Interdisciplinary & Global Studies Division
Global Perspective Program

WPI's Unique Approach to Global Studies

WPI's success in establishing the first and most effective program of global studies among technological universities has much to do with its unique approach to education. While most engineering and science programs at colleges and universities ask what a technological professional should know, WPI asks, "What should a technological professional be able to do?" The answers to that question are many.

For example, engineers and scientists must deal with social and political issues in their work and lives, and must develop partnerships with professionals in nontechnical fields to successfully carry out their technological assignments. All WPI students complete a unique science, technology and society project (the Interactive Qualifying Project, or IQP), through which students address significant social problems and issues for agencies and organizations. To complete this project, students must often acquire knowledge in fields well removed from their major field of study. The IQP has been widely recognized as the most creative and effective innovation in technological education in the last quarter century.

Professionals should also be aware of the world of knowledge beyond their own areas of study. Scientists and engineers, for example, should know how to perform scholarship in nontechnical fields, and appreciate how the study of history, philosophy, art and music enrich one's professional and personal lives. WPI students gain this perspective through a humanities and arts project known as the Sufficiency.

Professionals must also be able to size up and solve problems, to work in teams and to communicate well in writing and orally. WPI students gain these skills as they complete a professional-level design or research project that gives them hands-on exposure to the kinds of work assignments they will really do after graduation. It's called the Major Qualifying Project or MQP.

WPI's experiential approach to learning and its seven-week academic terms have provided the basis for an innovative project-based global studies program. Since 1974, students have been leaving campus for seven-week stays at residential project programs called the Global Perspective Program. While at these sites, they complete one of the three required WPI projects, often for an on-site sponsor (such as a government agency, a professional organization, a museum or a corporation). The complete research and preliminary work before traveling off-campus, then complete their project, write a report, and make a presentation to their sponsors before returning to Worcester. The experience brings them face-to-face with another culture in a powerful, often life-changing way.

WPI's approach to global studies has grown from the conviction that to be successful in business, engineering and science in our increasingly interdependent world, engineers and scientists must understand and appreciate other cultures and be able to work with people from all nations and backgrounds. Increasingly, as corporations expand their operations internationally and seek to compete with companies from other nations, they have come to value such a global perspective in their leaders and managers.

Through the Global Perspective Program, students realize a variety of critical educational outcomes, many of which are included in new the outcomes-oriented accreditation criteria that the Accreditation Bard for Engineering and Technology is using to evaluate engineering programs in the United States. For example, students learn to solve open-ended, integrative problems, they make connections between classroom and experiential learning, and they come to appreciate the impact of the decisions on local cultures and communities, as well as the impact of culture and community on their decisions.

To learn about the wide range of topics that WPI students explore through their science, technology and society projects (both on campus and around the globe), search our completed projects database.

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Last modified: July 20, 2010 11:25:03