Worcester Polytechnic Institute

100 Institute Road 
Worcester MA 01609 

(508) 831-5000

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
WPI logo.png
Motto German: "Lehr und Kunst"
Motto in English
"Theory and Practice"
Type Private
Established 1865
Endowment $443.1 million[1]
President Laurie Leshin
Provost Bruce E. Bursten
Academic staff
Undergraduates 4,123
Postgraduates 1,734
Location Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.
42°16'24.56?N 71°48'26.46?W? / ?42.2734889°N 71.8073500°W? / 42.2734889; -71.8073500Coordinates: 42°16'24.56?N 71°48'26.46?W? / ?42.2734889°N 71.8073500°W? / 42.2734889; -71.8073500
Campus Residential/Suburban
80 acres / 32 ha
Colors Crimson and Gray
Athletics NCAA Division III
NEWMAC, Liberty League, NEWA, ECAC
Sports 20 varsity teams
Nickname Engineers
Mascot Gompei the Goat
WPI wordmark.png

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is a private research university in Worcester, Massachusetts, focusing on the instruction and research of technical arts and applied sciences.[2]

Founded in 1865 in Worcester, WPI was one of the United States' first engineering and technology universities and now has 14 academic departments with over 50 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science, engineering, technology, management, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts, leading to bachelor's, master's and PhD degrees. WPI's faculty works with students in a number of research areas, including biotechnology, fuel cells, information security, materials processing, and nanotechnology.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute was founded by self-made tinware manufacturer, John Boynton, and Ichabod Washburn, owner of the world’s largest wire mill. Boynton envisioned science schooling that would elevate the social position of the mechanic and manufacturer, but not necessarily teach the skills needed to become either. Washburn, on the other hand, wanted to teach technical skills through a sophisticated apprenticeship approach. Boynton consulted Seth Sweetser, a pastor, for ways to realize his vision. By chance it happened that Ichabod Washburn had previously consulted Sweetser about the proper way to actualize his own vision.[3]

John Boynton (left) and Ichabod Washburn (right).

Washburn was disappointed to learn of Boynton’s offer to create a college, although Washburn claimed, "I prefer to be imposed upon by others rather than by myself in withholding where I ought to give," with the help of Sweetser's diplomacy and wisdom, he agreed to build, furnish, and endow a "Department of Practical Mechanics" at Boynton’s school. He specified, however, that every student should blend theory learned in the classroom with practice in the shops.[3]

Sweetser drafted a letter expressing Boynton’s and Washburn's wish to other significant men within Worcester County. The document was sent to 30 Worcester businessmen. It told of a "liberal proposal to found a Free School for Industrial Science" in Worcester and called for a meeting later in the month. After that meeting the following notice appeared in the Worcester Palladium: "A Gentleman, who for the present withholds his name from the public, offers a fund of $100,000 for the establishment of a scientific school in Worcester, upon the condition that our citizens shall furnish the necessary land and buildings." Further funding and land grants for the university were given by Stephen Salisbury II, who was an influential merchant and later served as the first president of the Institute's board of directors.[4]

In response to this anonymous request, more than 225 Worcester citizens and the workers at 20 of the city’s factories and machine shops contributed to the construction of the original building. On May 10, 1865, after House and Senate approval, the secretary of the commonwealth recorded the Institute as a legal corporation, and it came into formal existence.[3]

Both Boynton and Washburn died before the opening of the college on November 11, 1868. On that day, Charles O. Thompson, the first president of the Institute stood before WPI’s first two buildings named Boynton Hall and Washburn Shops in honor of their respective donors, with their distinctive towers that even then symbolized the institution’s two educational objectives of theory and practice, and inaugurated the Worcester County Free Institute of Industrial Science.[5][6]

Boynton Hall, WPI's main administrative building.
Washburn Shops, where WPI's first hands-on classrooms and laboratories were built in the 19th century.

WPI was led in its early years by president and professor of chemistry Charles O. Thompson.[7] Early graduates of WPI went on to become mechanical and civil engineers, as well as artisans, bankers, and enter other prominent occupations. WPI continuously expanded its campus and programs throughout the early twentieth century, eventually including graduate studies and a program in electrical engineering. During World War II, WPI offered defense engineering courses and was selected as one of the colleges to direct the V-12 Navy College Training Program.[8]

During this time, WPI suffered from the lack of a unified library system, well-maintained buildings, and national recognition. This changed under the leadership of president Harry P. Storke from 1962 to 1969. Storke brought significant change to the school in what would be known as the WPI Plan. The Plan called for the creation of three projects and drastically redesigned the curriculum to address how a student learns. The Storke administration also launched a capital campaign that resulted in the creation of the George C. Gordon Library, added residence halls, an auditorium, and a modern chemistry building. Furthermore, women were first allowed to enter WPI in February 1968.[9] The WPI Plan is the guiding principle behind undergraduate education at the Institute today, and is arguably the most notable contribution WPI has made towards science and engineering education.

Today, WPI is primarily an undergraduate focused institution, though expansion of graduate and research programs is a long-term goal. The WPI Bioengineering Institute is a significant contributor to Worcester's growing biotechnology industry. Significant research in other fields such as metallurgy, untethered health care, fuel cells, the learning sciences, applied mathematics and fire protection currently help establish WPI as an important, specialized research university.


Earle Bridge

Set in an urban context in New England's largest city after Boston,[10] WPI's main campus entirely is privately owned, ungated and uninterrupted by public roads. The campus sits on Boynton Hill, apart from the adjacent neighborhood, which includes restaurants and stores on Highland Street.

Once a laboratory for electromagnetic research, the "Skull tomb" [12] was built entirely without ferrous metals. Several years after its construction, electrified trolley tracks were built in Worcester which led to the building's disuse. It served for a time as a site for Robert Goddard's rocket fuel research as the building is relatively isolated from other buildings on campus and Dr. Goddard's research had previously led to explosions on campus. Subsequent to the building earning its present nickname, "Skull", a secret honor society, inherited the building. The building was reconditioned in 2004. The building contains three sequential doors to gain entry and it contains three floors.

The Beech Tree stands at almost 100 feet tall.

The 'Two Towers' shown in old WPI logos show the clock tower of Boynton Hall and the arm and hammer weathervane of the Washburn Shops. The original weathervane was stolen in October 1975 and never recovered. Boynton and Washburn were the university's first buildings, housing the classrooms and laboratories, respectively. The Two Towers symbolize Theory and Practice, which are the foundation of the university and still the approach used today. Boynton was completed in 1868 and Washburn followed shortly after that same year.[11][12]

Higgins House

WPI's school colors, Crimson and Gray, were inspired by the natural pigmentation of the beech tree next to the bush sitting near the entrance of Boynton Hill. The tree was planted in 1945 and presently stands at over 60 feet tall.[13]

Near the edge of the WPI campus is a large Tudor-style mansion built in 1923 by WPI alumnus Aldus Chapin Higgins and later bequeathed to his alma mater. Named appropriately as the Higgins House, the mansion and the surrounding English garden serves as the backdrop for many alumni events and is the headquarters for the Office of Alumni Relations.[14]

WPI has one of 35 civilian research nuclear reactors licensed to operate in the United States. It was built and used in research during the height of the Cold War but the school's nuclear program ended at the turn of the century.[15]

A large bronze statue of Gompei the Goat stands at the quad side of the Bartlett Center, WPI's admission building. Gompei was an actual goat given as a gift by the class of 1891 and eventually became the school's official mascot. It was named after the first elected goat keeper, Gompei Kuwada. The original bronze goat head is located in the Skull Tomb, on a shelf with carved rocks and empty liquor bottles. [16]


The George C. Gordon Library has collections ranging from traditional textbooks and academic journals to classical fiction and rare manuscripts. It also has numerous high-tech suites, a media lab and a cafe.[17]

WPI offers a variety of majors in engineering, science, management, liberal arts, and social science at the undergraduate and graduate level. It is most well known for its engineering disciplines and is one of the top-ranked schools to attend for engineering in North America and the world over. Unlike many peer universities, WPI does not combine related departments into colleges or schools.

WPI's undergrad schedule is also unusual compared to most universities. Instead of a normal semester, WPI has 7-week terms, labeled A-D, with an optional E-term in the summer. A-term typically begins on the second to last Thursday in August, while D-term is usually scheduled to end on the first Tuesday of May. Each term is claimed to be roughly equivalent to a third of a year at another university. Thus, students are able to complete a year's worth of Chemistry, Physics, and Math in only a semester and a half. This faster pace allows for more study (by a student's senior year, they have already completed a normal four-year course track, essentially giving them an "extra" year). The graduate student calendar follows a conventional two semester schedule.

Photograph of the main entrance to Higgins Laboratories taken at dusk.

WPI's student performance evaluation system uses grades A, B, or C. If a student were not to satisfactorily complete the course or they elect to drop the course, they would receive a No Record (NR). The NR designation is used since there is no differentiation between a dropped course or an unsuccessful attempt to complete it.

WPI Corporate and Professional Education (CPE) also offers academic opportunities to individuals and companies. Programs can be offered online, onsite, on campus, or in a blended format. CPE has graduate programs, online degrees and professional development workshops. Among its recent program additions, CPE launched the first online Graduate Certificate in Program Protection Planning, and a new Graduate Certificate focused on Cyber Security for Power Systems.

Project System

WPI's project-based curriculum makes it unique by requiring undergraduate students to complete a Sufficiency in the Liberal Arts (or a Technical Sufficiency for liberal arts majors), an Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) to study the social effects of technology with students from other disciplines, and a Major Qualifying Project (MQP) within their own discipline. These projects are based on WPI's founding principle of theory alongside practice, though were introduced in the last 40 years. Usually, the Sufficiency, IQP, and MQP are completed in the sophomore, junior, and senior years, respectively. The MQP is similar to other schools' "senior thesis," while the IQP is a bit more unusual and sometimes difficult to explain on resumes.

Global Projects Program

At WPI, the opportunity to complete significant project work off campus is an integral element of an academic program that emphasizes the practical application of knowledge to meaningful technical and societal problems. Through the Global Projects Program, over 60% of WPI students complete at least one of their required projects at an off-campus Project Center. Typically, students work under faculty guidance in small teams at Project Centers to address problems posed by external agencies and organizations.

Through the Global Projects Program, WPI sends more engineering students abroad than any US college or university. As of the 2014-2015 academic year, the program included established Project Centers for society-technology projects (IQPs) in Worcester; Boston; Nantucket; Washington, DC; Santa Fe, New Mexico; San Juan, Puerto Rico; San Jose, Costa Rica; Copenhagen, Denmark; London, England; Venice, Italy; Windhoek, Namibia; Cape Town, South Africa; Bangkok, Thailand; Hong Kong, PRC; Wellington, New Zealand; Mandi, India; Tirana, Albania; and Melbourne, Australia. Project Centers for senior design or research projects (MQPs) included MIT Lincoln Laboratory; Wall Street, New York and London; Silicon Valley; Gallo Wineries, California; Edmonton, Nancy, France; Budapest, Hungary; and Wuhan, PRC. Between 1974, when the first WPI Project Center was established in Washington, DC, and 2014, over 7,000 students had completed over 2,000 projects in locations around the globe.

The Global Projects Program was cited by the Association of American Colleges and Universities in 2000, when it named WPI one of 16 Greater Expectations Leadership Institutions to serve as models for the future of undergraduate education in the United States.

Alden Memorial is the main building for the performing arts at WPI, consisting of a performance hall, music rooms, and a computer music lab.[18]

Humanities Project

The Humanities Project, also known as a Sufficiency, is designed to assess well-roundedness in areas outside of technological knowledge. The project consists of five thematically-related courses in the humanities and arts (such as Western literature, musical composition, etc.), and culminates with a course-long independent project. This can be a variety of different things; recent Sufficiency projects include research into contemporary music history, a student giving a flute recital, original screenplays, and critiques of philosophy. Students interested in foreign languages often skip the project and take an additional course, though there are opportunities to do a project. Students who are majoring in a humanities and arts related field do a similar Sufficiency project in a science or engineering discipline.

The Humanities Project, or Sufficiency, was replaced by a new Humanities requirement starting with the class of 2011. Current students have the option of either fulfilling the Sufficiency or the new requirement.

The Fountain at WPI was designed as part of a student's IQP. An anemometer adjusts the height of the water based on the wind velocity.

Interactive Qualifying Project

The Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) is described as a "project which relates technology and science to society or human needs."[19] This project is very broad in scope, encompassing a wide variety of topics and actions. Generally, IQPs are designed to solve a societal problem using technology. This can range from improving high school science education to redesigning an irrigation system in Thailand. This project is often done off-campus through WPI's Global Projects Program. From an educational perspective, the IQP serves to emphasize team-based work and introduces a real-world responsibility absent from courses. Many IQPs have made a significant impact on the community in which it is done.

Major Qualifying Project

The Major Qualifying Project (MQP) assesses knowledge in a student's field of study. As mentioned above, this project is similar to a senior thesis, with students doing independent research or design. MQPs are often funded by either WPI or external corporations. Topics of MQPs done in the recent past include the design of the MIR 2 space station life support system module, a study of the effects of stress and nicotine on ADHD, the design of a research rocket, a mathematical viscoelastic cell motility model, experimental research of liquid crystals using atomic force microscopy, and the design of polymers for medicine delivery.[20]

Rankings and reputation

WPI consistently ranks as a tier-one (top 25%) university according to U.S. News & World Report. As of 2015, WPI's undergraduate program ranks at No. 57 out of national universities offering doctoral degrees. [21] WPI is also renowned for producing high earning graduates. It placed in's top ten for median starting salaries since 2008 where it ranked 7th with graduates earning starting salaries averaging at $61,200 (more if including bonuses and benefits) in the 2011–2012 report.[22] Businessweek currently ranks WPI 15th nationwide for return on investment beating out three Ivy League schools[23] while Forbes ranked it No. 9 (tied with New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering) in a 2008 study, "Top Colleges for Getting Rich", based on median and top salary of graduates at the start and end of their career.[24]

WPI has also been named the 22nd "Most Connected Campus" by The Princeton Review for 2006.

WPI's innovative undergraduate program also enjoys a strong reputation among education officials; the New England Association of Schools and Colleges favorably commented on the Institute's dedication and unique approach to science and engineering education.[25] Furthermore, WPI's emphasis on international education through the Global Projects Program has received much acclaim, including awards such as the 2003 TIAA-CREF Theodore Hesburgh Certificate and inclusion in NAFSA: Association of International Educators's list of fifteen universities to be used as models for internationalization.[26]

BusinessWeek has ranked Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) No. 1 in the nation for its part-time Master of Business Administration (MBA) program, and No. 1 in the nation for student satisfaction in the program.

In 2010, the Interactive Media and Game Design major ranked 7th out of hundreds of universities in Top Undergraduate Game Design Programs according to The Princeton Review.[27] In 2011, WPI managed to rank 6th. [28]

Student life

WPI is host to a number of annual and weekly events. These events usually only attract students, though some events, such as Gaming Weekend and Quadfest, are large enough to draw in off-campus visitors. Some are listed below in order of occurrence.

  • Homecoming – sponsored by the Office of Alumni Relations, this fall event brings numerous alumni back to campus to celebrate the past, present, and future of the University.
  • Gaming Weekend – A bi-annual three-day event hosted by the SFS that revolves around games of all sorts: board games, RPGs, video games, and even "Duck, Duck, Goose." It usually takes place around Labor Day weekend and the first weekend of D term. The SFS has a burgeoning stock of various games in a library at the basement of Riley Hall allowing for such an event to take place.[citation needed]
WPI home game against rivals RPI.
  • Tuesday Dance Socials – Every week, the Social Dance Club takes over the Rubin Campus Center stage from 7:00 pm to 12:00 am. A variety of music is played for dancers to break out their moves to Argentine tango, Salsa, Swing, and Discofox, among other dances. Socialization is promoted through the media of dance as well as conversation.
  • Greek Week – An annual week-long event that begins the week prior to homecoming. Each of the Greek houses compete in several events that include but are not limited to: Capture the flag, water balloon toss, talent show competition, and a float parade on the morning of homecoming.[citation needed]
  • Saturday Night Gaming – A weekly video game night hosted by the Game Development Club. Games include Rock Band, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Dance Dance Revolution, and others. Members of the WPI Pokémon Trainers League also meet and play Pokémon games together. Games are located in the Taylor and Chairman's Room on the first floor of the Rubin Campus Center.
  • Weekend Movies – Hosted by SocComm's Films committee. Every Saturday and Sunday, a new film is shown on the WPI campus in Fuller Laboratoires weeks prior to its DVD release. The projection of these movies is handled by LnL. WPI is one of the few universities capable of showing both 35 mm film and 70 mm film in the same hall.[29]
  • Penny Wars – Created and operated by Alpha Chi Rho, Penny Wars is an annual fund raiser where clubs and Greek organizations on campus compete to raise money for charity. The goal is to collect the most pennies, however, any money other than pennies counts against your score. Most of the money raised is from competing clubs offsetting the competition with dollars or larger denominations, since it all goes to charity.
A large bronze statue of Gompei the Goat stands proudly at the Quad.
  • Costume! Dance! Party! – An annual event held by the Game Development Club. The event falls near Halloween, and includes a costume contest, over 100 pounds of free candy, and many giveaways.
  • Winter Carnival – Another event hosted by WPI's Social Committee (SocComm), this event is a week long grouping of smaller events, ending in a major event (such as a concert or a well known performer).
  • Service AuctionAlpha Phi Omega asks the students, faculty, and staff to donate services such as baking a pie, horseback riding, or building a sandcastle and then auctions them off to the student body and surrounding community. The person who donated the highest bid item then selects a charity where all of the raised funds are donated.[citation needed]
  • Diya – An annual celebration of the Indian festival Diwali, hosted by WPI's Indian Student Organization (ISO). Diya usually features performances of Indian songs, Bollywood dances, skits, and other events signifying Indian culture, with Indian food served at dinner.[citation needed]
  • Dragon Night – An annual celebration, generally meant to tie into Chinese New Year, hosted by WPI's Chinese Student Association (CSA). Dragon Night usually features Chinese food, lion dancing, and other elements of Chinese culture.[citation needed]
Major SocComm activities are held at the Quad.
  • Quadfest – The largest event held on campus by the WPI Social Committee (SocComm). It takes place during the final week of the WPI school year. Events include musical acts, movies, and special booths created by WPI clubs and organizations. Information about past Quadfest events can be found in the QuadFest Archives.
  • WPI Talent and Fashion Show – Beginning in 2007, the National Society of Black Engineers chapter combined their 7th annual Fashion Show and 3rd annual Talent Show into a single event. The Talent Show part gives every WPI student an opportunity to showcase their talent to each other, and the Fashion show is meant to promote professionalism and how to dress for success, tying into the core purpose of the NSBE.
  • Winter Ball – A ballroom dance social hosted by WPI's Ballroom Dance Team during the winter where couples in evening wear can learn and dance ballroom dances such as Waltz, Foxtrot, ChaCha, and Rumba in Alden Memorial.[30]
  • Wall of Sound – This event is hosted annually by the Lens and Lights Club. It consists of about 70,000 Watts worth of speakers blasting music over 120 dB volumes. For the price of $1, students can get a song of their choice to be played. Proceeds benefit a local charity.
  • Comedy Festival – A formerly biennial, now annual, comedy festival hosted by WPI's Student Comedy Productions (SCP) at the end of the academic year, first produced in 2002. A several-day event showcasing the comedic talents of college students both inside and outside WPI, the festival has featured the school's three comedy troupes, KILROY Sketch Comedy, Guerilla Improv, and {Empty Set} as well as collegiate and alumni comedy groups from across New England.
  • New Voices – An annual play festival produced by WPI Masque and the Department of Humanities and Arts in the middle of D-Term. The festival features original, unproduced works submitted each January and voted on by a collective of dramaturgs. First run in 1983, New Voices is the longest-running annual collegiate new works festival in the world, and has produced over 400 plays written by over 200 students, alumni, faculty, and members of the WPI community.

Thirty percent of the undergraduate students participate in Greek Life. There are 13 fraternities and 5 sororities at WPI.[31] There is also one co-ed community service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega. See the List of WPI fraternities and sororities.


Main article: WPI Engineers

Other opportunities

Since 1982 WPI has offered a summer-program for high school science & engineering students named Frontiers. Also, beginning in 1997, WPI began offering a summer outreach program for girls entering the sixth grade, Camp REACH, to promote women in math & science. WPI participates in a collaborative effort with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the high schools of Massachusetts to support a school called the Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science at WPI. Mass Academy is an 11th and 12th grade public high school for 100 academically accelerated youths. Juniors receive advanced high school classes at the academy building, with seniors taking the WPI freshman curriculum at the university. The program emphasizes math and science within a comprehensive, interactive program and is the only public school in Massachusetts whose students attend a university full-time as seniors in high school.

A team of Worcester students led by Paul Ventimiglia of won the $500,000 first prize in the 2009 NASA Regolith Excavation Challenge in October 2009. Twenty teams qualified for the event held at the NASA Ames Research Park in Mountain View, California managed by the California Space Education and Workforce Institute. Teams design, build and operate robotics that dig up and deposit at least 150 kilograms of simulated lunar material and deposit it in a collection bin, an important operation in any lunar construction in the future. Of the three teams who placed in the competition, all were represented by team members who are WPI alumni.[32]

There are also opportunities for companies through Corporate and Professional Education (CPE). CPE offers graduate programs and professional development programs that focus on a wide variety of industries and topics. Programs can be delivered online, onsite, on campus or in a blended format.



WPI has employed several professors whose achievements have made them notable across the nation and the world.

Sources: Google Maps, The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Wikipedia, Yahoo! Answers

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