This Master’s in AI Program Is a Cross-University Collaboration. Here’s How Students Will Learn.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute's new master's program in artificial intelligence will feature a heavy focus on real-world, project-based learning.
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Published on March 22, 2024
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  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute is adding an artificial intelligence master's program starting in fall 2024.
  • It will include both a master's of science and a graduate certificate in AI.
  • The program will also feature a combined bachelor's and master's option.
  • The degree will feature real-world, project-based learning opportunities for students.

A new project-based artificial intelligence (AI) master's degree program from one of the country's oldest technological universities is poised to help students shape the evolving technology.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts will roll out a master of science in AI program starting in fall 2024. The institute is offering multiple online and in-person options for students, including a master of science degree for students who've earned a bachelor's degree in a related field, a combined bachelor of science and master of science degree, and a graduate certificate option.

Elke Rundensteiner, a WPI professor of computer science, told BestColleges that WPI is uniquely positioned to help students excel in the rapidly changing AI landscape. She noted that the school has long embraced machine learning and other aspects of artificial intelligence.

In some sense, we've been doing that for the last 50 years, Rundensteiner, the data science program head at WPI, said in an interview. When I came to WPI around 30 years ago, we had already the AI course itself.

Students are increasingly embracing artificial intelligence, BestColleges previously found in a survey, and AI skills are in high demand from employers. A growing number of public and private institutions alike are adopting AI degree programs, including some of the country's top universities.

Rundensteiner said WPI's longstanding science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) expertise, coupled with its worldwide project centers, makes it uniquely positioned to offer a hands-on AI degree.

We have that really deep expertise, and, more importantly, we have that hands-on part. Our students don't just learn it, but they practice and experience it.

An Interdisciplinary, Customizable Degree

WPI's new graduate offerings in AI are built to reflect the changing nature of the technology, and Rundensteiner said the degree represents a cross-university collaboration.

We don't stick with any one technology, but from course to course our students practice different tools and different technologies, Rundensteiner said. They learn the concepts, but then they can adopt and apply them in pretty much any toolset that they would like to.

With STEM built into everything from WPI's Business School to its School of Arts and Sciences, students will have access to a variety of topics and specializations, including:

  • AI and business, with courses in machine learning, project management, and supply chain optimization
  • AI and engineered systems, including courses in areas like robotics and medical signal analysis
  • AI and foundations, which focuses on mathematical optimization, statistics, and data,
  • AI and game development, which includes classes in design and interactive experiences
  • AI and global development, a specialization focused on sustainability, social justice, health, and climate change
  • AI and human experiences, which deals with human-computer and human-robot interactions
  • AI and learning sciences, which focuses on education
  • AI and material sciences, with classes on nanomaterials, smart materials, and manufacturing
  • AI and neuroscience
  • AI and robotics
  • AI and security, with courses on using AI and machine learning in cybersecurity
  • AI and software systems, which includes courses on advanced algorithms and computing

Input from across the university was critical in creating an interdisciplinary, holistic AI program, Rundensteiner said.

Real-World, Project-Based Learning

Graduates of WPI's new master's in AI program will be ready to hit the ground running after graduation. Rundensteiner emphasized the importance of project-based learning in the new program.

Many of those AI-driven projects encourage students to find their own solutions and incorporate different AI technologies, she said.

Every single class has project components, Rundensteiner said. In a good number of them, they can choose their own technologies in which they realize the given problem that they need to solve. That allows them to adapt to change pretty quickly.

Project-based learning is a key component of WPI's educational approach to STEM. In addition to the hands-on work that students do in class, WPI also boasts a number of real-world learning opportunities in the United States and beyond. The university has more than 50 global project centers across six continents.

The AI master's curriculum is also informed by industry leaders. Rundensteiner said business partners were instrumental in giving input on what skills and topics were important for an AI graduate degree.

One of the program's classes — machine learning and operations management — was included in the curriculum because of feedback from industry partners. They said employees need to be able to not only build artificial intelligence programs but also keep them updated and running once they're deployed.

We created this course completely driven by industry telling us: This is what you need in order to have a valid degree program where we want to hire your employees out of the gate, Rundensteiner said.

She added that the degree's ethics and AI training came about as employers underscored the importance of understanding how to legally and ethically use artificial intelligence.

A Pathway From a Bachelor's to an AI Master's

WPI's new AI program will feature three separate options for students: a master of science degree for students who already received a bachelor's degree, a graduate certificate, and a combined bachelor of science and master of science degree.

The combined bachelor of science and master of science degree allows students to double-count certain courses and pursue both degrees in less time than pursuing each degree separately would take.

A student could pursue an undergraduate major in a field like biomedical engineering, Rundensteiner said, and then add the AI master's degree by interweaving required classes during the final year of their bachelor's degree, allowing an accelerated pathway to earning the master's degree.

That option gained major interest from WPI students, Rundensteiner said, adding an early 2024 information session on the combined pathway was standing room only. She said the growing prevalence of AI technologies like ChatGPT has sparked interest among students and faculty alike.

It's not just future students that might come to WPI, she said. I think there's great excitement on campus among students and among our faculty.