Lifelong Impact

WPI Alumni Report Project Work Has Powerful Long-Term Professional and Personal Impacts

In 2021, WPI collaborated with Hanover Research to conduct a follow-up to a 2012 study investigating the long-term impacts of WPI’s project-based learning on the lives and careers of its alumni. The study included 40 classes of WPI alumni, from 1980 to 2019, and asked about skills, mindsets, and experiences WPI alumni might attribute to their projects.

More than 2,200 survey responses were received from WPI alumni who partook in project-based learning, reflecting a return rate of 14% giving a 95% confidence interval with +/- 2%. WPI alumni of the project-based curriculum reported a wide range of long-term technical, professional, and personal benefits of their project work, including:

  • Professional skills critical to the future of work, including interdisciplinary problem-solving, effective management of cross-cutting teams, using current technology, and other 21st c skills
  • Increased self-efficacy
  • Preparation for careers across the lifespan
  • Increased global awareness and cross-cultural skills
  • Personal growth including character development and work-life balance
  • Continued connection to the WPI community
These data allowed us to further analyze the ways that project-based learning provides a high-quality, inclusive undergraduate education. The lifelong impacts of projects are developed through particular educational environments, such as:

  • Multiple projects, which allow students to practice the active learning skills used in PBL that may have been discouraged during a lifetime of teacher-centered instruction
  • Projects early in college to allow students to “fail forward” on their way to mastery without losing the benefits of subsequent project-based learning
  • Projects in multiple disciplines that allow students to develop an appreciation for the complexity of authentic challenges facing the world
Further information on these findings are detailed in a dedicated series of research briefs.

A Few of the Positive Benefits 

Infographic on benefits of PBL

Leveraging PBL for Equity

Analysis of the alumni survey confirmed that women benefitted more from WPI’s PBL, suggesting it is one mechanism through which the university has been improving equity in STEM. The evidence suggest multiple pathways through which PBL at WPI is supporting greater learning among women:

  • Women alumni report experiencing more projects in their coursework than men. While it may be that women “counted” more active learning activities as projects than men did, the case may also be that women alumni had more of a good thing.
  • Women indicated that they developed greater self-efficacy from their project work than men. It is well-documented that women have lower beliefs in their own abilities than men from an early age; projects provide women with opportunities to see that they are just as capable.
  • Alumni reported different benefits from team-based project work, with women more likely to indicate that their fellow classmates had a more positive impact on their lives than men.