A Message from President Berkey

As Good As It Gets

As Good As It Gets

Whether observed in nature or practiced by human beings, design is a powerful and pervasive concept. Even in a subject as esoteric as fractal geometry, one finds deeply complex geometric patterns, resembling such natural phenomena as snowflakes, mountain ranges, or coastlines resulting from repeated iterations of simple equations.

Aristotle said of the natural world that it "does nothing uselessly," and that seems to me an apt description for the best of human design as well. Consider the wheel, perhaps the most important mechanical invention in history, which the Mesopotamians attached to their chariots in 3000 BC and New Englanders used to propel the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th Centuries AD. Or the Gettysburg Address, remarkably economic at only three paragraphs in length yet so enduring in its power and effect. Or Michelangelo's Pietà, with every fold of drapery, every detail of expression, adding to its beauty and impact.

The principle of doing nothing uselessly can also be found in the mission and ethos of WPI. During my inauguration five years ago, I said of WPI that its "curriculum and research program centered on science and technology, complemented and enriched by the other fine and liberal arts and by programs in management, seem to me about as good as it gets in higher education." Today it is clear to me that I wasn't doing this splendid university justice. When it comes to preparing young men and women with the knowledge, skills, and imagination to contribute to this world, I believe a WPI education is as good as it gets in higher education.

If nature does nothing uselessly, it is also ever changing, with the shift of continents, fluctuations in climate, and spawning of new species and even new planets. This, too, characterizes the WPI curriculum—not lurching from field to field but evolving and expanding by design in areas where we have real leadership to provide, where there is profound interest on the part of our students, and where opportunities exist for collaborations and connections with firmly established programs and initiatives. These were the principles we followed when we recently became the first university in the nation to offer a bachelor's degree, and then a master's degree, in robotics engineering. In just two years, WPI's robotics engineering major has seen an explosion of interest and activity, with students and faculty working together to develop intelligent machines that can bring so much progress to our world, in such wide ranging areas as national defense and security, elder care, and interactive entertainment. This is the stuff of amazement, and I encourage you to see it for yourselves when WPI hosts the first Robotics Innovations Competition and Conference this November. Eagerly anticipated, this competition will challenge undergraduate and graduate students from across the United States to create robotic solutions that improve the quality of life.

If it sounds like a pretty exciting time at WPI, it is! And the world is noticing. Again and again this year, WPI was cited among the top universities in the nation for our innovative curriculum and the competitiveness of our graduates who are so highly sought after for their intellect, leadership skills, and ability to get a job done. Mothers and dads may be glad to know that WPI was recently ranked among the top colleges and universities that produce the best-paid graduates, including 9th in the nation among Ivy League and engineering schools, and 10th in the nation among all schools for highest starting median salary. Just as gratifying, our students are also among the very happiest in the nation according to a recent survey in The Princeton Review. Finally, WPI climbed three places among the nation's top universities in the latest U.S. News and World Report. While numerical rankings can never capture the richness and complexity of a university like WPI, we can be most proud of this collective recognition and good news.

Happily, the theme of design in this issue of Transformations captures beautifully the richness and complexity of a WPI education. Design crosses science, engineering, management, humanities, and the arts—and so do our alumni, who are artists and engineers, writers and gamers, entrepreneurs and inventors, and scientists and playwrights. Their stories, their lives—your stories, your lives—provide vivid evidence that a WPI education is indeed as good as it gets.

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