March 04, 2014

With the establishment of the WPI Alumni Gym — waaaay back in 1916 — it’s time to bring the facility into the present and position it in a way to launch the school’s future. Specifically, its future in innovation efforts. And the fundraising component of the project — appropriately — is all about using modern, technological crowd-funding methods to turn the space into an innovation hub on campus.

Kevin Monahan ’05, a founder of Alumni Fund and a seasoned software engineer, helped set up the online platform for giving, according to Peter Thomas, executive director of WPI Alumni Relations and Annual Giving.

And where the original Alumni Gym project was the first such fundraising effort at WPI overall, the innovation center push is the first such online crowd-funding effort on campus. And it’s allowed fundraising to be a platform for friendly competition among school groups, with personalized giving allowing donors to target how their money is spent.


Thomas says Alumni Gym and the Sports and Recreation Center essentially serve the same function. Paired with a lack of needed innovation space, it led the school to consider the gym facility.

“Tech suites are in very, very high demand,” Thomas said. “Students need them for prep work on their IQPs, researching, and getting ready for projects … so this [space] fits in very well.”

Plans include turning the facility’s swimming pool into a robotics area, he says, utilizing Level 2 for Great Problem Seminars. There will be a 64-seat seminar room and 30-seat seminar room, with larger freshman classes working on topics that serve as their introduction to project-based learning.


After a soft launch, outreach to faculty and staff, and then to the general public, efforts are under way to raise the 12 to 15 million dollars needed for the renovation, Thomas says. He is hesitant to give an exact dollar amount, less focused on how much each donor gives and more focused on how many donors step up to the plate.

It’s more about getting everyone to play, he says, calling it a “democratic way of fundraising” and a great way for the staff and faculty to have a permanent recognition “showing how much we care about our students.”

Anyone can log in and see who’s got bragging rights, in real time

WPI has designed the fundraising appeal in a fun way to promote more donors, no matter how much they decide to contribute. Thomas hopes for friendly competition. There are various levels that earn recognition in the facility’s Atrium: For an individual, it’s $500 or more; Affinity recognition involves raising $10,000 or more. Thomas says that category is tailored for Greek organizations, sports teams, or campus clubs. The Class Year recognition is for classes that contribute $10,000—or have more than 30 percent class participation. Affinity and Class Year recognition must be a donation of $25 or more.

And donors can pick what area they want their money to go toward, Thomas says, with six major center hubs: Innovation Studio at Alumni Gym; Inspiration & Invention Exchange; Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship; Robotics; Atrium; and technology for the building.

Jon Bartelson, associate chief information officer and a WPI alumni, helped get the online system up and running over five months. He volunteers on a committee representing faculty and staff, trying to encourage Alumni Gym contributions.

“The idea was to generate buzz,” Bartelson says of the website, its categories, and its method, “to convey a sense of urgency and make it clear that any level [of giving] would be helpful. We want it to be as seamless as possible.”

In the meantime, anyone can log in and see who’s got bragging rights, in real time. On Feb. 28, for example, the Class of 2012 was in the lead for most donors. Phi Kappa Theta was ahead for most participants in the Greek organization category. And WPI faculty and staff were way ahead for most contributors compared with groups like Pep Band and Student Government, for example.

To see how the fundraising effort’s progressing right now, log in at


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