Growing the London Humanities and Arts Project Center

Sponsor: London Humanities & Arts Project Center
Sponsor Liaison: Professor Esther Boucher
Student Team: Dylan Flegel
Miya Judy
Jack Leserman
Matthew Shea
Abstract: The London Humanities and Arts Project Center has recently experienced low enrollment. We surveyed and interviewed undergraduate students, faculty, and staff to establish ways to grow the program and improve student resources. We determined that poor outreach, lack of information, and cost were the most significant factors limiting growth, with students in London additionally needing better access to research resources. We recommended piloting a five-week program, promoting the Humanities and Arts Project Centers website, and informing incoming and current freshmen of project centers.
Link: Growing the London Humanities and Arts Project Center

Executive Summary

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) offers a variety of short-term study abroad opportunities including completing the Humanities and Arts (HUA) requirement at one of five off-campus project centers. While abroad, students complete three research projects grounded in humanities and arts disciplines. Each HUA Project Center has a director who is a WPI faculty member. The director advises the enrolled students who travel abroad with them. Student-chosen topics are wide-ranging, meaning many are outside of their director’s area of focus. These programs have recently experienced low enrollment. The London Humanities and Arts Project Center (LPC) had 19 students enrolled in 2018, only six in 2019, and in 2022 following the Coronavirus pandemic, twelve students enrolled. Our goal was to grow the LPC by increasing enrollment and helping students in London access site-specific information. We designed a strategy to attract new students to the LPC and created a website with consolidated information about the LPC containing an interactive map to help students in London find research resources.

Our methods comprised a multi-pronged approach in which we distributed surveys, conducted interviews, and consolidated information about the LPC onto a website. We sent surveys to WPI undergraduates, faculty, and staff to determine what the WPI community knows about HUA Project Centers. We also interviewed former Project Center Directors to learn their opinions of the LPC program. Finally, we created a website using WordPress to consolidate information on all of WPI’s HUA Project Centers.

We surveyed WPI undergraduate students, former LPC participants, academic advisors, HUA faculty, and insight advisors. The surveys made in Qualtrics collected qualitative and quantitative data from our populations of interest. We distributed multiple surveys to gather how the LPC does or does not interest students, what students know about completing the HUA requirement abroad, what faculty know about the project centers, and how the current and past HUA students and their directors felt about their experiences. We received a total of 307 undergraduate survey responses which is 6% of the undergraduate population. We received a total of 25 responses from the 73 faculty and staff equaling a response rate of 34%.

We interviewed two former LPC Directors. The first former director we interviewed advised students at the LPC after the restructuring of the program in 2018. The second former director we interviewed was with LPC before the restructuring of the program. Interviews with former directors gave us insight into how the program has developed over the years and what the program is lacking from a faculty standpoint.

We designed the LPC website through WordPress, which has a simple user interface. We then transferred ownership of the website to the LPC Director. We designed and embedded an interactive map into the website for active LPC participants to use as a resource. This map includes a collection of locations that relate to HUA disciplines, contain special interest topics, and highlight niche resources. To identify these places we contacted summer 2022 students and did our own research to find potential locations for HUA research. We then narrowed down locations by visiting them ourselves to determine if they were viable for HUA students. If a location followed our criteria we pinned it on the interactive map. We sorted locations by HUA discipline based on the subject matter they presented. We visited 27 locations while in London and identified an additional 46 potentially helpful sites.

Findings and Recommendations
We found the WPI community either lacks knowledge or has misconceptions about HUA Project Centers. We also determined the cost of the program or learning about the program too late deters students from seriously considering attending a project center.
Communication and Program Knowledge

The undergraduate survey showed that 30% of respondents were unaware of the program’s existence. The lack of awareness is partially explained by 44% of faculty and staff never having a discussion with a student about the option to complete the HUA requirement abroad. Additionally, 80% of students and 64% of faculty and staff reported never seeing or receiving bulletins about HUA Project Centers. Faculty and staff reported wanting a website for HUA Project Centers information 73% of the time and a video 64% of the time.

We recommend promoting the LPC through multiple sources like email, screens on campus, freshman events, course announcements, and information sessions with multiple dates and times. We further recommend recording information sessions for ease of distribution to students, faculty, and staff. Faculty or staff can table-sit1 around campus and offer incentives to students for coming up to the table and discussing HUA Project Centers. We recommend HUA Project Center Directors commit to updating the customized website to ensure each project center’s information is up-to-date. If the HUA Project Center Directors prefer less frequent website interaction, we recommend selecting an application deadline that is consistent year to year. We also recommend promoting the website in promotional material and at information sessions.

The LPC costs students approximately $13,000 without financial aid. Of the undergraduates surveyed 98% said they were unwilling to pay $13,000 to participate in an HUA Project Center. The LPC occurs in the summer term, which requires students to pay summer tuition without accepting summer job opportunities, increasing the financial strain. A five-week program with lowered cost would increase interest for 73% of undergraduates. We recommend the LPC pilot a program where students spend five weeks in London conducting research and two weeks writing the project papers remotely. Alternatively, WPI could offer a one-course credit to jump-start the project on-campus D-term. Students would then earn two course credits during the five weeks instead of the three students earned during seven weeks. We recommend assessing the restructured program’s viability through student feedback after the program and completing a comparison of student enjoyment and final product of the pilot program versus the enjoyment and final product of a seven-week term.

The implementation of these recommendations should lead to the LPC seeing increased student
enrollment and enjoyment. Faculty and staff who are knowledgeable and up-to-date on project centers
decrease the spread of misconceptions and increase informed communication to students. The increase
of knowledge on campus would then lead to more students taking advantage of HUA Project Centers.