September 27, 2010

Descendants of Charles Hill Morgan have made a $2.1 million gift to endow Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s (WPI) center that supports excellence in teaching, hereafter to be known as the Morgan Center for Teaching and Learning.

Morgan-Worcester Inc., the philanthropic foundation of Morgan Construction Company, the heirs of the company’s founder, Charles Hill Morgan, and the Beagary Charitable Trust made the gift, resulting in the renaming of WPI’s Center for Educational Development and Assessment for the Morgan family. The center promotes excellence in teaching at WPI, enhances teaching effectiveness at all levels, supports new teaching innovations, and assesses student learning outcomes to guide improvements in teaching practice and the curriculum.

"WPI has a well-deserved reputation for excellence in undergraduate teaching, due in large part to the dedication and innovative spirit of its faculty and the many opportunities our project-based curriculum provides for close interaction between faculty and students," said WPI President Dennis Berkey. "This gift, from a family whose loyalty and generosity are woven into the fabric of the Institute’s history, will give us the ability to reach even higher levels of quality, effectiveness, and academic excellence."

Rapid advances in engineering, science, and technology have placed greater demands on professors who are preparing the next generation of engineers, scientists, and industry leaders. The Morgan Center will play a critical role in ensuring that WPI professors can meet these challenges. For example, the Morgan Center will award seed grants for new initiatives that hold the promise of significantly improving teaching and student learning. In a recent project, the center collaborated with WPI’s Academic Technology Center to support the university’s Connected Laboratory, in which multimedia technology enables faculty to maximize learning outcomes for students conducting experiments in biology labs. The pilot program paved the way for a $270,000 grant from the Maine-based Davis Educational Foundation to expand the project and develop a library of digital laboratory resources for students.

Initiatives like the Connected Laboratory build on WPI’s reputation for high-quality instruction and close student-faculty interactions, as reflected in a number of national assessments. In the 2007 EBI (Educational Benchmarking Inc.) survey of graduating seniors in engineering, WPI placed first in its peer group for quality of instruction and interaction in major courses. The high caliber of student-faculty interaction at WPI also has received consistently strong ratings in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). And since 2003, three WPI faculty members have been honored as Professor of the Year for Massachusetts by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

"This extraordinary gift recognizes the success we have achieved, the value that WPI places on high-quality teaching, and the importance it attaches to student learning," said Chrysanthe Demetry, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Morgan Center. "By endowing the center, the Morgan family has secured the future of important programs that serve our community of teachers and learners and that will extend WPI’s long tradition of fostering educational excellence."

"WPI’s unique project-based approach to teaching and learning and its long history of innovation were born in the marriage of theory taught in the classroom with the practice students gained in the shops that my great-grandfather built and led," said Paul S. Morgan. "It is gratifying to be able to endow this center and to assure that it will have the means to keep this heritage of forward-looking, student-centered education alive for generations to come."

Morgan Construction Company, which was purchased by Siemens VAI in 2008, was founded by Charles Hill Morgan in 1888. Employed by WPI founder Ichabod Washburn as general superintendent, Morgan supervised the construction of the Washburn Shops, one of the Institute’s first two buildings. The shops were a manufacturing plant where students learned the practice of manufacturing engineering tools. This attention to both Lehr und Kunst—theory and practice—remains a cornerstone of a WPI education today. Morgan was appointed a WPI trustee in 1865 and served until his death in 1911.

Since then, five generations of Morgans have served on the WPI Board of Trustees, and Paul S. Morgan was appointed to chair the board. Philip R. Morgan currently serves as a WPI trustee. The Morgan family has also been one of WPI’s most generous benefactors. The Morgans have made possible the Morgan-Worcester Distinguished Instructorship (for mechanical engineering faculty), scholarships, and a number of major capital projects, including Morgan Hall residence and the renovation of the Washburn Shops.