Chapter 3: Institutional Support

Because project-based learning—even at its most effective—is inherently resource intensive, this chapter discusses the ways that institutions can and should support PBL initiatives, and the benefits for doing so. Below are types of institutional benefits that can result from first-year PBL courses.


strengthening community relationships

See a student video featuring hunger relief organization Rachel’s Table, which shows how PBL can strengthen community relationships.

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Rachel’s Table, a Worcester-based hunger relief organization, is on its way to better meeting the demand for food donations based on the research and creativity of a five-student team and the WPI Great Problems Seminar.  Student work can benefit local organizations, making for great community relationships.



Faculty Scholarship

WPI faculty and researchers from varied academic backgrounds have developed a number of documents and articles on the development of WPI’s Great Problems Seminar program.


external recognition
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  • WPI’s Great Problems Seminar (GPS) program receives media attention from local and national outlets for its innovation and impact:
    • “The history of western civilization looks quite different to a student charged with solving a fascinating great problem than to his peer in that introductory lecture course. Instead of seeing an endless series of names and dates, the students in a great problems seminar learn to look to history as a trove of experiences that may be useful to apply in the present.” – The Boston Globe
    • “That kind of early engagement [in first-year projects focused on world problems like hunger or disease], and letting [students] see they can work on something that is interesting and important, is a big deal. That hooks students.” – The New York Times
    • “The response from [WPI] freshman to this [GPS] initiative has been overwhelmingly positive. … Many didn’t know what an engineer really does and how their thinking and skills could tackle such big issues. But it got them understanding from day 1 what part engineering could play, how to organize in groups to take on serious issues, and formed a solid idea of why certain course disciplines were needed.” – EE Times


  • Our first-year PBL courses have served as the basis for multiple research awards. For example, the Davis Educational Foundation awarded WPI a $240,000 grant to support teaching students how to identify and address bias and work in groups in ways that promote equity, preparing them for an increasingly diverse workforce. Within the grant’s three-year span, WPI aims to reach at least 75 percent of the university’s students in that timeframe.
  • Some quotes from media coverage about the Davis Grant:
    • “WPI’s unique approach doesn’t just aim to set aside some time during the class schedule to get people to think about the unconscious conclusions they come to about other people based on their gender, race or background. The university plans to reframe the entire idea of what it means to be part of a team.” – Telegram & Gazette
    • “The new program’s training in unconscious bias and tem dynamics is expected to enhance students’ abilities to work effectively in teams, making the bias project a strong fit for WPI.” – Diverse: Issues in Higher Education