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Interface Disciplines At Wpi: A Case Study In Creating New Programs

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.279.1 - 1.279.5

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Paper Authors

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Lance Schachterle

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 0230


Lance Schachterle Worcester Polytechnic Institute

INTRODUCTION: In recent years, many faculty in engineering and science have observed a major shift in prospective employers interested in their strongest graduates. Increasingly, hitherto unusual employers, such as major law and finance firms, have eagerly been hiring engineering and science majors. Such employers have indicated that a solid grounding in how engineers think--especially their familiarity with mathematical modeling; with computer data bases, communications, and software; and with solving problems by deciding among various conflicting solutions--is ideal preparation for employment in their fields.

In the early ‘90’s, WPI faculty and administration recognized a pressing need to create new opportunities for undergraduate engineering students to pursue unconventional career objectives in these fields at the “interface” between technologies and societal needs, such as pre-law or pre-health programs. Flexibility and minimal capital costs for such new programs were crucial in this “re-engineering,” and in no case was a new department desirable. Instead, existing resources--especially WPI’S flexible, project-based curriculum and existing good corporate contacts--were re-aligned in new patterns to provide the academic matrix for what became new majors, concentrations, and minors.

EXPLAINING THE PROGRAM IN-HOUSE AND GETTING FACULTY SUPPORT: To draw upon the range of ideas and resources on campus, WPI developed an in-house RFP process with a critical review by a committee appointed by faculty governance. The RFP (presented in Appendix 1) asked for a full description of the program, including its market niche, existing and requisite resources, and brief business plan with “return on investment” information. The intent was to emphasize the necessity of marshaling and redirecting existing resources, not advancing a “wish list” for new ones.

Faculty response was immediate. Proposals for undergraduate interface discipline initiatives were submitted in American studies, museum and archival science; management, economics and technology; entrepreneurship; environmental programs; industrial engineering in a global economy; international affairs; pre-health and pre-law studies; quantum engineering; society, technology and policy; secondary school mathematics and science teacher certification; technical, scientific and professional communications; theater technology; and technology-based management and technology. Proposals for graduate-level intelface discipline initiatives were received in computer and communication networks, fire safety distance learning, and technology and public policy.

Clearly, most of these titles suggest faculty from two or more disciplines seeking an educational and professional opportunity in the interface between a technical and a non-technical program and faculty. The bridge over the interface was most often proposed via the social sciences (for example, pre-law or economics and technology), though the humanities and arts also participated (theater technology; technical, professional and scientific communications.) In a few cases the two players were both in technical areas (like computer and communication networks where both the Departments of Computer Science and of Electrical and Computer Engineering equally participated.)

The faculty review committee recommended 10 new programs (of 18 completed submissions). The President and Provost accepted their recommendations and added several more promising programs. The

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Schachterle, L. (1996, June), Interface Disciplines At Wpi: A Case Study In Creating New Programs Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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