2009-2010

The WPI Plan: 40 Years of Innovation and Counting

On May 29, 1970, the WPI faculty approved a revolutionary new approach to education. Still a model of innovation, the Plan is even more relevant now than the day it was launched.

Four decades ago, on May 29, 1970, the WPI faculty approved a revolutionary new approach to undergraduate education

The WPI Plan, the Institute's groundbreaking project-based curriculum, has been the ever-evolving cornerstone of WPI's approach to teaching and learning for 40 years now, making it among the most successful of the many educational experiments born in the late 1960s. Since its birth, it has been refined, sharpened, and expanded in creative ways that have only enhanced the spirit of innovation that gave it life originally, and making it even more relevant today than the day it was launched. Its endurance is a tribute to both the brilliance of its core vision and the remarkable group of faculty and administrators who crafted that vision and put its theory into practice.

But it can be difficult to pinpoint just when something as big as the Plan really began. Did it start with the young faculty members who began gathering in the late 1950s to share their ideas for revitalizing teaching at WPI? Can its genesis be traced to the 10-year plan that President Harry Storke developed in 1963, hoping it would help WPI transform its traditional, rigid curriculum into "the kind of education needed for tomorrow's world?" Or was it Storke's decision in the spring of 1968 to appoint a faculty planning committee to prepare "a comprehensive proposal of feasible educational directions the Institute should take?"

However it started, the story of the WPI Plan reached a momentous turning point 40 years ago, on May 29, 1970. After two years of nearly weekly meetings, exhaustive research, endless discussion, four major reports, and hours and hours of enlightened debate with all corners of the WPI community, the faculty committee brought its final proposal to a meeting of the faculty for one all-encompassing, up-or-down vote.

"While their reading of the faculty told them that the odds were in their favor," noted the WPI Journal in 1996, reporting on the Plan's 25th anniversary, "the tension was still high as the faculty filled out their written ballots. When the counting was done, Professor James Hensel, the secretary of the faculty, announced the tally: 92 in favor, 46 opposed and 3 abstaining. After the vote, the victors retired to Putnam and Thurston's restaurant for a real blow-out, a celebration party few will ever forget."

Read More about the Origins of the WPI Plan

Read the Original Reports of the Faculty Planning Committee

  • A Planning Program for Worcester Polytechnic Institute: The Future of Two Towers - Part One
  • A Planning Program for Worcester Polytechnic Institute: The Future of Two Towers - Part Two
  • A Planning Program for Worcester Polytechnic Institute: The Future of Two Towers - Part Three: A Model
  • A Planning Program for Worcester Polytechnic Institute: The Future of Two Towers - Part Four: A Plan

Learn More about the WPI Plan Today

June 11, 2010

 
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