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Philanthropy Supports WPI’s Diverse and Dynamic Community
When Matthew Runkle ’11 chose WPI for his institution of higher education, he was looking for both the foundation of an accomplished career and a comfortable place to figure out who he was to be in the world.
The computer science major and electrical and computer engineering minor says, “While I knew WPI would afford me opportunities for a suitable career, I also believed the small and welcoming campus would provide me an ability to build a close group of friends and help me determine which values were most important to me.”
At WPI, Runkle found his friends and succeeded at growing into the person he’d hoped to become. Offering that a big part of his growth came from joining Phi Kappa Theta fraternity, Runkle says, “As a fraternity brother, it was quickly apparent how impactful the Greek community was within the greater WPI community. Most of the leaders of the large campus clubs were Greek and much of the social life around campus was associated with Greek Life. I feel like the community service element of Greek Life pushed me out of my shell and enabled me to participate in a lot more than I would have on my own. Those lessons of not being afraid to try something different, or jumping in and learning as you go, continue to stay with me today.”
Blair and I strongly believe an important aspect of learning is looking beyond one’s own upbringing to appreciate the beauty in other cultures, backgrounds, and different ways of seeing the world.
While a student, he secured an internship with Raytheon BBN Technologies and was hired there as a staff scientist upon his graduation. Today, he is a software infrastructure and security practitioner serving as director of cloud engineering for SmartBear Software. SmartBear builds application programming interface design, software testing, and developer observability tools to ease software development challenges.
When Runkle met his spouse, Blair Clarkson, who worked for a few years in WPI’s Global Projects Program, their shared connection to WPI became especially meaningful to the couple. Clarkson, now a French and Spanish teacher with the Advanced Math & Science Academy, says, “Having come from international education, I loved WPI’s push for global projects and the hands-on approach to project-based learning.” Runkle echoes Clarkson’s sentiment, saying, “We’re both passionate about education, particularly learning environments that build practical life skills and promote cultural empathy. WPI’s model of Lehr und Kunst—especially with the focus on societal impact—makes WPI a special place for both of us.”
The couple’s shared connection to WPI and passion for education inspired them to establish the Blair Clarkson and Matt Runkle ’11 Fund to support students in need of the resources offered by WPI’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Multicultural Education. “Blair and I strongly believe an important aspect of learning is looking beyond one’s own upbringing to appreciate the beauty in other cultures, backgrounds, and different ways of seeing the world,” says Runkle. “Especially in today’s political climate in the United States, where we see greater calls for censorship, less ability to see another person’s perspective, and the curtailing of LGBTQ+ rights, we see the need to encourage more diversity of thought as ever more dire, and we are proud to play our role in the solution to this societal issue.”
When asked about the impact of the Blair Clarkson and Matt Runkle ’11 Fund, Arnold Lane Jr., director of multicultural education and community engagement, says, “Alumni gifts supporting student diversity initiatives allow the school to be both innovative and creative in designing sustainable infrastructure and learning experiences for our diverse student populations. Our gratitude for these types of gifts really goes beyond words, because, more often than not, gifts have a clear and direct impact on the student experience—whether this relates to sending them to a life-changing conference, providing funding support for personal expenses, or distributing micro-scholarships to help students and their families during the holidays; every little bit goes a long way.”