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WPI to Increase Female and Minority Interest in Mathematics and Technology Through GE Fund Grant

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

Worcester, MA -Recognizing that business and industrial applications of mathematics are the single most underutilized means of both teaching and motivating under-represented high school students in mathematics, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has created a program to address the needs of female and minority students. The effort will be supported by a $306,000 grant from the GE Fund, the philanthropic foundation of the General Electric Company.

The grant was awarded through a GE Fund's Math Excellence initiative, which is aimed at cultivating female and minority interest in engineering, information technology, and quantitative business disciplines. The funds will be used to develop the Mathematics in Industry Institute for Teachers, which will be offered by the WPI's Center for Industrial Mathematics and Statistics.

"We applaud the GE Fund's initiative to strengthen and expand the pipeline of minority and female students. We see the GE Fund "Math Excellence" initiative as an opportunity to extend WPI's outreach efforts to teachers, as a means for achieving a long-term impact on strengthening pre-college students' mathematics and quantitative skills," said WPI president Edward Alton Parrish. "The Mathematics in Industry Institute will provide teachers with the information, knowledge and tools needed for motivating students and increasing their interest in mathematics and quantitative careers."

"Partnerships between universities, schools, and business are essential to moving the needle on diversity in these fields," said George Oliver, Vice President and General Manager of GE Aircraft Engine Services, GE's University Executive for WPI, and a 1982 graduate of WPI. "WPI has demonstrated a track record, innovative thinking and initiative in addressing the needs of female and minority high school students in math, technology and the sciences."

The program is being developed by a group of faculty affiliated with the Center for Industrial Mathematics and Statistics (CIMS) led by Bogdan M.Vernescu, associate professor of Mathematical Sciences and director of CIMS, and Arthur C. Heinricher, associate professor of Mathematical Sciences and associate director of CIMS. The organizing committee includes executives from GE who will play a critical role in the industrial mathematics summer workshops.

"Our goal is to use real world applications of mathematics to motivate women and underrepresented minorities to take advanced mathematics courses while in high school and to pursue careers in mathematics, engineering, information technology or finance and economics," said Professor Vernescu. "We are targeting a 50% average increase in the percentage of minorities who enroll in advanced mathematics courses in high school, since the percentage of women is already equal to that of men. We also want to see an increase in the percentage of women and minorities who plan to study engineering and mathematics-based fields at the college level; and an increase in the percentage of high school teachers who have the computer and technical training needed to present industrial mathematics projects at the high school level."

Prof. Vernescu also sets a goal to increase the percentage of homework involving higher-order thinking skills and, as one performance measure, will track the MCAS scores for students from participating schools in Massachusetts.

"We'll work with school districts like Worcester and Lawrence, with a high percentage of Hispanic and African-American students," he explained. "Eighty four percent of the students in Lawrence, and 40 percent of the students in Worcester are Hispanic or African-American, as compared with about 18 percent statewide."

Each year for three years, 80 teachers will participate in the summer "Mathematics in Industry Summer Workshop for Teachers." They will then train an average of four teachers from their schools, giving the program a reach of over 1,000 teachers who will have benefited from exposure to the program over the three years of the grant.

"We want to give teachers the tools and resources to introduce their students to the excitement of industrial mathematics and at the same time provide an impetus for discussing existing and future curricular changes in the targeted school districts," said Prof. Vernescu.

The GE/WPI Executive Team, under the direction of Campus Coordinator Jennifer Wyse WPI Class of 1994, and LPTC Six Sigma Quality Leader in GE Aircraft Engine's Lynn, Massachusetts plant will play a critical role in this program. Robert Cassagrande, WPI Class of 1994 and E-Business and IT Master Black Belt in GE Industrial Systems' Plainville, Connecticut organization will lead a team of GE employees to prepare an industrial project and help the high school teachers develop a mini-project that can be implemented in their own curriculum. This team includes Cari Windt, WPI Class of 1991 and GE Appliances Master Black Belt in Louisville, KY; Cheryl Glanton, WPI Class of 1987 (GE Lighting Plant Manager for Newark Quartz in Cleveland, OH); David Elario, WPI Class of 1991 (GE Aircraft Engines Manager of Material Solutions Contract Management in Cincinnati, OH). Also presenting will be George Oliver, and Lance Hall, WPI Class of 1986 (GE Power Systems Manager of Steam Turbine and Generator Product Line in Schenectady, NY); and Ms. Wyse.

About GE Fund

The GE Fund (www.gefund.org) invests in improving educational quality and access and strengthening community organizations in GE communities around the world. All told, GE, the GE Fund, and GE employees and retirees contributed over $100 million to community and educational institutions last year.

About WPI

WPI (www.wpi.edu) is a pioneer in technological higher education, and is recognized as one of the leading outcomes-oriented undergraduate programs preparing people for success in our technological world. Since its founding in 1865, WPI has broadened and perfected an influential curriculum that balances theory and practice.

This innovative and unique combination of educational methods, learning environment and a worldwide network of project centers is located in Worcester, Massachusetts. WPI supports the academic and research pursuits of over 2,700 undergraduate students and 200 faculty pursuing opportunities to blend technological research and practice with societal needs, delivering meaningful real-world benefits.

For over a century, WPI has awarded advanced degrees in the sciences and engineering disciplines, as well as the management of technology and business. Our alumni include Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry; Harold Black, inventor of the principle of negative-feedback; Carl Clark, inventor of the first practical airbag safety system; Dean Kamen, inventor of the first wearable drug infusion pump; and many others who contribute to the transformation of our technological world.