August 26, 2009

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Alden Trust's $11.5 Million Gift Takes WPI's Undergraduate Life Sciences and Bioengineering Facilities to New Level

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) officially opened the George I. Alden Life Sciences and Bioengineering Educational Center following an $11.5 million renovation made possible by a major gift from the George I. Alden Trust, WPI's most generous donor. The gift supports WPI’s goal of raising its undergraduate life sciences education to a world-class level and has enabled the university to transform a dated building into a dynamic, well-equipped learning center that promotes cross-disciplinary teaching.  The Alden Center is designed to accommodate growing interest in the life sciences and related engineering programs at WPI -- enrollment in these fields has increased by 86 percent over the past four years -- and to prepare students for success in the rapidly expanding life sciences sector.

“With its world-class instructional and laboratory facilities, the Alden Center supports WPI’s vital mission of preparing well-educated, innovative, and broad-thinking graduates,” said WPI President and CEO Dennis D. Berkey. “During his time at WPI, George Alden helped shape leaders for the Industrial Revolution. Fittingly, the new Alden Center will prepare a new generation of students for leadership in the life sciences revolution. This new center provides an ideal environment for our innovative and engaging project-based approach to education, which instills a spirit of cooperation that is critical for our students' future success. We are deeply grateful to the George I. Alden Trust for making this exciting new center possible and for continuing to carry on George Alden's legacy of support for and partnership with this university."

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George Alden taught mechanical engineering at WPI for 28 years in the late 1800s and was one of the pioneers behind WPI's groundbreaking approach to learning, which combines theory and practice. Alden was an innovator whose abilities carried him beyond the WPI campus and into industry. He remained committed to WPI and its vision throughout his life and with more than $19 million in overall contributions over the past 96 years, the trust he established to carry on his philanthropy has been WPI's most committed supporter.

“WPI is making tremendous strides in the life sciences and the Alden Trust is proud to help the university take its undergraduate offerings to a new level,” said Susan B. Woodbury, chair of the George I. Alden Trust. “It is heartening to know that George Alden's guiding principle of ‘theory in practice’ is still as relevant today as it was almost 150 years ago. WPI has embraced this ideal and has created an inspiring educational approach that produces students who make a real and positive impact upon the world. The Alden Trust is proud to support such a fine institution.”

Located in Goddard Hall, the 21,300-square-foot Alden Center features four floors of open, technology-rich spaces. By bringing together four departments into a single location, the facility promotes cooperation and collaboration across disciplines. Specifically, the Alden Center houses undergraduate teaching laboratories for biology, biotechnology, biomedical engineering, chemistry, biochemistry, and chemical engineering. The center also features shared computer space, a classroom, instrumentation, and a variety of areas for project meetings and informal interactions among students and faculty. All of its labs include screens and projectors that allow professors to work with students more effectively through the revolutionary "Connected Lab" technology that was developed at WPI through a grant from the Davis Educational Foundation.

"Unlike students at larger universities, undergraduates at WPI work directly with faculty and have the opportunity to build teamwork skills through small group projects," said Jill Rulfs, associate head of WPI's Department of Biology and Biotechnology. "We have designed this learning facility to maximize the potential of WPI's hands-on approach to teaching, cross-training among the disciplines, and the teamwork that is an integral element of project-based learning. The greatest benefit of this comprehensive approach is that WPI students emerge into the workforce well prepared for leadership."

The addition of the Alden Center builds even more momentum in WPI's already impressive life sciences program. Over the past five years, the university has made significant investments in bringing outstanding faculty into the program, and has ensured that students, professors, and researchers have access to the most up-to-date technology and lab space. WPI has invested close to $100 million in life sciences education and research, most notably via the WPI Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center at Gateway Park (LSBC), which opened in 2007. Not only does the LSBC serve as the school’s focal point for graduate education and research in the life sciences and related bioengineering fields, but it is a catalyst for the development of Central Massachusetts’ biotech and life science industries. Complementing the LSBC’s graduate focus, the Alden Center will sustain WPI’s undergraduate life sciences programs for decades to come.

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"Because of the Alden Center, WPI students majoring in life sciences and bioengineering have the opportunity to learn and work in state-of-the-future facilities from the first day of their undergraduate classes through their Ph.D.s," said Eric W. Overstrom, director of the LBSC and head of the Department of Biology and Biotechnology. "WPI students are extremely intelligent problem-solvers. These students are preparing to make a profound impact on the quality of life around the world. WPI is committed to educating them in a manner that prepares them to use their knowledge to solve some of society's biggest problems."

Environmental sustainability is taken as seriously as science at the Alden Center. Organic paints and recycled tiles, benches, and flooring were used throughout the building. The labs and classrooms come equipped with energy-efficient windows, energy-saving fluorescent lamps, and intelligent controls that turn off lights when rooms are empty. Additional energy efficient features include a system that recovers and recirculates heat from exhaust air and computer controls that adjust the heating and cooling to maintain comfort while minimizing energy use. The center's bathrooms feature countertops made from recycled milk bottles, low-flow sensor faucets, and dual-flush toilets that conserve water. The men's rooms have waterless urinals that save a minimum of one gallon of water per use. In conjunction with WPI's campus-wide recycling efforts, recycling stations for paper, cardboard, glass, plastic and metals are positioned throughout the building.

The building complements WPI’s other “green” developments and embodies WPI's mission to be sustainable; in 2007, WPI's Board of Trustees endorsed a policy calling for all future buildings on campus to be environmentally friendly and designed to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.  In July 2009, WPI's newest residence hall, East Hall, was awarded LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, a national organization that certifies buildings that are green and sustainable, and protect the environment. Bartlett Center, the university's admissions and financial aid building that opened in 2006, was the first building in Worcester to attain the distinctive LEED certification.

  • Please see this video for more information about the Alden Center.

Coverage of the Alden Center dedication appeared in the following newspapers:

About George I. Alden and the Alden Trust

George I. Alden was an industrialist and an educator who taught mechanical engineering at WPI for 28 years. As pioneer members of the WPI faculty, Alden and his colleague Milton Higgins achieved national recognition in the 1880s and 1890s for their skillful and compelling espousal of an engineering education that combined practice with theory. Alden and Higgins were early examples of creative academic innovators whose energies took them beyond the campus into the competitive world of industry. In 1885 they joined with several Worcester businessmen in establishing the Norton Emery Wheel Company. Upon his retirement from industry and teaching, Alden wanted to help young people become effective contributors to society through education. Thus he became a trustee of WPI, a trustee of the newly formed Worcester Boys Trade School, and a leading member of the Worcester School Committee. He established the George I. Alden Trust on August 24, 1912, for the general purpose of "the maintenance of some charitable or philanthropic enterprises," with particular expressed interest in "the promotion of education in schools, colleges, or other educational institutions," including WPI and two other named organizations. With more than $19 million in overall contributions, the Alden Trust has been the most stalwart supporter of improvements to WPI’s physical plant, as well as the university’s most generous benefactor.

About Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1865 in Worcester, Mass., WPI was one of the nation's first engineering and technology universities. WPI's14 academic departments offer more than 50 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science, engineering, technology, management, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts, leading to bachelor’s, master’s and PhD degrees. WPI's world-class faculty work with students in a number of cutting-edge research areas, leading to breakthroughs and innovations in such fields as biotechnology, fuel cells, and information security, materials processing, and nanotechnology. Students also have the opportunity to make a difference to communities and organizations around the world through the university's innovative Global Projects Program. There are 25 WPI project centers throughout North America and Central America, Africa, Australia, Asia, and Europe.