Curt and Dudley Carlson

Curt ’67 and Dudley Carlson

Philanthropy Focused on Value Creation and Innovation

Curtis Carlson ’67 and his wife, Dudley, believe WPI is a unique university, providing the education graduates need today to thrive.

“Dudley and I wholeheartedly believe in the mission of WPI. It provides a superb STEM education to solve the world’s complex problems. Students conduct multiple team projects to learn how to work in interdisciplinary teams, along with a global experience to understand different cultures. It provides value creation and innovation skills for graduates to solve problems that matter to others,” says. Carlson. “In addition, what makes WPI unique is that it exemplifies core values of respect, integrity, and humility. There are very few schools in the world that do all that WPI does.”

Because of the other educational features of WPI, it is the best place in the world to expand our initiatives in value creation, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Curt Carlson

Carlson points out that WPI teaches perseverance and how to succeed. “None of it was easy,” he says, reflecting on his time as a student on The Hill. However, the former physics major also notes how much the school offered him in return. “WPI encouraged me to strive for excellence, whether studying complex math and physics, working on group projects, competing on the swim team, or maintaining my violin practice.

“For example, as a freshman, I went to the physics building to talk to Dr. Heller about becoming a physics major. In his imposing German accent, he warned me that there was no grading curve in physics; you had to master all the material. I believed him. Of course, when a student, you don’t think of those as big things, but looking back, you realize all the ways the school was setting the foundation for your professional life,” he says.

Carlson shared that it was his WPI education that allowed him to spend his career in the technical world and be a part of many life-changing innovations and accomplishments, such as HDTV and Siri. And for what WPI has made possible in his life, the Carlsons have generously given back to the university in the form of time, talent, and support.

Beyond his position as a trustee emeritus, distinguished executive-in-residence, and Hall of Luminaries inductee, Carlson and his wife have made significant gifts to help support specific projects. Their most recent gift to Beyond These Towers: The Campaign for WPI establishes the Curtis and Dudley Carlson Value-Creation Initiative.

“We have always enjoyed supporting the university,” he says. “So, when Dudley and I discussed major giving, we wanted to support WPI. And, specifically, to support an expanded value creation curriculum for the university.”

He believes that mastering value creation and innovation—a key priority of Beyond These Towers—is fundamental to what it means to be a professional today. “Because of the other educational features of WPI, it is the best place in the world to expand our initiatives in value creation, innovation, and entrepreneurship,” he says.

WPI’s founding tenets were theory and practice. Carlson says the natural next step is impact, although his definition of impact goes further than the traditionally accepted definition. For this former president and CEO of SRI International, impact requires mastering value creation, the ability of every professional to solve problems that have meaning for people and society. 

“During my career, I worked with superb professionals,” he says, “and I saw the importance of having these value-creation life skills. Others sought out people with these abilities, and they made significant contributions to society. President Leshin added ‘impact’ to our mission, along with theory and practice. Impact means solving problems that have meaning for others,” he says. “They are skills that only become more valuable over a career.”

“I chose to bring the idea of value creation back to WPI because the school has the ideal underpinnings on which to build a value creation and innovation program,” he says. With his partner, Leonard Polizzotto ’70, they pioneered the first-of-its-kind Value Creation Initiative program. The curriculum offers skills to WPI’s students and faculty to help them become more efficient and effective at identifying and addressing the world’s most pressing problems.

As WPI moves forward, the Carlsons say they will continue their philanthropic legacy at WPI, a tradition the couple began in the 1970s. Curt looks forward to the day students worldwide master value creation and innovation. Through innovation, the world grows, solves its serious problems, produces jobs, and creates resources for social responsibility. He believes WPI will, as with the original WPI Plan, become another model for schools for graduating professionals who can make a more significant contribution to society.

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