High School-to-College Transition Smoothed for WPI Freshmen in Extensive Advising and Mentoring Program

National Study Shows WPI Best in Level of First-Year Student-Faculty Interaction

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

Worcester, Mass. - August 20, 2003 - The hardest part of the transition from high school to college usually isn't the coursework, but adjusting to the new independence, responsibility and accountability. To smooth this transition, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) provides an innovative advising and mentoring program called the Insight Program to help freshman students develop strong relationships outside of the classroom with faculty, staff and upper-class students. Freshmen at WPI join small orientation groups of 25 to 30 students in their residence halls, and each group is assigned a faculty advisor, a peer mentor (represented by an upper-class student) and a residence advisor. This team of Insight advisors coordinates activities and meets with their group for the entire, crucial first semester of the freshman year.

The faculty advisors represent all the departments at WPI, and in many cases are senior faculty members and the most experienced advisors. At the end of the first semester, in December, students officially declare their majors and are assigned an advisor from the department of the declared major.

WPI student Darius F. Kazemi from Fairfax Station, Va., is a veteran of the Insight Program as a member of the class of 2005. Kazemi recalls, "Having an Insight advisor was an invaluable asset. He helped me navigate the course catalog and set out a general plan for my four years here. I was left feeling comfortable and confident."

The Insight Program has already had a positive impact on WPI students. In fact, in the 2002 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) Report, WPI had the best performance in the area of student-faculty interactions for first-year students compared to all of the other doctoral-intensive institutions in the national benchmark study.

However, first-year advising at WPI is much more about mentoring students and much less about course scheduling, according to Lance E. Schachterle, WPI associate provost of academic affairs. "The goal of the Insight Program is to assist freshmen in developing strong academic and social connections within the campus community."

This is done through activities like regularly scheduled meetings with the faculty advisors and the student staff in the residence halls, personal development workshops, special events, residential community building programs and community service events.

The program reaches every new freshman at WPI, with similar groups and activities dedicated to first-year students who live off campus.

WPI's model is a major change from the typical advising experience for college freshmen in the U.S., where it is usually just an academic planning process. Students at most other colleges might be lucky to spend 15 minutes with a faculty advisor.

"Last year was the first year that we officially adopted the Insight Program, and its immediate and extremely positive impact on first-year students as evidenced by the NSSE results has far exceeded our expectations," adds Schachterle. "What initially started as a pilot program has grown into one of the university's most successful recent initiatives to better integrate first-year students into the WPI community."

The Insight Program began as a three-year pilot program in the 1999-2000 academic year, as a component of a study to improve the freshman year at WPI entitled "Curricula, Careers, Culture: Three Interventions in the First-Year Experience," funded by the Davis Education Foundation. That year, 37 students, or two groups, were randomly chosen to be in the program.

The program quickly grew in the second year when 108 students divided into four groups participated, and in its third year when every freshman participated, including commuter students, with 700 students divided into 29 groups. At the end of the successful pilot program, WPI officially adopted the Insight Program beginning in the 2002-2003 academic year (with the freshman class of 2006).

About Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1865, WPI is a pioneer in technological higher education. WPI was the first university to understand that students learn best when they have the opportunity to apply the knowledge they gain in the classroom to the solution of important problems. Today its students, working in teams at more than 20 project centers around the globe, put their knowledge and skills to work as they complete professional-level work that can have an immediate positive impact on society.

WPI's innovative, globally focused curriculum has been recognized by leaders in industry, government and academia as the model for the technological education of tomorrow. Students emerge from this program as true technological humanists, well rounded, with the confidence, the interpersonal skills and the commitment to innovation they need to make a real difference in their professional and personal lives.

The university awarded its first advanced degree in 1898. Today, its first-rate research laboratories support master's and Ph.D. programs in more than 30 disciplines in engineering, science and the management of technology. Located in the heart of the region's biotechnology and high-technology sectors, WPI has built research programs-including the largest industry/university alliance in North America-that have won it worldwide recognition.