Now that it’s finals week, this is a good time to write a few very overdue blogs and report on the activities that the chairs, deans and provost’s office have been working on this semester. Once a month we’ve met as a group to discuss curricular changes, graduation requirements and other academic matters. There has also been substantial activity in moving interdisciplinary project-based learning (IPBL) and innovation and entrepreneurship projects forward. In this post, I’ll discuss the initiatives in IPBL and innovation and entrepreneurship, and over the next week or so I’ll post some comments about the curricular and graduation requirement discussions.
By repurposing some funds in this year’s Provost’s budget, the Provost’s Office has been able to make limited funds available to promote interdisciplinary project-based learning. The IPBL activities on campus are being coordinated by Associate Provost Chuck Hotchkiss. To apply for funding, the best path to follow is to talk with Chuck about your project ideas and the reasons why additional funding is needed. Requests can be up to $5k or so. If it’s a really good idea and you convince Chuck and Chuck convinces me, it might be possible to obtain a bit more than that. One project that has been funded already is a program to combine computer science and mechanical engineering. Durga Suresh and Bob Lind have arranged for their classes to be scheduled at the same time so that the students from both classes can work together. They received funds to purchase some of the supplies needed to build prototypes.
To be eligible for funding, all three of the components of IPBL must be demonstrable. It must be interdisciplinary, that is, it must bring together at least two separate areas of study to work on a project at the same time. While it is easiest to see this occurring with students and faculty from two or more departments, it is possible that two faculty from the same department who approach a single problem from different directions could meet this criterion. It must be project-based. The students should learn by doing, not through traditional lecturing. A project should have a specific, measurable goal as its final result. The project should include measurable learning outcomes that demonstrate that the students have successfully added knowledge and skills.
A second IPBL initiative is the Accelerate Innovation and Entrepreneurship Challenge. This initiative is being led by Monique Fuchs and Fred Driscoll. We are challenging our students to assemble interdisciplinary teams to put their ideas into practice. Their plans will be judged by faculty, alumni and successful entrepreneurs, and the top-rated ones will receive funding to produce prototypes or proof-of-concept results. We should be able to fund one to three of the student projects. You may be familiar with similar programs in place at other schools, like the other Institute of Technology across the Charles River. Monique and Fred have spent a lot of time talking to lots of different people about how to set this program up for success. They’ve visited other schools, talked with successful entrepreneurs (both Wentworth alumni and others), students, faculty and businesses. They’ve indentified the good ideas and used them as the basis of the Accelerate Challenge. It should be an interesting summer for our students who become the first teams to be part of it. For more information, go to www.wit.edu/accelerate.
We’ve talked about IPBL for several years now. It’s time to move from discussion to doing. These two initiatives will be the first steps in what should be an exciting adventure for all of us. The solid boosters are lit and the main engines are burning. Hang on for the ride!
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