Paul Reilly

Q&A: Paul Reilly, on Building Connections

Paul Reilly, assistant dean of student success, leads the advising team that helps WPI students take advantage of the many academic opportunities available to them. He piloted the First-Year Welcome Experience, a new program for incoming students that emerged from work by the Mental Health Implementation Team.

What’s the First-Year Welcome Experience all about?

The FYWE was an opportunity for us to enhance one of the most important characteristics of WPI—connection. Students and families are seeking an environment where relationships are put at the forefront of the learning experience. This summer we welcomed more than 1,000 students and their families to campus to participate in programming that connected them with their peers, student leaders, academic advisors, and faculty and staff across the institution. We held 10 different sessions over two weeks, including online sessions for students who couldn’t make it to campus. The feedback we received from students and families was overwhelmingly positive. WPI is an innovative place where everyone in the community has an opportunity to try things. I am delighted that our collective effort to try something new yielded such a valuable experience for new students.

Why do you include parents in this program?

As a parent myself, I know I want to see my children have the best opportunities available to them. At WPI, we truly value parents as partners in helping educate students holistically. The FYWE allowed us the chance to put this into practice. We developed a day-long series of connection experiences where parents were able to meet with staff and faculty. We received lots of great feedback about their experience, including this: “We loved every aspect of our day, and we are so excited for our son to attend WPI! Participating in the first-year experience really demonstrated how well the culture and academic structure are such a wonderful fit for our son.” And one of my favorite quotes: “I finally understand what a 1/3 credit is!”

What feedback have you received from incoming students so far?

Student feedback about the FYWE has also been very positive. One student wrote: “I already made three friends in my incoming class and even though we didn’t have much in common, we all just vibed with each other really well and had so much fun!” The transition to college can be challenging for students (and families), so to hear these words brings me a lot of joy. The FYWE marked the kick-off for new students and families, but we have also redesigned a number of our other experiences to make the first year a positive one. This included changing the course registration process to reduce stress for students, and also awarding PE credit for the Insight program. These changes have been welcomed by students and we believe they will have a positive impact in their first year.

How do you balance the high academic standards of both students and faculty with the potential for mental health challenges? 

Our students are incredibly dedicated. They are focused on doing well academically, in their clubs and activities, in their sports, in their jobs—you name it. Leveraging this dedication to ensure that students are also dedicating the time to take care of themselves and others is something we are paying a lot of attention to. WPI is a rigorous academic institution where students get a world-class education. There is also a lot more to it. The WPI experience is about developing relationships, taking on leadership roles, increasing independence, and so much more. We are working to ensure that students are supported through this academic journey by our faculty and staff, who care about their well-being. 

What excites you about your job?

So much! I have been at WPI for 10 years and I am always amazed by our students. I am fortunate to work with students on a daily basis and feel spoiled to be a part of their experience. I love hearing about students’ Interactive Qualifying Project experiences, their involvement in clubs, business ideas they have, and generally how they’re doing. I also get to work with an incredible team in Academic Advising who care so much about students. There have been so many positive changes at WPI since I started working here, including the new Unity Hall building where the Advising Office is now located. It’s a great community to be a part of.

What might someone be surprised to learn about you?

I am originally from Ireland and love to get back to visit whenever I can. My wife, Stephanie, competed at the 2012 London Olympics in track and field—we have been involved in the sport since we were kids. We are still heavily active in track—coaching adults through Central Mass Striders and our kids’ running club, Edge Elite Track Club. Both our older kids also compete, so it is nice to be still involved with a sport that we grew up doing.

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