Worcester Polytechnic Institute

The Story of the WPI Plan

For these factors of uniqueness--the constant inquiry into identity, the contact with the workaday world, the reconciliation of the practical with the scientific, the community sense of belonging--there has been a price. There have been contributions of time and funds and effort far beyond the accounting. Nerves have been rubbed raw with abrasive argument, careers have sometimes been mistakenly shattered. There has been an astonishing number of persons willing to be hurt in order to keep faith with self and society, and the integrity thus given to the Institute is its proudest claim to distinction.

Today, the Institute stands solidly atop its rounded hill, still overlooking the City and reaching toward the sky. It stands there for more than any other reason because--by some strange and wonderful supply--there have always been enough people who cared.

Concluding words of Two Towers, WPI's centennial history, 1965.

The story of the creation and implementation of the WPI Plan, a bold experiment in higher education, ranks among the more fascinating tales in the annals of academia. It is, in part, the story of one college's reaction to changing times, for the Plan had its beginnings in the late 1960s, a period of incredible turmoil and ferment. It is also the story of a remarkable metamorphosis, for in the process of building this groundbreaking program a small, traditional engineering college turned itself around and become, virtually overnight, one of the most innovative and successful institutions of technological higher education in the country.

The chronicle of the Plan has three parts. The first is the story of how the program was born. That is the tale, principally, of nine men, the faculty planning committee appointed by WPI President Harry Storke in 1968, but also of an entire college community, for many, many other people played roles, both small and large, in the story of the birth of the Plan. They include the many faculty members who shared the Planning Committee's passion about education and its conviction that WPI could, and should, be a better and more innovative institution. They offered their ideas, their opinions, their time and their unwavering support as the process of shaping the Plan moved forward.

Many of these individuals went on to become officers and foot soldiers in the more than decade-long campaign known as Implementation, the monumental job of turning the educational program approved by the faculty in 1970 into a workable system. That is part two of the story of the Plan. This colossal effort involved uprooting WPI's traditional engineering curriculum, replacing it with a radically different approach to technological education, maintaining that new program in the face of a host of internal and external threats, and, ultimately, re-evaluating what became of the Plan and debating, over and over again, how to craft an undergraduate curriculum suitable for the challenges of the decades ahead.

But more than the history of an academic experiment, the story of the implementation and evolution of the Plan is the tale of the many people who made it happen. It is the record of their actions, their debates, their triumphs, their defeats. They are the people who put so much of their hearts and souls into making the Plan work, and it is because of their devotion and endless energy that it survives today. Like the people Mildred Petrie wrote about 32 years ago in WPI's centennial history, they cared enough about the Plan to be hurt, to have their careers shattered or indefinitely put on hold, and to put their ideals, their hopes and their dreams ahead of their own gain. They are the heroes of WPI's recent history.

The beneficiaries of all of the toil involved in developing, implementing and maintaining the Plan are the students who have earned their degrees through this innovative approach to education. Their story is part three of the tale of the Plan. It is no less amazing than the chronicle of the Plan itself, and it is a story that is still being written.

Part 1: Creating the Plan

A Miracle at Worcester: The adoption of the WPI Plan a quarter century ago changed a traditional college into a model of innovation. At its inception, the Plan was the product of the imagination and tenacity of nine remarkable men. This is their story.

A Planning Program for Worcester Polytechnic Institute: The Future of Two Towers (the reports of the Faculty Planning Committee):

Part 2: Implementing the Plan

Best Laid Plans: We look at the trials, tribulations and triumphs of the Plan's implementation and evolution, and at what may lie ahead for this groundbreaking program.

Part 3: The Plan's Outcomes

A Gateway to Adulthood: In the Plan's early days, one of the gratest challenges administrators faced was explaining this innovative program. Twenty-five years later, it still defies simple description. We've taken a shot at it, anyway.

Ten Lives Changed: It's been said that the proof is in the pudding. For the WPI Plan, the "pudding" is the stories of the lives and careers of the more than 12,000 men and women who have experienced it. Here are 10 of those stories.

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Last modified: Monday, 19-Dec-2011 10:16:42 EST