VOLUME 12, NO. 1 JUNE 1998
Off-campus projects at high tide
flood of student interest in off-campus project opportunities in the last two years promises to firmly anchor WPI in the No. 1 position in global studies among technological universities.
Nearly 700 undergraduates - a record number - attended last September's Global Opportunities Fair, says Natalie Mello, program administrator for the Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division (IGSD). "More than 350 undergraduates applied for off-campus projects in the days following the fair, eclipsing the 175 applications we received after the 1996 fair; as of May 1, more than 370 students have been accepted for off-campus IQPs or MQPs for 1998-99." Mello attributes the near-doubling in applications to the innovative new Global Ambassadors program and to the dedication and support of faculty and administrators.
Students will be working in Washington, D.C., in Boston, at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and in London, Bangkok, Darmstadt, Venice, Costa Rica, Denmark, Holland, Australia and, for the first time, in Zimbabwe.
"The ambassadors were the force that turned the tide."
The increase is in large measure a response to the work of WPI's Global Ambassadors. Matthew Arner '98, who completed his IQP and MQP in Delft, The Netherlands, and Richard Vaz '79, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and IGSD co-chair, came up with the idea of using student volunteers (all veterans of off-campus projects) to get the word out about these opportunities to WPI freshmen and sophomores. They also designed the program, which was formally established in August 1997. Before last September's fair, Arner and about a dozen other volunteer ambassadors painted banners, decorated the campus and distributed handouts, then answered questions and discussed their experiences on the day of the fair.
Corallary: Commemorative coins celebrate off-campus projects
"We were impressed with how excited students were after they completed their off-campus projects and with how much the experience changed them," says Mello. "We saw the program as a perfect way to harness that energy and enthusiasm."
Leah Whalen '98, who did her IQP in London, is representative of that enthusiasm. "No other school offers a program like this to engineering students," says Whalen. "It builds your resumé and makes you more attractive to companies. If you can work in London, you can sure accomplish things here within your own culture. I want others to experience and take advantage of the possibilities of the program."
WPI's first Global Ambassadors: from left, seated, Sean Smith, Gisela Field, Sean Price, Ryan McDaniel, Andrea Sturtevant; standing, Anne Pareti, Leah Whalen, Matt Johnson, Kim James, Andrew Solitro.
Throughout the year Global Ambassadors give presentations about the Global Perspective Program in classrooms, residence halls and during Admissions open houses. They collect written reflections from students, participate in re-entry programming, maintain and update displays on current projects, and coordinate the mailing of postcards from current to perspective project students. A program is being developed to get the word out to high school students about WPI's global project and exchange opportunities.
"I was attracted to the program because I learned so much during the weeks I spent in Delft," says Arner. "Sharing that experience with other WPI students and with others in my class who had done projects in other parts of the world through the Global Ambassadors program enabled me to keep the momentum going and helped ensure that these opportunities would not be overlooked."
Global Studies Program Director Hossein Hakim responded immediately to the outpouring of interest by seeking assistance from WPI administrators, on-site directors, and members of the faculty. "The administrators told me it was an appropriate investment and agreed to support the additional needs," he says. "I then went to our on-site project advisors to ask if they could find projects and living quarters for more students. Everyone said, 'Yes, we welcome them.'" Faculty members who were scheduled to be on-site advisors also plunged in by seeking out projects for the additional student teams. In the coming academic year, the number of students doing projects at the Washington and Bangkok centers each will double to 30; Denmark and Darmstadt each will increase from 6 to 15 students; and London will grow from 45 to 75 project students. "This is a wonderful example of how WPI has responded to a need," says Vaz.
"The ambassadors were the force that turned the tide for the program," says Mello, who notes that as of this fall every entering WPI student will receive a voucher for a free passport. "We are doing everything we can to make the WPI project experience meaningful and accessible to all of our students - and it is clear that with the support of the administration and the enthusiasm of the students, our efforts are working."
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