Chapter 1: An Introduction to Project-Based Learning in the First Year

In Chapter 1, you’ll gain a foundation about the rationale, benefits, and challenges of incorporating project-based learning into your classroom, as well as the particular advantages of targeting first-year college students.

Benefits for First-Year Students

Benefits of project-based learning for first-year students include a richer and more intentional college experience, professional skill development, purposeful learning, and improved competitiveness for jobs, internships, and research experiences.

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An example of successful project-based learning is WPI’s Great Problems Seminar (GPS)—offered exclusively for first-year students and comprising two linked courses that are taught by two professors from different disciplines. In the first term, students explore many facets of a great problem, such as air pollution, access to clean water, or disease control. In the second term, they work in a team to produce a solution and share it with the WPI community.

View the video below to hear first-hand from students about the value of the GPS experience.



Benefits beyond first-year students

See examples of how PBL can change not only the lives of students, but also the lives of those they impact.

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WPI students are directly affected by their positive experiences with project-based learning, which help them become better collaborators, critical thinkers, public speakers, and communicators, and ultimately lead to career and lifelong success.

Jennifer Kamara ’12
After being born in her mother’s native Ukraine and growing up in her father’s home country of Sierra Leone, Kamara left her war-torn homeland to study chemical engineering at WPI. Her PBL experiences led her to return to Sierra Leone in 2014 to establish a health clinic and train doctors through her own nonprofit World Health Equity. Learn about Jennifer’s journey.

Sonya Maria Douglas, Rebecca Lee, Mollie Myers, Kyle Wijtmans ’16

In their GPS project, Sonya, Rebecca, Mollie, and Kyle researched problems of hunger in the city of Worcester, as well as the problem of food waste at universities, including WPI. Through their project, they piloted a program to transport excess food from WPI to local food banks and distributors. The success of the pilot led to WPI starting a WPI chapter of the nationwide Food Recovery Network, the largest student movement fighting food waste and hunger in America.

Zachary Estrella, Evelyn Grainger, Lenna Quackenbush, Peter John Smith ’18

Through their research, these students found that fostering a love for and interest in the environment at an early age creates adults who work to protect the environment. Therefore the goal of students on this project team was to develop learning modules for a local elementary school to educate students on water sustainability and relevant engineering solutions.