WPI Plans for Fall Opening

DEPARTMENT(S): 
July 1, 2020

I am so looking forward to welcoming you back to our beautiful campus. And as of today, that’s where we are headed. 

Following the unanimous recommendation of our Coronavirus Emergency Response Team (CERT), supported by the Board of Trustees, I am pleased to announce that WPI is moving forward to bring our community back to campus for the new academic year. Continuing a slow, deliberate, and careful reopening process that began in late May, we will phase more researchers and staff back to campus over the next several weeks and welcome more faculty and students back in August prior to the beginning of classes on August 31.  

The intense effort leading to this decision and the work needed to sustain a reopened campus requires that we mindfully embrace our guiding principles to (1) support the health, safety, and well-being of our community, (2) advance the education and career goals of our students, and (3) enable our educators, researchers, and innovators to do the kind of work that our world needs now more than ever. 

To be clear, the stakes are high. Operating our campus in the era of COVID-19 is perhaps the greatest challenge WPI has ever faced. But we are WPI. We are a community of problem solvers. Driven by science, we have engaged people from across the campus and beyond to engineer a comprehensive plan that adapts our academics, research, projects, work life, residential life, dining, clubs and activities, athletics, and events such that we are able to reopen our campus in a safety-focused, socially distanced manner.  

To succeed, each of us has a critical role to play. As I’ve shared many times, things will be different at WPI this year. We will all need to make adjustments. It may not always be easy, but based on our extensive planning and preparation, I am confident that we can create a meaningful campus experience that respects the need for serious safety protocols. Here are some highlights:

Academics built for flexibility through TechFlex: The academic experience will be shaped by what we’re calling TechFlex, a highly flexible approach to teaching and learning, something that was already in our DNA at WPI. For undergraduate students, TechFlex emphasizes de-densified in-person education, especially for labs, projects, and discussion sections, and offers students the choice to engage remotely for one class, for many, or for all—for any reason. We are working on rebuilding the fall course schedule with health and safety as our priority. Every effort will be made to limit the impact on individual student schedules—however, some of the changes may create conflicts. As we always do, we will work personally with students and advisors to help students enroll in the courses they need. For graduate students, we expect the majority of courses to be offered fully remotely, with on-campus time for labs, discussion sections, and research. 

By July 26, we will need to know from our students their intentions for taking classes on campus or remotely (or some of each) as offered through TechFlex. Please consider your options, and then take our student survey here.

Global Project Center Travel: While we will be welcoming students back to campus, the global situation remains challenging. This has led us to a difficult decision. In alignment with nearly all institutions of higher education, there will be no project center travel for A- and B-Terms.  For our community, I know that the reality of not being able to travel to off-campus project centers this fall may be heartbreaking. WPI’s immersive project experiences are highly valued, which is why I am so grateful (but not surprised) that our project center directors, advisors, and sponsors worked so hard last spring and are doing the same now. Their collective goal: to make it possible for the majority of projects to continue with team members working with their project sponsors collaboratively from campus or from their respective homes. 

A multi-faced approach to campus health and safety: Integrated health and safety plans include training and testing for all on-campus students, faculty, and staff; use of face coverings, cleaning, and hygiene enhancements; firm visitor and travel policies; new rules for gatherings—clubs, organizations, athletics and recreation programs, and other events; and de-densified buildings, including residence halls, classrooms, labs, and offices. Each of us—students, faculty, and staff—will complete training and sign an acknowledgement that we will abide by safety protocols to protect our community. Specific to our students, we have quarantine and isolation procedures, we are preparing for plentiful programming,  and a modified, phased move-in process will begin for residential students on August 23. First-year students will receive their housing assignments on or about August 6. 

Tailored plans for athletics, clubs, and events are actively being worked. I know you are eager for details, but we do not yet have all the answers. For varsity athletics, for example, we are working with our league (NEWMAC), and with the NCAA on guidelines for practice and competition that could enable a modified fall athletics experience, but we are just not there yet. As we know more in the coming weeks, about these and many other topics, we will share the latest information with you.

Appropriate flexibility for faculty and staff is built in: Our dedicated faculty and staff are here to serve our community of students and each other. We will work with all our employees on prioritizing health and safety while advancing WPI’s educational mission. Our plans include the ability to continue working from home for those who can do their work effectively while remote, flexibility for those with childcare challenges, and accommodation for those with high risk factors.

I know you will have many questions about your specific situation. To address them, please start by visiting our extensive reopening website, We Are WPI, to learn more about our plans for fall, including clear statements about what we know now, and what is still being worked out. On the site, you will find details on calendars, plans, and policies relevant to reopening—a one-stop shop for information. Check back regularly over the summer and throughout the academic year for updates. Those with specific needs not addressed on the website should reach out to WeAreWPI@wpi.edu. Please note that I have insisted that our entire campus team take some well-earned downtime over the long holiday weekend, so we will not be responding to questions in the next few days. Our team will be here for you again starting July 6. Thanks for your understanding and support.

This work has not been easy—and the work continues: Bringing together a community in the midst of a pandemic requires careful planning and orchestration. I am incredibly impressed with and grateful for the dedication and creative thinking of our CERT planning team. We have worked diligently so that we are as ready as we can be. 

We must also recognize that things could change between now and late August. So we will also be ready to adjust based upon factors both within and beyond our control. This includes shifting state and city guidelines, trending public health measures, testing protocols and results, our ability to procure adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies, and—critically important—whether we, as a community, are able to work together to keep the campus open while working to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. We will re-affirm our decision at the beginning of August, and again in mid-August, and be in communication with you all along the way.  

I know this is lot to process during what is already a difficult time for our planet, our country, and for many in our community. I also know that the only way through this moment is together. We must approach this grandest of challenges with humility and compassion as we turn meticulous theory into good practice. Navigating this fall will require diligence and patience and kindness. It will also require dedication and commitment, resilience, and compliance. It has been my experience that the WPI family holds these attributes in abundance, and I have great confidence that this community can embrace this moment and succeed. 

We are about to embark on a remarkable real-world project together. Thank you for all of your continued support and dedication. It is greatly, greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Laurie