November 16, 2020

Teamwork is a key component of project-based learning at WPI. Working together to solve problems, our students interact as a unit, digging deep into research and proposing solutions for project sponsors, under the guidance of faculty advisors. In an effort to enhance this experience and as part of The Global School, a new resource—the SWEET (Supporting WPI in Effective and Equitable Teams) Center—is now available to help support students with challenges that might arise in any team learning environment on campus.  

“Teamwork is at the heart of WPI’s project-based curriculum, but despite best intentions, it doesn’t always go perfectly. We want to be more intentional about our teamwork,” says Anne Ogilvie, director for team learning.

Issues like unconscious bias, stereotyping, and communication problems can disrupt teamwork or cause individuals within the team to feel undervalued or silenced. By helping students recognize and address such inequities, the SWEET Center can support better team dynamics.

“The goal of the SWEET Center is to help ensure that every WPI student has at least one highly effective and equitable team experience before they graduate, and that they leave with skills and tools to increase their own ability to collaborate effectively in teams throughout their careers," Ogilvie says. "We are delighted to bring the resources of this new center to students and faculty at WPI.”

The SWEET Center was founded in A-Term as part of the SWEET Initiative, a multi-year effort funded by a 2017 grant from the Davis Educational Foundation. The grant was intended to develop practices for teamwork and project advising that value and utilize the contributions of all team members.

At WPI, the grant funded workshops for project advisors focused on best practices to prevent bias and stereotyping from creeping into student teams, leading to more equitable and effective experiences in courses and projects. A separate component, the SWEET Squad aimed to help students better understand their own identities and gain tools to work more effectively and equitably on teams.

The SWEET Initiative implementation team involved Curtis Abel, executive director of innovation and entrepreneurship, ad interim, Tiffiny Butler, teaching professor of biomedical engineering and director of multicultural affairs; Leslie Dodson, co-director of the Global Lab; Matt Foster, associate director of residential education; Adrienne Hall-Phillips, associate professor of marketing, Foisie Business School; Emily Perlow, assistant dean of students; Geoffrey Pfeifer, associate teaching professor of philosophy and international & global studies; Patricia Stapleton, assistant professor of social science & policy studies; and Lisa Stoddard, assistant teaching professor of environmental and sustainability studies.

WPI’s SWEET Center also offers SWEET Fellowships, a program that trains students, staff, faculty, and alumni to help develop center programs and tools for more equitable and effective teamwork. SWEET Fellows—22 of whom have been trained thus far—will also help expand individual and team consultations, which have been ongoing since D-Term.  The SWEET Fellowship Training Course was developed and co-taught by Pfeifer, Elizabeth Long Lingo, assistant professor, Foisie Business School, Ogilvie, and Stoddard.

“Through the vast experiences of WPI faculty, staff, and students, we know that students can't learn how to work on teams just by throwing them in and hoping they survive. And knowing that bias and stereotyping result in inequitable learning opportunities for students, we know that if we are going to have a project-based curriculum, we have to intentionally teach students how to work equitably and effectively in teams, and teach faculty how to better and more equitably advise them,” says Stoddard, who, along with Pfeifer, led the faculty development portion of the initiative. “WPI has shown a commitment to this work, as an institution and as a body of dedicated staff, faculty and students.” 

—Lauren Borsa-Curran