In 1970, WPI introduced the WPI Plan, a revolutionary, project-based-learning approach to higher education that was recognized with the 2016 Bernard H. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education. The Plan requires all students to complete a 9-credit-hour research or design experience in their major, their Major Qualifying Project. The Plan also requires students to complete a 9-credit-hour Interactive Qualifying Project, a multidisciplinary project that bridges technology and societal needs, often conducted at one of WPI’s global project centers, helping to develop a multicultural dimension. Further, the Plan requires a 3-credit hour project in the Humanities & Arts, following 15 credit hours of student-selected coursework in the humanities, to further develop a multidisciplinary competence and to help build social consciousness. Many of our first year students also complete a 6-credit hour experience, a Great Problems Seminar, which introduces entering students to collegiate level project work, all in the framework of a multidisciplinary project in one of the current societal challenges, most of which are modeled after the NAE Grand Challenges. Finally, throughout the university, we actively encourage students to become involved in the many opportunities to use their skills and talents to better society, from working with organizations such as Engineers Without Borders to assisting those in need in our local community. As such, the WPI Plan helps build many of the competencies with the Grand Challenge Scholars Program.
At WPI, our Grand Challenge Scholars Program will build on the WPI Plan. With the assistance of a network of advisors and mentors, we help students plan out their curriculum to draw connections among these different competencies, incorporate an entrepreneurship component, and do all this within the framework of NAE’s Grand Challenges. Students apply during their second semester in freshman year or during their sophomore year, and then through careful planning, use elements of their curriculum to demonstrate the five competencies, targeted to one or more of the Grand Challenge themes. The competencies, along with reflections about their experience, are documented in an ePortfolio.