The Early Years: A look into the history of Mass Academy with WPI Professor Lance Schachterle
In 2021, Professor Lance Schachterle celebrated 50 years at WPI. Professor Schachterle’s time at WPI has included 24 years in central administration, including a post at WPI’s London Project Center, a part of the Global Projects Program he was instrumental in starting—he calls the Global Projects Program his “most important contribution to WPI.” Within that time in central administration, Professor Schachterle worked as an Assistant Dean in Undergraduate Studies. It was during this time in 1992-93 when Massachusetts State Senator Arthur Chase approached then-president of WPI, Jon Strauss, presenting his vision for an accelerated public high school introducing advanced students to challenging STEM coursework: the Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science.
Professor Schachterle’s administrative role placed him at the forefront of many pieces of the Academy’s foundation. Early conversations spanned the many questions raised about a school like Mass Academy. How would high school students engage with college courses? Why should surrounding districts support the Academy? And, perhaps most importantly, who would be paying?
The first was answered with relative ease.
“It didn’t take long for faculty to appreciate [that] having Mass Academy students in 1 or 2000 level classes was an advantage in the classroom because of their participation,” said Professor Schachterle.
Since leaving administration 12 years ago and returning to teaching classes in English literature and interdisciplinary classes examining science through a humanities lens, Professor Schachterle estimates he has taught at least 150 Mass Academy students, “who are always among the best in the class.”
“The academic success–more than anything else–got the faculty happy to have them in the classroom,” he said.
Bringing surrounding districts on board was a harder task. Luckily, Professor Schachterle and President Strauss were able to work with former superintendent of Worcester Public Schools, John Durkin.
“John Durkin was enormously helpful — I watched him do his work talking to superintendents in smaller districts — he was very persuasive in sharing with them his sense of the Academy’s purpose,” said Professor Schachterle. “He would argue that rather than having to pick out one or two teachers to work with the best students they could send them to our institution in Worcester and send them to study with our students in an equally strong community.”
While surrounding districts began to believe in the Academy, there was still some trepidation around funding. There was some initial discussion about having sending school-districts fund the Academy, similar to the per-student expenditure paid if students are attending an in-district school. However, President Strauss, Professor Schachterle, and several WPI trustees set out to secure funding directly from the state.
Professor Schachterle says he would “go with the delegation including President Strauss and trustees with good political contacts to the statehouse and make our case to the President of the Senate, [Billy Bulger].” In the end, the WPI delegation secured state funding which continues to make the Academy possible.
Professor Schachterle’s involvement in both the administration and in the classroom has enabled numerous opportunities for students across the state, nation, and the world — through the Academy, his teaching, and foundation of the Global Projects Center.
Concluding our conversation he said smiling, “Mass Academy and STEM outreach have all worked out very nicely.”
Diego Suchenksi Loustaunau
Senior Staff Writer