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A course on introversion helps students see the value and science behind personality types and connect them with similar peers.

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At Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, two faculty members are celebrating introverts’ strengths in the course Success for Introverts, looking at the physical and social aspects of introversion and how students can recognize and utilize their practical talents.

The course, taught regularly each fall since 2021, attracts a community of introverts and offers them pertinent skills to use in their personal and professional circles to flourish and thrive.

What’s the need: Introversion is a personality type identified by an individual’s need to turn inward to process and recharge, whereas those who are more extroverted draw energy from being with other people or the things around them. Extroversion as a personality trait is a spectrum, with students capable of being more or less introverted or extroverted over their lifetimes.

For an introvert, it can also be difficult to contribute to a group environment because they want time to process information, or need time to recharge after prolonged interaction.

Recent research found extroverted students are more likely to feel as though they belong at their college, particularly at large public research universities. While researchers believe orientation and classroom activities can be modified to benefit students of all different personality types, students should also be encouraged to engage like an extrovert sometimes.

At WPI, students participate in project-based learning as part of graduation requirements, completing an interactive qualifying project and major qualifying project, which requires learners to work as a team. Sometimes, introverts can struggle with these requirements, so the course also strives to empower students in their unique capabilities and skills.

How it works: Success for Introverts takes place each fall during B-term (WPI’s second of four quarters during the academic year). The 0.75-credit course fulfills wellness and physical education credit (part of the general education requirements) but also gives students practical skills.

The course is co-taught by N. Aaron Deskins, a professor of chemical engineering, and Kristin Boudreau, professor of humanities and arts. During the weekly 50-minute sessions, course content covers the chemistry and biology of introversion, as well as the strengths and challenges of the personality type and how they apply to the real world.

Faculty hope students walk away with a better understanding the nature of introversion— including what that means, how it is experienced and its physiological character—for students to identify the characteristics and nuances of introversion, to see the strengths of it and advocate for practices and environments in which introverts can thrive.

The course also provides strategies for introverts to navigate life challenges, such as how to decline a social invitation when they need quiet time or how to encourage other introverts to speak.

By the end of the term, students will learn how to work on a team, give a presentation to a crowd, manage energy levels and have difficult conversation with others.

All of the students who have taken the course to date have identified as introverts, also naturally creating a community of similar students.

The impact: The course started as a pilot in 2021, enrolling five people in an experimental elective course and since has scaled to serve up to 50 in a course.

Student feedback shows learners appreciate the space to learn more and talk openly about their introversion with other introverts. Faculty members hope the class benefits students both in their time at WPI but also in the future, as they engage in workplaces that encourage social interaction and collaboration.

Do you have an academic success tip that might help others encourage student success? Tell us about it.

This article has been updated to correct the department Professor N. Aaron Deskins belongs to, which is chemical engineering.

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