Advancing the Learning Sciences and WPI Students

As soon as Bernie Dodge arrived on the Hill in 1966, he knew he’d made the right choice. “Right away I felt embraced by WPI,” the electrical engineering major recalls.

Dean John van Alstyne (or van A, as so many alumni remember him) taught him calculus. The effort van A took to convey material clearly in his lectures and the care he took with his students stands out vividly in Dodge’s memory, as does the way Charles Heventhal, his first-year English professor, brought literature to life.

By his junior year, Dodge had decided that engineering was not for him, but since his WPI education was made possible by a scholarship from the Bristol Company, which required that he major in engineering, he soldiered on. Still, he found community in his fraternity, Sigma Pi, and a new passion.

In the summer before his senior year, Professor Heventhal recruited him to help lead a program for incoming first-year students who needed extra preparation for the rigors of a WPI education. As the English tutor, Dodge lived with and taught these students for a month. “That’s when I discovered that teaching is something I loved.”

I recognized that educational technology was as much about human systems as it was about technology. It was about using the engineering thought process to solve educational problems. That seemed like the perfect match for me.

Bernie Dodge

After graduation, he spent two years with the Peace Corps teaching math in Sierra Leone. The experience helped him realize that teaching was an excellent fit for him and cemented his belief that “if you’re going to devote your life to something, it should be something that makes the world better.”

Upon his return to the United States, he was hired as an associate project administrator in WPI’s IQP Center. He searched for housing for faculty members and students who would inaugurate WPI’s first off-campus project center, in Washington, D.C., and helped faculty members develop experiences that went beyond engineering.

New Academic Building

What resonated most with Dodge was WPI’s focus on the impact of technology on society, which helped him see the connection between his commitment to education and his background in engineering. Looking for a field that would allow him to marry those two domains, he found educational technology. “I recognized that educational technology was as much about human systems as it was about technology,” he says. “It was about using the engineering thought process to solve educational problems. That seemed like the perfect match for me.”

He earned a PhD in instructional design development at Syracuse University and joined San Diego State University as an assistant professor of educational technology in 1980. Since then he has developed courses on online teaching, educational games, and virtual reality. A sought-after expert who has spoken and taught in 32 states and 16 countries, he has served on several national educational advisory boards, was named an Apple Distinguished Educator in 2003, and received awards from the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching in 2004 and 2007.

The Dodge Family Scholarship will let some other kids like me have a different life than they would have had otherwise.

Bernie Dodge

He is most widely recognized as the creator of WebQuest, an inquiry-oriented lesson format that enables elementary and secondary school teachers to design project-based lessons using web-based resources with the goal of developing problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. The WebQuest model is used by tens of thousands of teachers around the world. In China, for example, teachers compete in WebQuest contests. “People would come up to Bernie there like he was a rock star,” says his wife, June.

Dodge retired from San Diego State in 2020, and he and June continue to run their company, which supports educators in the use of WebQuest. June says she feels as much a part of the WPI community as her husband; she belongs to his fraternity’s alumni community and has visited WPI many times. “It’s been impressive to see all the great changes on campus,” she says.

He credits his success to his WPI education and experiences, and he and June have always wanted to give back to the university in a meaningful way. When they learned of WPI’s new academic building, currently under construction, and its inclusion of a facility for the learning sciences, they couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Because of their generosity, the facility, on the building’s third floor, will be known as the Dodge Family Learning Sciences and Technologies Research Lab. “It’s just perfect for us to be involved in,” June says.

Bernie agrees, praising the collaboration space, which will bring people together to advance the learning sciences and educational technology.

Through their philanthropy, the couple is also establishing the Dodge Family Waterbury Scholarship for students from Waterbury, Conn., Bernie’s hometown, and the Sigma Pi Endowed Scholarship for students in his fraternity.

Dodge says he has never forgotten the Bristol Company Scholarship that enabled his WPI education and everything that has followed. “The Dodge Family Scholarship,” he says, “will let some other kids like me have a different life than they would have had otherwise.”

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