WPI is known for the strength of its Global Projects Program, even earning the top spot in the 2017 Princeton Review rankings for study abroad programs. And as part of the Strategic Plan, it will be expanded over the next few years.
This initiative of the plan, known as Global Projects for All, seeks to address major points like increasing the number of venues in the program and increasing financial scholarship assistance to all students, while making inroads into new project center locations. Implementation leads for Global Projects for All— Anne Ogilvie, executive director of the Global Projects Program; David DiBiasio, associate professor of chemical engineering; and Kent Rissmiller, dean ad interim, Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division, and director of the Washington, D.C., Project Center—are also piloting and evaluating a comprehensive feedback process and working with faculty to define and measure impacts of WPI’s global projects on students, faculty advisors, and the organizations and communities that partner with WPI.
“The ultimate goal is to have greater than 90 percent of our students participate in at least one off-campus project,” says Ogilvie. “We are expanding our high-impact undergraduate education opportunities.” That's a significant boost over the approximately 70 percent who participate now. Each year brings a greater number of applicants, so keeping up with space demands is urgent.
The Global Projects Program enables students to complete any of the projects required for graduation at one of WPI’s project centers located in the U.S. or overseas, including the Humanities & Arts requirement (HUA), Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP), and Major Qualifying Project (MQP). Students prepare extensively before going away, and part of the initiative involves further developing opportunities for students to reflect on the experience when they return to WPI.
The program continues to evolve according to student interest, says Rissmiller, so it's currently in a big upswing. Students know the Global Projects Program is a unique study abroad opportunity, unlike typical study abroad programs, and many say it influences their decision to attend WPI. “This is a signature program we can offer to our students,” he says. “With the Strategic Plan, the administration is putting muscle behind it.”
This academic year 100 new seats opened in the program which required roughly eight additional faculty advisors, says Ogilvie. With more than 40 project centers in 25 countries and with locations as close as Worcester and Bar Harbor, Maine, and as far away as Cape Town, Bangkok, and Moscow, students can apply for many domestic or international experiences.
Expanding the program is happening through the development of new sites and through increasing the number of terms that programs are offered at existing centers. For instance, the Copenhagen Project Center run in D-Term each year will also be active in A-Term. This builds on the relationships and systems already in place.
Part of the strategic plan addresses the financial cost of participation. Students pay their WPI tuition and housing while participating in an off-campus project. They are also responsible for travel costs, living costs, and housing at their project center location. The cost, which ranges from no cost to $7,945 per term, can be prohibitive to some students. The average cost of participating is $4,750.
“We think cost is the most significant barrier, and we‘ve been very intentional about making sure that we balance our expansion and provide a range of options for low- and no-cost as well as higher-priced centers,” Ogilvie says. To give students more opportunities, WPI has also increased the number of global scholarships to include all students.
Next year WPI plans to pilot a selective housing process in which students going away for a term live in flexible housing (they won't have to pay for campus housing when they are away, but they won't get to choose their roommates). Students may research costs to find the right choice for their individual situation—50 percent of the program is accessible for under $5,300 (in addition to tuition and on-campus housing) at multiple sites with low- to no-cost participation.
“The ultimate goal is to have greater than 90 percent of our students participate in at least one off-campus project. We are expanding our high-impact undergraduate education opportunities.” -Anne Ogilvie
The program is an excellent opportunity for faculty—many say the program factored into their decisions to come to WPI, says Rissmiller. For the IQP and HUA programs, faculty travel with students to each location and stay for the 7-week term. They advise the students individually and as a group, develop and nurture relationships with local partners and the local community, and often conduct some of their own research.
Faculty, students, and alumni all say the Global Projects Program is a meaningful and impactful education experience. Whether the work was done in Worcester, Mass., or in Worcester, UK, the connections made between their work and the larger world are impressive, says Ogilvie. In addition to engaging with communities to solve problems, many say the projects opened new doors for them.
The developing feedback process builds on one already in place, but expands on gathering information about the health, safety, security, and the student experience. Other information will be gathered with a new Project System through which WPI will collect and analyze the global impact of these programs. This library-type database will store information about the projects themselves and the project results, says Ogilvie, making information about the projects and their impacts on the students, faculty, and the project partners more accessible.
The Project System will help WPI collect and examine the extended impacts on communities where the program operates and the academic community, which has the opportunity to enhance not only the immediate experience of participants and advisors but to fuel longer-term research. The university will begin to track if there were things learned on a project that can inform academic work in the same field, says Ogilvie.
Knowing they are doing work that benefits an entire community is beneficial for faculty and students, but also for the university, says Rissmiller. “The whole program enhances WPI's global profile in a way no other program can do.”
- By Julia Quinn-Szcesuil