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Math Researchers Visit WPI Campus to Learn About University's Top-rated Calculus Program

WPI is the only Northeast research institute recognized in NSF-funded study of successful calculus programs

September 27, 2012

A team of mathematics researchers representing the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) is on campus this week to interview members of Worcester Polytechnic Institute's (WPI) Mathematical Sciences Department and the student body to gain insights into the university's top-rated calculus program.

Chris Rasmussen, a mathematics professor at San Diego State University, leads a team that is interviewing administrators, instructors, and students, as well as observing Calculus I classes.

The visit comes nearly six months after the Mathematical Association of America identified WPI as one of the top 17 colleges and universities nationally, from among more than 200 schools surveyed, as having "particularly successful" Calculus I programs.

Initiated in 2010, the MAA survey was the first phase of a National Science Foundation study titled "Characteristics of Successful Programs in College Calculus." More than 200 colleges and universities participated, representing 660 calculus instructors, nearly 900 calculus classes, and more than 34,000 students.
"The survey shows that WPI appears to be doing something very right as far as having a very successful calculus program that has allowed students to continue on to gain degrees in engineering and science," said David M. Bressoud, former president of the MAA who is the DeWitt Wallace Professor of Mathematics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.

Of the 17 colleges on the list, Bressoud noted that WPI is the only Northeast research institute represented in the study. In total, there are five research universities in the study along with four public comprehensive universities, four undergraduate universities, and four community colleges.

Bogdan Vernescu, professor and head of WPI's Mathematical Sciences Department, believes that WPI's Calculus program has been successful due to carefully placing students in the Calculus sequence, maintaining a cohort experience in subsequent courses, limiting the number of students in conference classes, and providing adequate support outside of class.

"We are pleased to be recognized by the MAA for having such a well-regarded calculus program," said Vernescu, "and we are eager to welcome the researchers to campus to see firsthand what makes WPI a special learning environment."