A Message from President Berkey

A message from President Berkey

As a nation, we recently witnessed the historic inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. Millions of Americans gathered on the National Mall to observe the peaceful transition of power that reflects the great strength of our democracy, while many times more watched on televisions across this country and around the globe. As one of those viewers, I found myself feeling at once deeply American and truly a citizen of the world.

I also found the presence of so many young people especially compelling. Indeed, throughout the long presidential campaign, the passionate support of young people for each of the major candidates brought a marvelous energy and creativity to the process. As the cameras panned across their faces, my thoughts could not help but return to the inauguration of John F. Kennedy during my own coming of age. His words that day issued an important call to service that have remained in the hearts and minds of so many Americans because they speak to our best instincts—our spirit of generosity, passion for discovery, and commitment to hard work.

When I think about WPI, I am reminded that asking what you can do is only the first step. Doing what you can do makes all the difference, and I believe few institutions prepare their students to take effective action as well as WPI. The Institute’s distinctive project-enriched curriculum, the WPI Plan, focuses on the integration and application of knowledge, precisely the skills required for imagining new possibilities, working collaboratively with others, and getting a job done.

Throughout this issue of Transformations, you will find inspiring stories of WPI students, faculty, staff, and alumni who have asked what they can do—and then taken on the challenge of doing it. On any given day, whether in the most modern cities or the most remote villages, these remarkable individuals are doing important work to improve the health of our planet and the lives of their fellow man. Among them are alumni who are making great advances in the standard of care for patients suffering from colorectal cancer, developing a revolutionary process to recycle plastic and rubber trash into reusable materials, working on water and sanitation issues in developing countries, and helping to fight homelessness right here in Worcester.

During these troubling economic times, we on the WPI campus are also asking ourselves what we can do to help this marvelous institution weather the storm and emerge stronger than ever. This we must do while protecting the core values that we all associate with WPI. These values include the WPI Plan, our innovative project-enriched curriculum; a tradition of excellence in undergraduate teaching; and research activities that are both intellectually challenging and truly important.

To this end, we have implemented several cost-saving initiatives that will require all of us to work together—to do what we can do. We have instituted a hiring “frost” on staff positions, with only the most essential open positions being filled. We are continuing with faculty searches, although we anticipate that several of these will be held over for next year due to the complicated nature of landing truly outstanding candidates. We have eliminated nonessential expenditures in areas such as travel and meeting costs, and we will continue to reevaluate our financial health.

Without meaning to minimize the challenges we will be facing, I believe that the good work we have done to strengthen the Institute in recent years, and the savings we can generate yet this year by the measures being proposed, will position us well to begin moving to a new equilibrium, a sustainable financial model, that can see us through the difficult years ahead and ensure continued success in the long run.

So, yes, these are challenging times for our nation and for this university, but I am heartened each day by the knowledge that the people of WPI are on the case. This is our moment to do what we can do.

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