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Worcester school gets national prize

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Worcester Polytechnic Institute has won a prestigious award for engineering and technology education.

The National Academy of Engineering on Wednesday named WPI as the 2016 winner of the Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education, emphasizing the school's practically focused and interdisciplinary approach to training.

In a statement distributed by WPI, academy of engineering president C. D. Mote Jr. said the institute has developed a "transformational program to develop engineering leaders prepared to tackle society's greatest challenges."

The Gordon award comes with a $500,000 prize, which will be split between the school and the individual professors recognized by the academy of engineering.


The prize has been awarded to a New England school for the third time in as many years. The 2015 award went to academics at Northeastern University, and the 2014 prize landed at Dartmouth College.

The honored WPI professors are: Diran Apelian, Alcoa-Howmet Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Metal Processing Institute; Arthur Heinricher, dean of undergraduate studies; Richard Vaz, dean of interdisciplinary and global studies; and Kristin Wobbe, associate dean of undergraduate studies.

WPI will use its share of the prize money to find ways to share its approach to training, President Laurie A. Leshin said in an interview. The school's training philosophy is broadly known as "The WPI Plan," developed in the 1960s and a source of pride on campus.

"It was ahead of its time, and now increasingly, people see that this kind of mindset is critical for engineers to be successful," she said, noting creativity, collaboration, and agility as strengths emphasized by WPI.

"Working on real-world projects ... really helps instill these attributes in the engineers," she said.

WPI students are working on projects around the world and throughout New England.

In 2014, for instance, a group of students studied and recommended improvements to relieve traffic congestion in the Indian city of Mandi. Many of those recommendations have been adopted, WPI officials said.


Here in Boston, students are studying issues including the effect of road salt on groundwater supplies. They are also examining policies that could help insulate the city from the risk of waterfront flooding.

Such projects become a major part of students' educational program at WPI, which Leshin said helps them focus on the issues they care about. Since 2007, the institute has also held a "Great Problems Seminar," which allows students to potential project topics focused on major global concerns.

"We feel like the projects program really has come into its own as a vehicle for us," Leshin said.

Andy Rosen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @andyrosen.