Summer Enrollments and Course Offerings Surge

E-Term offers flexibility, access, and opportunity for students to enrich and expand their academic experiences
May 21, 2020

Many undergraduate students watched their summer internships and job opportunities evaporate as the pandemic forced businesses to shut down and people to stay home. But with the lessons learned in D-Term about online course delivery, and with some experience under their belts and a desire to help students fill their summer with academic opportunities, WPI faculty across nearly all departments have expanded existing courses, developed new ones, and thought creatively about how best to help students make the most of E-Term.

As a result, online summer college course offerings at WPI this year show a profusion of new subjects in a range of disciplines, including courses dealing with climate change and COVID-19, and courses to bolster the efforts of those seeking employment or working toward a master’s degree. Enrollment for E-Term has risen among continuing students, and there has been a sharp uptick of newly accepted first-year students.

There are a total of 136 undergraduate courses, with 756 unique students enrolled, totaling more than 1,800 virtual seats being filled, including those taking more than one course. E-Term courses (actually comprising two terms, E1 and E2) begins May 26; graduate courses began May 18.

Dean of Undergraduate Studies Art Heinricher explains that, in addition to responding to changes caused by the pandemic, an ongoing motivation behind E-Term planning has been to simply make summer a part of every student’s academic plan. “There are really six terms in the year, not just four,” he says. “Students now use summer to get ahead and enrich their academic experience, not just as a place to catch up.” 

Debra Boucher, director of Special Programs in Undergraduate Studies, has been leading the effort to expand summer offerings and also improve the student experience from registration to completion.    

Heinricher says that summer has long been a time for experimentation, and that the university has been running online undergraduate courses for several years. The Mathematical Sciences Department, in particular, has used summer as a time to develop high-quality materials that can also be used to support classes during the regular academic year. Engineering faculty who had long taught online graduate programs used their skills to develop online versions of core undergraduate engineering science courses, he points out.

Computer Science is offering upper-level courses that have never been offered in summer. For example, faculty will teach advanced courses on computer graphics and data science and computer networks, with total enrollment over 140 students. 

Humanities has more than doubled its slate of courses, and inquiry seminars and practica, says Humanities and Arts head Kathryn Moncrief. “We have 23 courses and 14 inquiry seminars and practica, and half of those courses are new. Demand for them has been incredible,” she says.

The new courses include Fundamentals of Music Technology; Spanish Film and Media: Cultural Issues; Literature and the Environment: Literary Pandemics; 3-D Modeling; Topics in Global Studies: COVID-19 and Global Systems; Theatre While Social Distancing; and a seminar on Japanese pop culture. “Professors developed courses quickly for D-Term to respond to the pandemic situation,” Moncrief says, which positioned faculty to provide added E-Term opportunities for their students.

Social Science and Policy Studies  also has a slate of courses, including those related to the minor in Global Public Health--Fundamentals of Global Health, and an epidemiology course, says department head Emily Douglas.

“We have traditionally offered two to four classes in the summer, but now we’re preparing 12,” she says. “We’re seeing nice strong enrollments with student interest across the board. There's also more interest in health-related courses—that could be your own health and well-being (courses in mental health or mindfulness) or larger health systems (such as health care policy) from micro to macro.”

In addition to the usual course offerings, Chemistry and Biochemistry has added five new courses, and enrollment has doubled, says department head Arne Gericke.

“What we see is a significant increase in enrollment this summer,” Gericke says, including in some classes where the department typically saw lower enrollment, like upper division classes taken by majors. “Last year we had an enrollment of 74. Right now we have registered 164. Organic Chemistry 1 and 2 is well filled, which is unusual. Other new courses include Molecular Modeling and Organometallic Chemistry.”

The Mathematical Sciences Department will run four classes of freshman-level calculus, as well as 2000- level classes that are in demand. “Many students need them for their major degree requirements, and they can take these courses proactively in summer,” says Professor Marcel Blais. “You can really knock out math requirements in the summer. We’re also running Linear Programming in E2. That’s a fun course and has never been offered in summer before.”

Blais says summer college classes help avoid scheduling problems, and helps those in BS/MS programs finish both degrees within 5 years. “We’ve been teaching for many years online in summer," he says. "Undergraduate Studies has been working with individual Mathematical Sciences professors to create professional online courses. Historically in the summer terms we have both in-person and online versions of each course. This summer all the professors will be concentrating on online teaching.”

Heinricher looks at E-Term as a place to expand a student’s academic experience. “For many students, a double major or a BS/MS program is difficult to manage inside the standard four terms-per-year schedule,” he says.  “Summer adds flexibility, and access and opportunity.”


WPI’s Frontiers High School Program Partners with Undergraduate Studies to Provide Credits for Summer Courses

This summer, WPI’s Frontiers for Credit program for high school students will be done entirely online, and for the first time will offer college credits that can be used when enrolling at WPI or other institutions of higher education. Additionally, students will receive tutoring and other support services during the five-week program.


Frontiers for Credit has more than 30 humanities and STEM courses—asynchronous courses so that students can take them in any time zone.


“We developed a partnership with Undergraduate Studies,” says Suzanne Sontgerath, director of pre-collegiate outreach programs. “We want to bring as many high school students as possible into the program. They will register in E-Term courses and get credits they can use at WPI or other institutions they may go to.”


The Frontiers mission remains the same; students will have the opportunity to explore and learn about disciplines that could be of interest, Sontgerath says. They will receive wraparound services, such as remote tutoring by WPI undergraduate students, homework hangouts for each class, and opportunities to build virtual communities.


All the students will be organized into “herds” with staff, which will be their social group for the five weeks. Each student will meet with their herd each day. A significant aspect of the herds will be providing the high school students with the opportunity to interact with WPI undergrads. “Our current students are the best ambassadors for WPI,” she says.


Sontgerath describes three tiers of services students will receive:


● Academic, with tutoring services and homework help—along with a "Dinner with the Deans" online series to hear more about majors at WPI.

● College planning/admissions, with admissions overview nights, some panels with the Career Development Center on interviewing and resume writing, and the opportunity to interview with WPI admissions counselors.

● Virtual social activities, with a range of interests, including a running club, E-sports, movie nights, and cooking.


“A lot of students are interested in taking a CAD course. Intro to CAD overlaps a lot of different majors,” Sontgerath says. “This is a unique opportunity for high school students to try out a WPI course with support, rather than do it by themselves.” Typically, about 200 Frontiers alums apply to WPI each year. The incoming Class of 2024 includes 71 students who enrolled after attending Frontiers.


“It’s important for us to engage with Frontiers,” Sontgerath says. “We want to provide strong opportunities to support students and build communities. It’s great, because WPI sees a return on investment. This has a direct impact on WPI.”

-By Martin Luttrell