Worcester Polytechnic Institute

An Electric Century

100 Years of Innovation In Electrical Engineering Education

When WPI began its program in electrical engineering, a curriculum in that infant discipline was, in and of itself, the height of innovation. That groundbreaking spirit has continued through the years, as the department has sought to continually revise the content of its curriculum to keep pace with a rapidly changing profession, and to find ever more innovative and effective ways to teach. Twenty-five years ago that quest would lead several department faculty members to become leaders in the development and implementation of the WPI Plan.

At the end of its first 100 years, the department finds itself at a high point in innovation and quality. At the undergraduate level, we recently revised the content and teaching approach for our introductory courses. We now have a "spiral curriculum" where students obtain a broad introduction to electrical engineering in their first year, and then revisit concepts with increasing complexity and mathematical sophistication over succeeding courses. To keep our computer engineering program current, we revise its curriculum on an annual basis with substantial input from industrial partners. Those partners have told us that engineers today need to be able to communicate orally and in writing, so all of our Major Qualifying Projects culminate with formal oral presentations.

At the graduate level, we provide professionally oriented master's programs that prepare students who are ready to practice at the state of the art. Through our research-oriented master's and Ph.D. programs, students and faculty members advance the frontiers of electrical engineering theory. Computer and Communications Networks, a master's program conducted jointly with the Computer Science Department, exposes students to professional practice through off-campus internships. Graduate programs in computational fields provide an educational complement to the leading-edge research being conducted by our world-class faculty. Ph.D. research is carried on in several areas of current national importance (including wireless networks, computational fields and machine vision), assuring that our doctoral graduates are well-positioned for academic or industrial careers.

Alonzo Kimball showed great vision and wisdom when he prevailed on the WPI faculty and administration to carve out a new discipline from the fields of physics and mechanical engineering. Harold Smith displayed similar vision when he led the new department on an independent path of teaching and research that permitted it to grow with the profession (and, in fact, to help the profession grow). I believe that both men would be proud of the position the department has achieved in its first century.

John A. Orr,
department head

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Last modified: Tue Oct 05 09:25:48 EDT 1999