Business School Strategic Initiative #3


The Business School

At the WPI Business School, we are excited about our strategic plan and as such want to share an overview of the strategic initiatives that comprise our plan. This month, we will look at Strategic Initiative #3: Becoming a more caring and supportive community.

Strategic Initiative #3 captures who we believe we are – an inviting academic home for learners, faculty, and staff. Being a caring and supportive community enables us to focus on our mission and effectively deliver on it. The mental health crisis at WPI and many other U.S. schools during AY21-22, however, challenged us to do much better.

Meeting this challenge has become more difficult with our increased asynchronous online offerings, more faculty working from home, changes in our student demographics (students doing BS/MS degrees), and more frequent high-enrollment sections (60 or more). These changes have the potential to erode the experiential dimensions of our value proposition and may, if not managed gracefully, work in opposition to our aspirations to build resilient, cohesive bonds with and among learners. 

With this strategic initiative, we are addressing the challenge of becoming a more caring and supportive community for learners, faculty, and staff – despite changes that make it harder to accomplish. We also endeavor to be more engaged with our alumni. 

The first goal of this initiative focuses on social engagement and motivates us to be more welcoming to learners through social activities within and outside of class time. Tactically, at the first week of each semester or term, WBS administrators visit every class for 5-10 minutes to welcome students to the business school, invite them to visit us if they wished to or needed help, and introduce our initiative to build social connections, which learners appreciate. We also allocate $15K-$20K across 60 undergraduate and graduate sections on a per-learner basis to be used for building social connections and helping students and faculty forge closer bonds. Students in each class choose how the allocated funds will be spent. We additionally provide food for one class during the term. These successful initiatives are popular with learners and encourage them to attend class. For a third tactic in this goal, we invited learners to a variety of small social activities not connected to specific classes, including dog petting, bowling, baseball outings, and cookouts in the plaza outside the business school.

A goal that focuses on education, we are developing ways to make our educational activities more engaging and inclusive, especially as we increase our online delivery offerings. This is necessary as domestic learners seek academic programs that are online and delivered asynchronously. While such modalities increase flexibility for the learner, they impact our ability to create meaningful connections and engagement. 

In response, we are monitoring our course sizes and delivery methods, especially in larger-sized sections, to evaluate the quality of the learner experience and engagement. For example, we are considering moving to more synchronous (but optional) activities in our asynchronous online courses. We are partnering with the WPI Career Development Center to create a variety of professional development workshops (not for credit) to address topics such as resume preparation, interviewing, negotiations, and how to prepare for the career fair.

Wanting to improve our ability to detect and intervene with learners who are not engaged and not making sufficient progress, we are developing early detection methods to help learners before they have failed a course. These methods are in conjunction with WPI’s care team that tracks learner difficulties. 

A third goal under this initiative focuses on fostering faculty and staff community, recognizing that our ability to support our students depends on a healthy working environment and a strong community for support. One tactic under this goal is our continuing pre-department meetings, Teaching and Research Exchanges (TREES), which helped maintain community during Covid. These meetings have continued to provide more opportunities for faculty and staff to meet and discuss issues, concerns, and approaches. We have also increased our opportunities for faculty and staff to meet informally without learners, socially and professionally, including retreats and potluck luncheons. 

The fourth and final goal for this initiative is focused on engagement with WBS Alumni. We recognize that our alumni are part of our community and are a great but underutilized resource. We seek to increase engagement with alumni as class speakers, Major Qualifying Project (MQP) sponsors, mentors for students, and through financial support. One tactic is to increase alumni engagement through better tracking. Leveraging our partnership with AstrumU, a predictive analytics toolkit provider and consultancy, we were able to gain updated information on MBA alumni with whom we had lost contact. Finally, we are reaching our alumni through newsletter communications, helping them to remain connected with the events of WBS. In 2021, WBS launched “The Beat” a monthly newsletter delivered through the school year. The newsletter reaches more than 3000 subscribers and has been a means for outreach as well as soliciting volunteers for project presentation day and in-class speakers.