President Laurie Leshin

Conversation with President Laurie Leshin

March 26, 2017
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With the launch of the newest project center—in Israel—President Leshin spoke with interim associate dean of Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Kent Rissmiller about WPI’s Global Projects for All strategic initiative. Last year the university sent more than 900 students and faculty to off-campus project centers in 26 countries. Counting MQP centers, WPI is now present in 46 countries. In January six students began studies at the Israel Project Center, which operates from hubs in Be’er Sheva and Eilat.

Here are highlights of their conversation.

LL First of all, I want to thank you for stepping up to become the interim dean of the IGSD, which is such an important part of our students’ education. Under our Global Projects for All, we’re building on a really great foundation, and working to get many more of our students the opportunity to do a project off campus.

KR I’m really proud to be a part of an organization like this, especially one ranked the #1 study abroad program in the country [by the Princeton Review]. We’ve been expanding the program for the last 8 or 9 years, and at the heart of our plan is to really understand what a transformative experience this is for the students, and the opportunities they have to really engage in the meaningful teamwork and authentic projects we sponsor around the globe. To provide that opportunity for all WPI students is a great goal for us, and a real challenge. We’re expanding into more countries, and in the next year we’ll be running enhanced programs in Switzerland and in Panama—and growing the programs in Greece and Israel, as well.

LL A student sent me a selfie from Tel Aviv just this morning. I was in Israel with ]Massachusetts] Governor Charlie Baker last month, and it was really exciting for WPI to be featured on one of those days, announcing our new project center.

KR Israel is an exciting place and has this reputation of a start-up nation, with cutting-edge technology and new companies emerging all the time. We have some students working in cybersecurity firms and others cooperating on transboundary environmental problems that are part of that world. One of the things that sets WPI's program apart is that our students are working with students from the host country—providing cross-cultural skills and experience that draws students to our program. One of the prime movers for the Israel site was mechanical engineering professor Isa Bar-On. This program in particular provides opportunities for both IQP and MQP students, so you might even see repeat players.

LL Do you see that sort of blended project opportunities at individual centers becoming more prevalent as we expand?

KR It seems like there are some trends in that direction, especially when you see what’s happening in places like Switzerland and even Washington, D.C.

LL I think these are going to be fantastic experiences for them. Israel is just one of the places we're expanding to, as we take seriously the idea of global projects for all­—to get our students prepared for the global future they face.