Global Project

WPI Launches Global Projects For All Initiative to Give Every Student Access to Off-campus Project Experiences

Media Contact
August 17, 2017

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) today announced Global Projects For All, a university-wide initiative that will provide all students with access to an off-campus project experience. Beginning with the class of 2022, which will arrive on campus in August 2018, every full-time, degree-seeking student will receive a Global Project Scholarship, a credit of $5,000, to defray the cost of an off-campus project.

Recognizing that not every student will choose to travel off-campus (due to factors such as family obligations or other commitments), the university is aiming for 90 percent participation by 2020, and is seeking to add new project centers and expand existing sites around the world. 

Global Projects 2

WPI students work on a greywater recycling system to
support a fog harvesting initiative in Morocco.

WPI, which has about 4,400 undergraduates, enrolls just over 1,100 students per year. In order to serve the growing demand for these off-campus projects, the Global Projects Program has added 18 new project centers since 2009.  Last year the university expanded its reach in England, and to Ecuador, Armenia and Israel. This year WPI will add programs in Massachusetts, Costa Rica, Japan, and Switzerland.  In support of this initiative, the university is actively fundraising to build a $50 million Global Projects For All endowment, which is expected to generate approximately $2.5 million per year to supplement an annual $2.5 million contribution from WPI.

“Global Projects For All is about removing financial barriers so that all our students have the opportunity to participate in this signature WPI program, and experience firsthand the power they have to make a positive impact in the world,” said WPI President Laurie Leshin. “By enabling more students to apply what they know out in the world, this initiative will also accelerate WPI’s quest to prepare and equip the next generation of STEM leaders to play vital roles in the future prosperity of our nation, and advance the well-being of others.” 

Students share details of their project immersion experience, from what they learned to how they've changed.

Since 1970, project-based learning has been the core of WPI’s undergraduate curriculum. Known as the WPI Plan, this approach builds upon WPI’s core philosophy of balancing theory and practice in education. The WPI Plan is a flexible and academically rigorous program that synthesizes classroom experience with projects that challenge students within important professional and social contexts. Throughout their four years at WPI, students work closely with faculty—and each other—on projects that allow them to apply their acquired skills, knowledge, and abilities to develop solutions for authentic, open-ended, real-world problems. All students must complete two significant research projects: one is a high-level design or research experience conducted within their major, the other solves a problem at the intersection of science, technology, and culture, and emphasizes the need to learn about how technology affects people, societal values, and structures. In addition, all WPI students engage in the integrated Humanities & Arts Requirement, which allows them to become immersed in art, theatre, music, and other forms of creative expression whereby they can explore themes of complexity, diversity, and the richness of human experience by examining art/architecture, history, languages, literature, philosophy, or religion. The goal is to build well-rounded, globally aware graduates with superior analytical thinking skills and a handle on the ambiguous problems that will characterize their future careers.

In 1974, WPI launched a global component to its project-based curriculum and now sends 72 percent of its students to 40+ project centers around the world, which are overseen by the university's Global Projects Program. At these centers, students work in teams to focus on issues such as energy, food, health, and urban sustainability. The Global Projects Program offers students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in tackling real problems, develop an understanding of other cultures, and see how their lives and work can make a real impact. It calls for small teams of students to work under the guidance of faculty members from multiple disciplines to address a specific problem or need.

More than four decades after the launch of the WPI Plan, the university’s approach to education remains powerfully effective: A UMass Donahue Institute study of WPI alumni revealed that project-based learning significantly enhanced their professional abilities and advancement, their interpersonal and communications skills, and their world views. This was especially true for women.

Because of the university’s deep commitment to project-based learning, WPI has become an internationally recognized leader and has gained particular recognition for its work. In 2017 the NAE named WPI a Grand Challenge Scholars School for the university’s approach to preparing students to address the major engineering challenges of our time. And in 2016 the NAE awarded the university the prestigious Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education for the WPI Plan. Funding from this award went towards the creation of the Center for Project-Based Learning, through which WPI helps other institutions develop approaches to project-based learning that fit their own needs and culture. Since its launch in 2015, the Institute on Project-Based Learning—a two-day intensive workshop, and the flagship offering of the Center for Project-based Learning—has hosted teams from nearly 60 colleges and universities from around the world who are interested in implementing project-based learning in their own curriculum.