Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) today announced the creation of The Global School, and that the university is launching its search for the inaugural dean. The Global School builds upon the university’s longstanding efforts to prepare students who are focused on science, engineering, and technology to have a significant impact on the major social, technological, ecological, and economic challenges facing people around the world. The WPI faculty voted in May 2019 to create The Global School, which will launch later in 2020.

“The National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges, the National Science Foundation’s 10 Big Ideas, and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals make it clear that there is a pressing need for well-rounded STEM professionals to co-create successful solutions to great problems around the globe,” said WPI President Laurie Leshin. “In fact, achieving these goals can only be accomplished by STEM-focused leaders and innovators who know how to work with local communities, organizations, and governments to co-create contextualized, successful, and sustainable solutions. Such important work requires STEM professionals who can navigate through—and engage with—the complexity and diversity inherent to the looming environmental crisis, climate change, global military conflicts, poverty and income inequality, and battles of racism, sexism, and human rights. With this new school, WPI aims to provide the kind of leadership that will improve the quality of life of people around the world.” 

Founded in 1865, WPI has been the pioneer and leader in project-based education since 1970 when, building upon its core philosophy of balancing theory and practice in education, the university adopted a revolutionary new undergraduate program known as the WPI Plan. The new approach replaced the traditional, rigidly prescribed engineering curriculum with a flexible and academically challenging program aimed at helping students learn how to learn by synthesizing classroom learning with high-impact, off-campus projects that solve real-world problems. In 1974, WPI launched a global component to its project-based curriculum and now sends approximately 80 percent of its students to more than 50 project centers around the world. At these centers, students work in teams to focus on issues such as energy, food, health, and urban sustainability. They gain hands-on experience in tackling real-world problems, develop an understanding of other cultures, and see how their lives and work can make a real impact.

Over the past 45 years, students, faculty members, and global partners have been collaborating to develop culturally appropriate solutions to local problems—most notably through faculty research and student project work. Over this same time span, WPI has fostered excellence in STEM education that links broader concerns of global development and humanitarian engineering, and community/global development and international and global studies. The Global School builds upon the university’s expertise and partnerships in global project-based learning, and it will also leverage WPI expertise in the STEM disciplines, as faculty and students focus on defining problems and designing solutions to those problems in collaboration with partners—both local and global.  

“The Global School will enhance WPI’s impact as a leader and innovator in addressing great problems by creating a platform for realizing the university’s long-held vision of building a true global polytechnic with a reach and an impact far beyond what has previously been possible,” said WPI Provost Winston Soboyejo. “It creates a robust institutional framework for WPI’s rapidly growing array of student- and faculty-driven global activities. We will develop hubs in Latin America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, where faculty, staff, and students will collaborate with other academics, governments, NGOs, and local people for the purposes of learning, research, and project work—at all levels, and within contexts that are well informed by deep area knowledge and concern for social justice. When our students graduate, they will find their place in the workforce or create their own jobs using their exceptional skills and experience in such areas as policy development, data analytics, and management; infrastructure engineering, design, and construction; technical specialists across energy, water, agriculture, transport, logistics, and project management; business process re-engineering, project monitoring, and evaluation.”

There is growing student interest in development studies, design, scientific innovation, and social entrepreneurship, and WPI faculty have been intentionally expanding their research expertise and teaching capacities in relevant fields and in integrative and area studies. The Global School will enhance opportunities for meaningful learning experiences, including global projects, at the graduate and undergraduate levels in areas including international development, global studies, economic sciences, science, technology, and policy; and environment and sustainability. It will prepare students to become STEM professionals who are focused on producing evidence-based approaches to meaningful, sustainable outcomes by teaching them how to make decisions informed by a wide range of geographic, cultural, political, and economic contexts. Specifically, faculty and students will use design thinking and process to develop solutions that support community needs and aspirations for better, self-determined, and dignified lives. This approach will provide even greater opportunities for students and faculty to have an impact at the international, national, regional, local, and household levels.  

The proposed activities of The Global School will include global partnerships with a focus on real-world problem solving; world-class research that uses interdisciplinary approaches and area knowledge to develop socially conscious solutions to local/global problems; and an expansion of resources already on campus such as the Global Lab, a collaborative space where the WPI community, including visiting scholars, Artists- and Fellows-in-Residence, use multi-platform media to share the impact of their global work. In addition, The Global School will expand integrated undergraduate and graduate programs in areas of technical leadership, international/global engineering leadership, development and policy. These will include:

  • BS programs in international and global studies that weave WPI’s first-year experience in problem solving with courses in area studies/global studies and global grand challenge programs, along with potentially new undergraduate certificate/minor programs in energy, water, food, global health, and STEM education.
  • MS and PhD programs in international and global studies (with a research-based option and a non-thesis option for working professionals) and short courses for working professionals and alumni. These graduate programs will build upon undergraduate programs in international development and global studies; society, technology and policy; and economic sciences, environment, and sustainability. Programs may be developed by faculty task forces—and will also benefit from WPI’s existing expertise—in the areas of engineering, humanities and arts, and business.

A search committee composed of faculty, administration, and students will work closely with Isaacson Miller, a Boston-based search firm, to identify candidates for the dean position.