presenting today's graduates with new challenges and opportunities. "Like it or not," he said, "our fate is to be a nation of global interests and global responsibilities."

Honorary degrees were awarded to Burns and three international business leaders: Martin G. Bromberg '51, retired chairman of Indústria e Comércio Brosol Ltda., in Brazil; Douglas R. Starrett, chairman and CEO of L.S. Starrett Co. in Athol, Mass., and Dennis H.S. Ting, chairman of Kader Holdings Co. Ltd. in Hong Kong.

More Highlights of the Year Past

Sixteen tenure-track faculty members joined WPI during the academic year. They include provost John F. Carney III, who is also a professor of civil and environmental engineering, and new professors in the departments of Biology and Biotechnology, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Management, and Mechanical Engineering.

Formally recognizing a collaboration that has existed for a quarter of a century, WPI and the University of Massachusetts Medical Center established a joint Ph.D. program in biomedical engineering. Graduates will receive degrees from WPI and UMMC's Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. The program offers shared courses and options to do thesis work at either institution. "The marriage between WPI and the UMass Medical Center is an important step forward that neither institution could have achieved alone," said Dr. Thomas B. Miller Jr., dean of the UMass Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

WPI's Career Development Center moved into new quarters in the lower level of the Project Center. The attractive new home for the University's career services, Cooperative Education Program and Major Selection Program includes private interview rooms, a computer resource room, and a lounge for recruiters.

Leah Vetter, the first director of the Massachusetts Academy of Mathematics and Science in Worcester, resigned in January due to health concerns. James Hamos, director of the Office of Science Education and an associate professor of cell biology at the UMass Medical Center, was named to succeed Vetter. Established in 1992 by the Massachusetts legislature and located in WPI's Gordon Library, the academy is a public high school that serves 11th and 12th grade students who have exceptional aptitude for mathematics and science.

WPI's second all-campus Project Presentation Day in April 1997 brought dozens of corporate executives and representatives of other organizations and agencies to campus to hear undergraduates talk about the results of Major Qualifying Projects. The more than 250 projects presented were the culmination of work in 12 academic departments.

A highlight of the day was the annual Hull Memorial Lecture, delivered by Peter Senge, director of the Center for Organizational Learning at MIT's Sloan School of Management and author of The Fifth Discipline.

A new online resource is helping WPI alumni stay in touch with their alma mater and with each other. Called the Alumni Gateway, the Web site (www.wpi.edu/alumni/gateway.html) enables alumni to search for information (including e-mail addresses) about fellow graduates, post class notes for The Wire, review job listings from WPI's Career Development Center, create Web pages, and participate in e-mail discussion groups.

WPI Loses a Dear Friend

Milton P. Higgins, grandson of the first superintendent of WPI's Washburn Shops, died in February 1997 at the age of 93.

A member of the WPI Board of Trustees for 31 years (he chaired the board from 1971 to 1978), Higgins was chairman of the WPI Centennial Fund (1965-68), which made possible the construction of Goddard Hall, Gordon Library and Harrington Auditorium. He is commemorated on campus by the Milton P. Higgins Lecture Hall in the Washburn Shops and by Higgins Laboratories, WPI's recently renovated mechanical engineering building, which is named for the Higgins family.

Members of the Higgins family have been closely tied to the affairs of WPI since its founding. In addition to Milton Prince Higgins (who along with George Ira Alden, WPI's first professor of mechanical engineering, helped found Norton Company), they include his father, Aldus C. Higgins, Class of 1893, a trustee for nearly three decades and a president of the WPI Alumni Association, and his uncle, John Higgins, Class of 1896.

A 1928 graduate of Harvard, Milton P. Higgins was president of Norton Company from 1946 to 1961 and chairman until his retirement in 1974. He was a benefactor and board member of numerous Worcester institutions and organizations, including the Worcester Art Museum and Clark University. He leaves his wife, Alice (Coonley), three sons, two daughters, and 11 grandchildren.

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Last Modified: Thu June 10 11:48:57 EDT 1999