A Message from President Berkey

The Entrepreneurial Spirit at WPI

At a recent alumni gathering in New York, I spent some time talking with a few young graduates who described themselves, somewhat ruefully, as the “black sheep” of WPI. When I asked them why, they replied, “Well, we have degrees in engineering, but we’re not practicing engineers.” What were these “black sheep” doing instead? They were starting new businesses, forming alliances among corporations, and serving as consultants on Wall Street. Black sheep, indeed!

In fact, these young alumni were carrying on one of WPI’s proudest and most enduring traditions—that of entrepreneurship, which has been woven into the very fabric of our university since its founding, when local entrepreneur John Boynton pledged his life’s savings to realize his dream of a school for future engineers. For more than 140 years, young men and women have come to WPI filled with the entrepreneurial spirit, capable of imagining great things, and committed to achieving their vision.

Exciting stuff, the principles of entrepreneurship. They infuse much of the WPI experience today, where students and faculty engage with the world around them, seeking to understand its challenges, conceive what might be done, and then make solid progress toward their goals. Beyond excitement, however, entrepreneurship requires good, old-fashioned, roll-up-your-sleeves hard work. It demands strength of character, the ability to persevere in the face of obstacles, a healthy disdain for shortcuts, and the ability to lead others around a common goal. These, too, are qualities that the WPI community possesses in abundance.

What the “black sheep” also illustrated so beautifully was the power of a WPI education—rooted in engineering and science, and infused with our university’s signature know-how—to provide excellent preparation for almost any field of endeavor. WPI graduates, as you will see throughout this issue of Transformations, enjoy putting their knowledge to work in a splendid array of interesting, meaningful, and often surprising ways. Individually and collectively, their stories demonstrate that there are no limits to where a WPI education can take you.

Equally immune to limits are WPI’s faculty, who pursue research that has the potential to affect billions of people around the globe—research, in other words, that matters. WPI faculty are not motivated by esoteric questions whose answers can only be appreciated, or even understood, by a small few. Rather, they are driven by the desire to make a difference, to assert their intellectual leadership and entrepreneurial spirit, and to create something that will have a lasting impact in the lives of others.

Manifesting physically the entrepreneurial spirit at WPI is our new Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center at Gateway Park. This marvelous facility, which promises to bring a new vibrancy to both WPI and the City of Worcester, is now home to a thriving community of innovators and idea makers from academia and industry. You are probably familiar with the old saying about the Red Sox, “25 players, 25 cabs.” The same could easily have been said about the traditional model of scientific research—25 investigators, 25 labs. Today, Gateway Park is helping to transform this way of thinking, with open and flexible spaces that invite a new kind of teamwork and spark creative collisions among great minds.

Expressions of entrepreneurship abound across WPI—and through WPI, to the community around us. As I write this message, the WPI Collaborative for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is hosting its summer Teens Discovering Entrepreneurship Day Camp. WPI undergraduates and local high school students are enjoying Dinners with Entrepreneurs throughout the year. And to help put to work the knowledge they have gained in their major, many WPI students are now pursuing minors in entrepreneurship. Of course, these represent a mere few of the many opportunities to understand and practice entrepreneurship at WPI.

More than 40 years ago now, Robert F. Kennedy said, “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” When I contemplate these words, I cannot help but think of WPI, for ours is a community brimming with people inspired by why not? The great WPI difference is that ours is also a community with the talent, creativity, and conviction of purpose to turn the dream into reality. I cannot think of a finer model for American higher education today.

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