Making a Difference on Two Continents

Nick Pelletier

Sometimes, history lessons lurk in unexpected places. When Nick Pelletier '09 and his Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) team traveled to WPI's Cape Town (South Africa) Project Center to help the city develop a bus rapid transit system, they came face to face with the lingering effects of apartheid, the system of racial segregation in place in South Africa from the late 1940s until 1994. Apartheid left Johannesburg and its suburbs populated mostly by white residents, while the black population lives predominantly in outlying settlements that are poorly connected to the city proper.

As Cape Town prepares to host the 2010 World Cup, it seeks to overcome this divide with improved public transportation. Nick and his student team conducted a feasibility analysis for a proposed bus rapid transit system within Cape Town's central business district, part of a network that will bring people to the city center efficiently and overcome the security, speed, and comfort issues that keep many people from using public transport. The students surveyed passengers, developed a routing plan for the central business district, and even sketched out proposed station designs.

WPI Global Projects Program

WPI's approach to global education is unique and uniquely effective. Learn about the Global Projects Program and other elements of the WPI Difference.

An Advance in Veterinary Medicine

For his Major Qualifying Project (MQP), Nick, a biomedical engineering major, took on a very different challenge. Sponsored by Securos, a veterinary medical company founded by Harry Wotton '94, '96 (MS), Nick and two fellow students explored existing surgical treatments for chronic hip dislocation in dogs.

Before they began, there was no reliable and simple technique for correcting the problem. The students developed a design for a new product that will make the surgery easier and increase the success rate. They also built and tested several prototypes. Securos may commercialize the final design, which won the students WPI's 2009 Provost’s MQP Award in biomedical engineering. The experience helped motivate Nick to continue at WPI to work toward an MS in biomedical engineering.

Nick's drive to make a difference extended beyond his academic work at WPI. In 2007, he took an active role in a campaign to reestablish Phi Kappa Theta fraternity on campus. He also helped organize a novel team-building event for new members. Over spring break in 2008, fraternity brothers traveled to York, Pa., where they logged more than 360 hours building four new homes for Habitat for Humanity. Nick was also a driving force behind a successful effort to bring the first Relay for Life event at WPI. Relay for Life is a national fundraising program for the American Cancer Association. The two relay events Nick helped organize raised more than $140,000 for the organization.

Learn More about This Story

  • Founded in 2007, the target="_self">Cape Town Project Center was WPI's second residential center in Africa (the Namibia Project Center was started in 2002). A South Africa project team that developed a communal laundry station for a Cape Town settlement won the 2007 WPI President's IQP Award. In 2008, General Electric Chairman Jeffrey Immelt, at WPI to deliver the Commencement address, announced a $100,000 gift from GE to support the center.
  • Nick Pelletier wrote a blog while he was in South Africa. In it he records his initial impressions of Cape Town, a large, modern city. He also recounts a memorable visit with the people in a settlement many miles from Cape Town and describes learning to surf on the Indian Ocean, and chronicles the work his project team completed on their bus rapid transit project.
  • The story of Nick's prize-winning MQP was told in the Lawrence (Mass.) Eagle Tribune from the perspective of fellow team member Jen Richards '09. Richards, who as a member of the WPI softball team was named to the 2009 ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America college division second team, missed a softball tournament to present her MQP.
  • Phi Kappa Theta's decision to spend spring break building houses for Habitat for Humanity was covered in an article on the website of the fraternity's national organization.
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