The Dean's Discourse


WPI Today



It is the season of All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day. The days commemorate those souls who have died honoring them for their contributions among us. As WPI celebrates Founders Day on November 11, I find myself considering and honoring John Boynton and Ichabod Washburn. Many of us know the history of the founding of WPI. Boynton sought to educate young men, creating an educated populous for a growing city. Washburn envisioned a school that would apprentice and prepare men for mechanics and similar technical work. Their hopes created a new enterprise founded on theory and practice, which remains the hallmark of the WPI education.

However, what most do not know is that business education was always a part of the founding vision. When the opening day notice of the Worcester Free Institute was posted, it stated that students would be instructed in bookkeeping as part of the theoretical, academic program. Additionally, students would be trained by an experienced practical mechanic to prepare them for mechanical business. Of course, we would recognize these competencies today as accounting and management. It was the blending of theory and practice, of business with engineering and science that captured the vision of WPI’s founders, John Boynton and Ichabod Washburn, for a high-quality, practical education.

In the spirit of that vision, business education continued to expand and grow at WPI. In June 1922, an alumni committee recommended that the Institute introduce business courses. In 1932, a senior concentration in business was implemented with the goal of helping graduates better acclimate to the expectations of modern industry. These advances led to the establishment of the Department of Economics, Government and Business, offering a variety of traditional business courses. In 1949, the School of Industrial Management was created, as a four-year program of evening courses with the main objective of integrating the industrial and academic worlds.

But, as WPI neared its centennial celebration, a letter penned by the founders in 1865 was rediscovered, reminding modern day leaders of their vision to provide instruction “best adapted to train the young for practical life… so that the benefits of the school shall not be confined to the theories of science…” That’s when WPI leaders realized that they had failed to implement a truly holistic course of study beyond that of engineering and science. And in response, WPI leadership endorsed the establishment of a new program in Management Engineering.

In 1976, the Department of Management was established to further grow business education at WPI. The BS in Industrial Engineering was added to our offerings in 1995, earning ABET Engineering accreditation in 1997. In 2003, the department’s programs received accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB): a designation awarded to only 5% of the business schools in the world.

It was the vision of the founders that WPI provide this expansive, inclusive, and holistic education, bringing together all disciplines to prepare leaders for the needs of society. The WPI Business School has always been a part of that vision. We unite theory and practice and business acumen. We integrate STEM disciplines and realize an innovative path that powers societal change even as we develop adaptive leaders. So, happy WPI Founders Day. As we celebrate and honor our founders, let us celebrate the WPI Business School as well, for this is how we live in the vision of John Boynton and Ichabod Washburn.