January 24, 2014

Despite the snowdrifts and chilly winds outside, it will be all about summer in the main lobby of the Bartlett Center this Saturday from 10am to 1pm. The annual Summer Programs Open House showcases WPI’s extensive academic and athletic offerings for students in grades K through 12.

Usually slated for mid-spring, the open house is being held for the first time in January so that families can learn more about the programs before registration, which begins this year on February 3.

Saturday’s event will feature tables with the faculty and staff representatives of many of the different programs as well as short, program-specific presentations. Separate tours of the campus and the Sports and Rec Center will be available, and parents are invited to eat lunch in the Morgan Commons at a reduced rate.

“These are WPI programs done by WPI people”

“We want to share the wealth of options,” says director of summer programs Brian Degon, “and we want parents to feel familiar and comfortable with WPI as a place to take care of their kids.”

Last year’s enrollment, across every program, was more than 1200, up 20% from the summer before, and the Summer Programs Office anticipates another 20% increase for the summer of 2014.

“Our office runs 20 of our own programs over the five weeks of summer programs,” says Kristin Goppel, who has been the operations manager since 2012.  “We also support the programs that are run by Athletics (seven programs this summer, which represent the largest cohort of summer participants), Admissions (pre-college programs), Office of Multicultural Affairs, the STEM Education Center (programs for educators), and some individual academic departments.”

This year, new programs include video game design, girls’ softball, and the return of the girls’ basketball camp, which are likely to be big draws; sections have also been added in music technology.

Goppel, a chemical engineer herself, is also the program director of Women in Science, one of the most popular options.  Open to girls who are going into fifth, sixth or seventh grades, Women in Science gives 32 students an introduction to science and engineering, mathematics and medicine. She has revamped the program every year in order to accommodate girls who want to take it again.

They have a chance to learn from a host of female role models, including WPI undergraduates who are their daily counselors; WPI faculty and staff, almost all women, who work with them in labs and classrooms; and women in industry, who come in to give presentations.

“Our intent is to expose them to as many different things as possible, as many different terms as possible,” says Goppel. “They learn that engineering is flexible; that it’s a great training background to have and that it gives you choices.”

Other programs aimed directly at girls are Innovations in Bioengineering and two overnight programs, Leadership Academy for Young Women and Camp Reach.

WPI is a great place to be in the summer, and kids know it. Last year, the robotics program filled in a single day; every program was full or almost full by May 1.

“Historically, we have run at capacity, especially in areas of high interest,” says Brian Degon.

Whether they are in the chemistry lab or on the baseball field, at a computer or in the machine shop, kids are learning—and learning about WPI while they’re at it.

“These are WPI programs done by WPI people,” he says.

Middle school, in particular, is often the time when students “start talking about and thinking about the notion of college,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity for parents who want to challenge their kids.”

Besides, jokes Degon, “we have a good lunch. The kids love the cafeteria.”

By Laura Porter