Herd Revisited - It Takes a (Yurt) Village: Class Gift Will Enhance IQP Experience

Gift of the Class of 2020 will fund yurts at Farm Stay Project Center

When this year’s Senior Class Gift Committee decided to fund a yurt village for the Farm Stay Project Center at Turn Back Time in nearby Paxton, it was with a sense of compassion and excitement for future students who might not otherwise get the chance to enjoy the full Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) experience.

In consideration of the impact that project-based learning has had on their own academic careers, committee members voted to fund the purchase and installation of the yurts, allowing students to stay full-time at Turn Back Time, a 58-acre working farm and nature education center, where WPI operates a project center. The yurts, which will have electricity and WiFi and will be fully furnished, will allow students to stay overnight on the farm. Initial plans include four housing yurts to accommodate up to four students each, and one community yurt with living room, dining room, and work space. The committee hopes to reach its goal of $15,000.

“Many of us know how fortunate we are to go to a school that provides an off-campus experience that fits within our engineering curriculum such as the IQP,” says senior Haley Ornstein, who, with senior Sarah Armstrong, co-chairs the committee. “While the opportunity to actually leave Massachusetts and go to a far-away IQP site is a privilege that many of us on the committee got to experience, we know that not all students at WPI have that ability.” Project-based learning is a main component of the WPI Plan, she says, and an off-campus IQP allows students the opportunity to work as a team in a way they may never have experienced before.

Committee advisor Jessica Musto, Annual Giving associate for the Office of Lifetime Engagement, says, “They knew a lot of students who had previously done their IQP at the farm and wished that they'd had a place to stay overnight for the full experience.”.

Ornstein knows how fulfilling it is to stay immersed, day and night, at one of the university’s project centers. “I went to the Armenia Project Center last year, and the best part about it was being able to live and work in a country outside of the United States, and be immersed in the Armenian culture and focus solely on the project at hand,” she says. “When students have the ability to experience their project site completely, it adds value and a personal relationship to your project.”

Professor Lisa Stoddard, director of the Farm Stay Project Center, became emotional upon receiving word that the committee had selected the Paxton site. “I cried,” she says. “They’re able to increase the opportunities for their peers to have a similar IQP experience.”

The yurt village is scheduled to be operating in spring 2021, with a goal of eventually constructing two additional housing yurts. Committee members were thrilled that they will be able to return to Worcester in a year or so to see the end result of their fundraising.

Ornstein added, “Our committee wants to let future WPI students know just how important the IQP experience is to their WPI curriculum.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with a post-script at the end of the article. It was originally published on Feb. 11, 2020.



The Class of 2020 has raised $33,500 so far for the purchase of two residential yurts and one community yurt with kitchen, living, and dining space. In addition, three IQP teams worked during D-Term 2020 to design features such as an outdoor shower, outdoor kitchen, and predator-proof chicken coop for the yurt village, said Elisabeth Stoddard, director of the Farm Stay Project Center. Construction on the community yurt is under way, and efforts continue to raise additional funds for the project.