New Provost Overstrӧm Looks to Tradition, Trends to Continue Wentworth Success

September 21, 2017

Wentworth’s new senior vice president of academic affairs and provost, Eric Overstrӧm, relishes the chance to “move the needle forward.” With more than 30 years of experience in higher education, he brings an expert background to an institution that continues to make tremendous strides.

“I really look forward to the next several years in terms of continuing to move forward the great progress Wentworth has made, including the faculty and student success,” Overstrӧm says. “It’s a very exciting time.”

A Fulbright Scholar and Lauro F. Cavazos Award recipient for teaching excellence, Overstrӧm has been interested in science for as long as he can remember. After studying biology as an undergraduate at the State University of New York at Oswego, he earned his master’s degree and doctorate in reproductive physiology/developmental biology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Physiology and biophysics training as a Harvard Medical School postdoctoral fellow paved the way for a faculty position at Tufts University’s School of Medicine.

“It was a big rush,” he says of his first teaching job. “It’s a distinct group of individuals that you join as a faculty member.”

At Tufts, Overstrӧm developed his teaching and medical curricula and conducted lab research on animal reproduction and development while working up to professor level. After 20 years as a Tufts faculty member, Overstrӧm left to head up the relatively new Department of Biology and Biotechnology at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).

In 2010, Overstrӧm became WPI’s provost and senior vice president of the Division of Academic Affairs, overseeing the hiring of three academic deans and doubling the school’s research efforts. He also helped generate more than $7 million in support for students and faculty initiatives, and $37 million for academic programs.

In Wentworth, Overstrӧm sees the opportunity to marry tradition with emerging trends. The university’s addition of a Biological Engineering major, he says, is but one example of how Wentworth is keeping pace.

“There are immense opportunities now to merge the principles and concepts that underpin engineering and to apply them to the biggest problems that we have today in areas such as health care, energy, and the environment—the living side of the real world,” Overstrӧm says.

Wentworth’s EPIC (externally collaborative, project-based, interdisciplinary culture) model has proven to be a tremendously successful one for students. Overstrӧm believes that college students are excited about the opportunity to spread out into various professional areas, while having the chance to make industry connections during their academic tenure on co-op.

 “At Wentworth, we are very proud of the fact that our students have tremendous employment opportunities,” he says. “But students also want to receive an education with a purpose, education with an impact.”

One area in which students continue to make an impact is Accelerate, Wentworth’s innovation and entrepreneurship center. Now in its sixth year, Accelerate continues to be a hub of social innovation and will eventually make its home in the new academic building for engineering, innovation, and sciences.

“Students are incredibly innovative and creative if given the opportunity and the support,” Overstrӧm says. “I think programs like Accelerate are a great extension of the classroom, and allow tremendous external collaboration to take place.”

Regarding the new academic building, Overstrӧm feels the excitement around campus. “That’s only going to grow,” he adds. “[It’s an example of] Wentworth’s commitment to providing an environment of cutting-edge, world-class teaching and learning spaces.”

As the building’s construction progresses, Overstrӧm sees a university that continues to improve itself through new facilities, added degree programs, and evolving teaching models—including EPIC, which he calls “perhaps the most profoundly impactful approach to education today.” Still, he knows that tradition is a key part of a student’s experience at Wentworth, and he is mindful of maintaining the pieces that have already made Wentworth a success while also pulling from his varied background to help the Institute advance.

“Wentworth has a long and storied history in technology,” Overstrӧm says, “and we are going to continue that going forward.”

--Greg Abazorius

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