Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Understanding the Human Dimension

Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Understanding the Human Dimension

It’s the time of the year I write to you via our newsletter, and it happens to coincide with the activities of the university semester, and all the excitement of new students and classes. In this vein, I question whether we have communicated the full extent of our activities here at MPI regarding our work in holistic education.

You know us from all the project work, research results, reports, and publications; our presentations at our consortia meetings as well as professional meetings; and technical discussions we have had with you. In addition, a major part of our work is dedicated to the education of our students – undergraduates, as well as graduate students. More important, we here at WPI distinguish ourselves and take great pride in the manner in which we have built a comprehensive learning environment.

This past week, Norman Augustine, past CEO of Lockheed Martin, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and chair of the major report to the Government, titled Rising Above The Gathering Storm – Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal (September 21), and I quote:

“If the American economy is to recover from the Great Recession – and I believe it can – it will be because of a ready supply of workers with the critical thinking, creative problem solving, technological and communication skills needed to fuel productivity and growth”


What we do here at WPI is exactly what Augustine is talking about. It is not just the technical know-how, but innovation, entrepreneurship, understanding the human dimension, and making things happen. We are educating the next generation of “polytechniciens” who have a historical perspective and an understanding of the needs of our society. We have revolutionized engineering education through a project-based learning approach, and the results speak for themselves. Our graduates are sought after; Forbes magazine has ranked us 9th in the nation for graduates who go on to leadership positions, and has identified them as “top earners.”

In addition to all we do at MPI, we put much effort in developing a course for our first year students, “Sustainable Development in the 21st Century,” which has been well received. It covers key challenges that the global society faces: climate change, energy, food and water, mobility/transportation, housing, materials recovery and recycling, health, etc. The five main objectives of the course are:

  1. to encourage critical thinking, information literacy, and evidence-based writing in the first year;
  2. to engage first year students with current events, societal problems, and human needs;
  3. to cultivate in each first year student a personal foundation for lifelong learning;
  4. to contribute to a more intellectually stimulating environment at WPI; and
  5. to promote civic engagement and community partnerships.


Now, does this sound like an “engineering course”? It certainly is, and we have succeeded in teaching engineering through real applications that encompass a holistic view of the world. Our experience is that it makes a big difference in student engagement, interest, and inspiration to delve into the subject matter. So now you know a bit more about some of the other facets of our lives as professors. It is a privileged life to be able to open minds, and to continually learn and be challenged.

I thank each one of you for your support of the Metal Processing Institute and your valuable guidance in making MPI a hallmark for industry-university alliance.

Diran Apelian, MPI Director

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