Honoring William R. Grogan ’46 and the WPI Plan

The WPI Plan and one of its greatest champions, Dean Emeritus William R. Grogan ’46 were honored at the 2008 Presidential Founders Dinner.

The WPI Plan and one of its greatest champions, Dean Emeritus William R. Grogan '46, were honored at the 2008 Presidential Founders Dinner. This annual celebration recognizes alumni and friends who have given $100,000 or more to WPI in their lifetimes. It also served as an opportunity to shine a spotlight on three factors critical to WPI's success as an institution of higher learning: The WPI Plan, a bold model of educational innovation; Grogan, whose tireless efforts brought the Plan to fruition; and WPI's steadfast supporters, whose generous contributions allow the Plan to grow and thrive today.

The WPI Plan's emphasis on combining theoretical study with project-based problem solving as a degree requirement sets the university apart from other science and engineering institutions of higher learning. Its project requirements, a grading system that encourages intellectual risk, and the comprehensive Humanities Component that challenges students to delve into the human condition, are deeply embedded into the WPI educational philosophy.

"As I have come to know the Plan, I can better appreciate that it's not so much about what you know, it's how to apply what you know—how to get things done," said President Dennis D. Berkey in his remarks at the Founders Dinner.

Grogan, the 2008 Presidential Founders honoree, is considered one of the architects of the WPI Plan. As a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering in the 1960s, Grogan was a member of the faculty committees that developed the Plan. Introducing Grogan at the dinner, former chair of the WPI Board of Trustees Ronald Zarrella '71 recalled the night Grogan showed up on his fraternity house doorstep with the news that the Plan had been approved. Grogan invited Zarrella, who had served on one of the committees that helped develop the Plan, to celebrate. When Zarrella explained that he needed to study for an important exam the next day, Grogan told him not to worry—the professor giving the exam was in the car waiting to celebrate with them.

As WPI's first dean of undergraduate studies, Grogan was charged with implementing all aspects of the WPI Plan. He was and still is an outspoken advocate for project-based learning. In fact, it was after his retirement from WPI that Grogan helped develop the Global Perspective Program into one of WPI's signature programs.

"At that time, the WPI Plan was really the country's most innovative approach to engineering education, and it is still the most innovative approach today," said Zarrella, noting that he since has served on the boards of four other universities, three of them technical universities.

The Global Perspective Program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to complete their Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) in one of 25 project centers around the world. The IQP is designed to solve a problem at the intersection of science, technology, and human concern. Early in his tenure as dean, Grogan recognized globalization on the horizon and sought project partnerships in London and Switzerland to help prepare students to be successful and contributing citizens in an ever-shrinking world. Today, more than 50 percent of undergraduates complete at least one academic project off campus, gaining the valuable skills that come from working in teams to identify and solve problems across cultural differences.

"The Global Perspective Program is a point of pride for WPI," said President Berkey. "Our students bring solutions to problems out in the world, and they learn how to get the job done in a way that works with the culture in which the problem is being solved."

Through their projects, WPI students designed and constructed a communal laundry station in Cape Town, South Africa; analyzed greenhouse gas emissions related to food in Lyngby-Taarbaek, Denmark; and implemented programs for students with disabilities at zoos in Victoria, Australia. In other projects, students have brought solar energy to remote tribes in Thailand and helped communities mitigate water conservation and floodwater erosion issues in Namibia. In Venice, student projects range from transportation, canal erosion, and hydrodynamics, to the preservation of public art and artifacts in Venetian churches.

At the Founders Dinner, Grogan was pleased to note the progress of the WPI Plan, from his early days of developing enough projects to fulfill its promise to today's Global Perspective Program.

"I think we have a tremendous project program now, coupled with a tremendous theoretical program," Grogan said. "If I were to put a bet on it, I sure would bet on WPI."

November 26, 2008

Contact: Judith Jaeger, Director of Advancement Publications, +1-508-831-5962, jjaeger@wpi.edu