At the start of the 1994-95 academic year, a Steering Committee was established to guide the follow-on activities. It included two students, two administrators, and four faculty. These representatives were chosen by their constituencies. One of the manifestations of the success of the conference was the group of committed volunteers who joined in the Steering Committee's work; indeed, there was no clear distinction between the formal and the volunteer members of this group.
Through the fall semester, the Steering Committee organized a series of discussions with academic departments to expand and assimilate the list of needs and expectations for the first year that had been identified by the Search Conference participants. This expanded list of needs and expectations formed a kind of problem statement that was generally accepted across campus. Such wide acceptance is certainly one of the fruits of a future search conference.
The discussions with departmental faculty were not idle exercises. For example, the physics faculty noticed a key omission in the list of expectations for the first year: the conference participants had unaccountably failed to include developing writing skills, a principal demand of WPI's project-based curriculum! On another occasion, faculty in an engineering department displayed considerable hostility toward group learning activities in a first-year course, activities consistent with expectations for the first year, because they believed technical skills were being weakened as a consequence.
During the spring, the Steering Committee identified three areas in which prototype programs could be developed: extended student projects to bridge mathematics and science courses and to provide student teams an early introduction to open-ended problem solving; an orientation program that extends into the first term to integrate social and intellectual skills with the demands of the first few weeks of classes; and a novel Cambridge-like tutorial program to build intellectual independence. The Office of the Provost responded to a formal proposal from the Steering Committee by providing summer and academic year support for faculty to begin developing and testing these ideas.
Implementation and assessment await the beginning of the 1995-96 academic year.