WPI President's Report 2007

Character and Community

There is something special about WPI. From the very beginning, ours has been a community united in the pursuit of innovation and the quest to make a better world. We challenge what is known, seek what is unknown, and recognize all that is possible when we put knowledge to work in the service of others. For its students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, and friends, WPI is a community to which we belong as surely as we do to our families, neighborhoods, or houses of worship.We are deeply invested in WPI's mission, values, progress, and future. And we celebrate the ties that bind us to one another. I am delighted to welcome you to this inaugural President's Report, in which you will find marvelous examples of the character and community of WPI, inspiring stories of imagination and achievement, and evidence of the sound financial management that is keeping this university strong. As you will see, these are truly are exciting days at WPI.

Doing What Has Not Been Done Before

It may surprise us to think that Hippocrates and Harry Truman had very much in common, but in fact they were both enamored with the virtues of a good, long walk. Hippocrates observed that "walking is man's best medicine," while Truman, in his more plainspoken style, charged all those who wished to reach their 80th birthdays to "take a two-mile walk every morning before breakfast."

I cannot say that I have adhered strictly to President Truman's advice, but I have found that among my greatest pleasures as president of WPI are the walks I enjoy across our beautiful campus. With every trip to the Campus Center, or crossing of the Quad on my way to Alumni Field, I have the opportunity to observe the character and community that have made WPI the university it is today. I see students and professors engaged in lively conversation. I see the magnificent beech tree, which has stood proud and strong through the generations. And I have seen countless quiet acts of generosity and kindness. On one recent walk, I even saw the setting of a world record in progress, when senior James Roumeliotis spent 18 hours bouncing on his pogo stick in front of Bartlett Center. Playful but hardly frivolous, his endeavor illustrated beautifully the WPI character, for he set out to do something that had not been done before, and he did so in the service of others, raising funds to help cure the connective tissue disease scleroderma.

I often experience very different walks in the Cape Cod village I frequent in the summer. Despite the beauty of a summer morning, so many of those rambling the sidewalks and bike paths are talking on their cell phones, typing out text messages, or listening to music through their headphones. Their preoccupations provide stark evidence of how easy it has become to disconnect from our immediate surroundings—not just from the setting or the view, but from the people who cross our paths and share our journey. How easy it has become to stop looking out for one another as we go about our daily lives.

This has never been the case at WPI, where we have long embraced the balance of individual and community. Every day, we celebrate the beauty and power of individual expression while committing ourselves to the ties that bind us together. Indeed, ours is a university whose motto, Theory and Practice, fuses the very best of the individual and the community. If a theory is often born of a single brilliant mind, practice demands the presence of others, those who assist, bear witness, and provide just the right encouragement when the going gets tough. How much less we would be if we focused on one part of our motto over the other—how much more we are because of our devotion to both.

Expanding the Intellect, Expressing the Creative Spirit

On the subject of brilliant minds, I turn naturally to WPI's faculty. On any given day, this splendid community of scholars is teaching and conducting research ranging from tissue engineering and fuel cell design to cancer therapies and robotics. Some devise strategies for promoting economic development in Africa while others develop technology that can help locate and monitor soldiers on the battlefield or firefighters in a burning building. Standing at the forefront of their disciplines, these scholars illuminate knowledge on which the world's progress depends. At the same time, WPI professors approach the classroom with a steadfast dedication to sharing that knowledge with the scholars and leaders of the future.

But there is something still more special about the interaction among students and faculty at WPI. Working side-by-side with their professors on projects and research that benefit the world beyond WPI's borders, our students have the opportunity to see themselves as part of the larger human community and to understand the power they have to make a positive difference in the lives of others. These are experiences that deepen the character as much as they expand the intellect.

If WPI is well known for its groundbreaking research and project-enriched education in science, technology, and engineering, it is perhaps something of a secret that ours is also a community brimming with artists. My wife, Cathy, and I make a point of attending as many WPI theatre productions as we can because we always find ourselves profoundly moved, whether by the talented actors, their compelling interpretation of the text, or the sophisticated use of technology that makes a WPI production uniquely its own.While those on stage or behind the scenes exercise their creative spirit, we in the audience enjoy an experience that Oscar Wilde once described as "the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being."

Making Contributions at Home and Around the World

For more than 140 years, the WPI character has been very much rooted to place—to our home community in Worcester—and to helping shape the course of this city in three different centuries. In September, we marked an exciting new chapter in this enduring connection with the opening of our Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center at Gateway Park. Now serving as the focal point for WPI's graduate education and research in such areas as regenerative medicine, molecular nanotechnology and biosensors, plant systems, tissue engineering, and untethered healthcare, Gateway Park also heralds the revitalization of a long dormant part of Worcester. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which was attended by an array of local, state, and federal dignitaries, I remarked that "Gateway Park exemplifies utterly the familiar refrain heard on our campus that 'What is good forWorcester is good forWPI.'" Indeed, I am convinced that the discoveries made at Gateway Park, and the collaborations with industry that bring these discoveries to the public, will play a vital role in Worcester's economic development and in WPI's ability to make a difference in the world.

Of course, the WPI alumni community is contributing to our nation's economic development and is making a difference in the world every day. I have made engaging our alumni one of the highest priorities of my presidency because I believe we have so much value that we can deliver to our graduates and because the more we remain connected with one another, the better it will be for this university. To help bolster these connections, we have launched Imagine and Achieve, a new event series in which I offer an update on what is happening at WPI today and host a conversation about the WPI of tomorrow. In every city we've visited so far, alumni have turned out in strong numbers to share with me their thoughts and ideas about the university's future. I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed these conversations. I hear so many wonderful things about WPI—and a few criticisms, to be sure—but each time I come away feeling newly energized about this university that needs to keep growing, advancing, and becoming better understood in the world.

To ensure that WPI has every opportunity to grow and advance, we recently embarked on the planning stages of a capital campaign. Its success will help WPI develop the programs, facilities, and financial resources necessary for driving innovation, attracting more young people to science- and technology-centered education, and enhancing our competitive position among our peers. It will also preserve and reinforce WPI's intrinsic values and qualities and consolidate our sense of common purpose. If we are to succeed in raising the funds that will improve every area of the WPI experience, however, then we will need the participation of everyone who knows and loves this university.We will need your participation. I look forward to working with you and the entire WPI community over the coming years to achieve our goals.

Access the full version of the 2007 President's Report (6.6MB PDF)

March 25, 2008