WPI Announces Launch of National Professional Science Master's Association with a Grant from Sloan Foundation

The Organization Will Represent Over 100 Professional Science Master's Degree Programs at More than 50 Universities across the Nation
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October 15, 2007

The Alfred P Sloan Foundation has awarded a $500,000 grant to a group of universities led by WPI to inaugurate the National Professional Science Master's Association, which will promote and support professional master's degree programs at universities across the nation. Bogdan Vernescu, professor and head of WPI’s Mathematical Sciences Department, will serve as the association's first president.

WORCESTER, Mass. – The Alfred P Sloan Foundation has awarded a $500,000 grant to a group of universities led by Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) to inaugurate the National Professional Science Master's Association (NPSMA). The association will promote and support professional master's degree programs at universities across the nation and encourage the continued expansion of such programs, which are designed for students in the sciences who plan to work in professional positions in industry, rather than in academia.

Bogdan Vernescu, professor and head of WPI’s Mathematical Sciences Department, is the principal investigator for the grant and will serve as the first president of the association.

More than 100 professional science master's (PSM) degree programs have been established at over 50 universities since 1997 with support from the Sloan Foundation (WPI's PSM programs in financial and industrial mathematics were launched in 2000). These are typically two-year programs that emphasis coursework, but that also require a collaborative research project and an internship in a business or the public sector. The programs combine rigorous graduate study in science or mathematics with the development of business skills (including written and verbal communication, leadership, and team-building) to prepare graduates who feel as comfortable in the board room or other professional setting as they do in the lab.

The impetus for NPSMA came from 75 PSM program directors, who voted in October 2005 to form an organization to provide a collective voice for programs nationwide and to promote the PSM as a standard feature of graduate program offerings. Starting in July 2006, with support from the Sloan Foundation, a steering committee of 10 program directors and coordinators, including Vernescu, developed plans and a structure for the new organization and put together the successful proposal for the two-year Sloan grant. The award will fund the activities of NPSMA, including an annual meeting for members, for two years, after which dues from a growing list of member institutions will make the organization self supporting.

"NPSMA will play a significant role in promoting excellence among professional master's programs by serving as a forum for exchanging new ideas and best practices," Vernescu says. "In addition, the organization will actively seek to expand the number and range of professional master's programs by engaging in discussions with key individuals at universities that don't yet host them. We also plan to work with our partners, including the Council of Graduate Schools, the Council on Competitiveness, and the National Research Council, and with employers, government officials, and alumni of PSM programs, to continually improve the workforce preparation of and employment opportunities for graduates, and to continue to build the value and recognition of these new degrees."

Vernescu also noted that the $43 billion America COMPETES [Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science] Act, recently passed by Congress, will assist the new organization in fulfilling its mission by providing support for students in PSM programs as one way to stimulate research and economic development.

"In today’s knowledge economy, professional science masters degree programs have a critical role to play in keeping America competitive by creating linkages between institutions and industry to prepare scientists with the practical training they need to work in high-need fields,” said U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who supported the COMPETES Act as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. “WPI is at the forefront of preparing scientists for these growing technical fields, such as the life sciences, and I commend them for their leadership in building a community to support the expansion and excellence of PSM programs.”

WPI president Dennis Berkey was one of more than 10 university officials and executives from corporations, including IBM, Pfizer, and Steelcase, who wrote to the Sloan Foundation in support of the grant application. "Rethinking the master's degree as a terminal degree and designing it to provide students with the skills needed to make them successful in jobs outside academia is an effort we wholeheartedly support," Berkey wrote. "The job market needs specialists with strong quantitative, modeling, and scientific skills, and universities need to understand how to better prepare them."