Academics Branches Out

WPI’s academic tree sprouted a new limb and three new branches during the 2020–21 academic year as a new school and three new departments were inaugurated.

The Global School has joined WPI’s three other schools: the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering, and the Foisie Business School. While The Global School has its own faculty, students, and academic programs, its mission is to involve the entire university in engaging with the world by focusing the university’s minds, resources, and experience to have a positive impact on some of the world’s most pressing challenges. Building on WPI’s nearly half-century of undergraduate global project work and a globe-spanning network of some 50 off-campus project centers, the new school will help send students and faculty members from across the university out into the world to address social, technological, ecological, and economic problems through interdisciplinary, purpose-driven research, education, and partnerships.

The Department of Integrative and Global Studies (DIGS), located within The Global School, serves as a gateway for students and faculty who want to connect with and make a difference in communities around the world. The new department’s faculty members serve three core elements of the undergraduate curriculum: the Great Problems Seminar, the Interactive Qualifying
Project (a degree requirement for all undergraduates), and the Global Projects Program. The new master of science program in Community Climate Adaptation is offered jointly by faculty in DIGS and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“RBE is one of WPI’s signature programs and a pioneer in the nation—and arguably the world—in robotics education and in integration of education and research.”

The Department of Aerospace Engineering was formerly a program within the Department of Mechanical Engineering. With more than 260 undergraduates, nearly 40 grad students, and 10
core faculty members, the program awarded its first bachelor’s degree in 2005 and its first master’s and PhD in 2014. It was accredited by ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) in 2009. Department head Nikolaos Gatsonis says the new department, which has a diverse funding portfolio in aeronautics and astronautics and close to 6,000 square feet of specialized facilities, “will further establish WPI’s identity as a research university and will enhance the stature of WPI’s School of Engineering.”

The Department of Robotics Engineering, housed in the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering, represents the continued evolution of WPI’s Robotics Engineering Program, the first program in the nation to offer a bachelor’s degree in the field (it was also the first to offer bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD programs in robotics). The recipient in 2016 of the inaugural ABET Innovation Award (for developing and implementing the first ABET-accredited undergraduate Robotics Engineering program in the United States), the department has 18 core faculty members and enrolls over 370 undergraduate majors (not including double majors) and more than 230 graduate students. “RBE is one of WPI’s signature programs,” says department head Jing Xiao, “and a pioneer in the nation—and arguably the world—in robotics education and in integration of education and research.”

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