President's IQP Award Winners Announced

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

Worcester, Mass. -- Judging for the best Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) at WPI took place December 11 at Higgins House. Two Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) student project teams tied for first place in the Institute's annual President's Interactive Qualifying Projects (IQP) competition. One team researched preadmissions testing using telemedicine while the other evaluated chemical safety at Thailand's Chulalongkorn University. The third place team explored the possibilities of innovation in the management of coffee wastes in Puerto Rico.

The President's IQP Competition represents the best of the projects completed each year. Five teams gave oral presentations on their projects to a panel that included WPI President Edward Parrish, faculty and invited guests who selected the winners.

WPI juniors Shannon Hogan of Agawam, Mass., Yueh-Hui Lin of Manchester, N.H., Sean Veale of Chicopee, Mass., and Robert Eckman of Springfield, Va. (pictured above with WPI President Edward A. Parrish) and their advisor, Chemistry professor Stephen Weininger traveled to Bangkok, Thailand to compete their IQP "Evaluating Chemical Safety at Chulalongkorn University." The students' primary question was "What is the view of safety in a developing, industrialized country like Thailand?" Through a series of over 500 surveys, site visits, and interviews with faculty, staff and students of Chulalongkorn University, the IQP team discovered that Thai cultural attitudes regarding personal respect and autonomy, as well as the deficiency of appropriate support services prevented the enforcement of a uniform set of chemical safety rules in the labs of Chulalongkorn.

Initially, the IQP team said that they wondered whether the faculty and staff at Chulalongkorn did not enforce proper safety procedures out of indifference or lack of information. Much to their surprise, the team discovered that neither was the reason. It was the Thai idea that to impose one's personal ideas of safety upon another was wrong and violated the Thai concept of personal integrity and respect.

After completing their research design, the students suggested to the University administration that the physical environment of the University should be modified in order for chemicals to be properly stored and handled, and that a uniform set of safety rules should be enforced throughout the University in a "top down" fashion. A final suggestion was that outdated safety equipment be discarded and that new equipment be purchased so that chemical safety procedures could be effectively implemented.

The students said that they did not seek to impose a "Western" understanding of safety upon the community at Chulalongkorn as they realized that Thai culture was different than their own but possessed many admirable qualities such as emphases upon patience and compassion. The students said they found their Thai hosts to be very friendly and appreciation.

The IQP team that tied for first place did their research entirely on American soil, much of it taking place at the Deaconess Hospital in Boston and at WPI. This team's project was entitled "PreAdmissions Testing Using Telemedicine." The team, pictured above with WPI President Edward A. Parrish, included Matthew Herr of Strasburg, Pa., Bryan Allain of Swansea, Mass., Brenda Dunn of Littleton, Mass., and Matthew Freimuth of Bristol, Conn. Professor Robert A. Peura, head of the Biomedical Engineering Department, and advisor Peter Macaulay, the telemedicine project director of Deaconess Hospital, assisted them in their project.

For their project, the students explored the feasibility of using videoconferencing to extend the benefits of preadmissions testing (PAT) to patients who have preferred to have PAT done at locations closer to their homes than Deaconess, where they would be ultimately admitted for surgery.

One of the motivating questions for this team was how telemedicine could minimize the exploding cost of medical care while assisting patients in need of medical attention. The students said that a "hands on" approach dominated their research as they worked with Deaconess staff and patients. The research design involved video calls to telemedical applications to gain information about how telemedicine was being currently utilized in other parts of the nation, a literature review and interviews with patients and staff involved with telemedicine.

Through their research, the team developed a procedure that incorporates telemedicine into preadmissions testing and enables a patient to complete all the needed PAT tests in a local hospital associated with Deaconess. The results of these initial tests are then faxed to Deaconess and a video link is established between the remote clinic and the PAT nurses and physicians in Boston. Patient and hospital staff then take part in a videolink consultation, which enables them to gain information about the patient's medical status and provides the patient with information about the impending surgery.

The students said that the staff and patients involved did not mind taking part in the telemedicine procedure and that the patients, whom the students hypothesized would be intimidated by telemedicine, said they liked the procedure and that they might even request that it take place again if ever they were in need. The students said staff liked the procedure as it allowed them to visually encounter the patient, through a television monitor, prior to surgery.

The importance of this was that staff could pick up visible weakness or illness in the patient that might prevent the patient from having surgery. This visual information would not be obtainable had the staff not seen the patient through the telemedical procedure, the students said.

In addition to telemedicine's popularity globally, the students said that incorporating it into current hospital procedures would be cost effective and of great service to patients and staff. Telemedicine can save money by reducing cancelled surgery costs because some patients scheduled for surgery arrive at the hospital for surgery without PAT.

The IQP group which received third place was comprised of Jeffrey Cayer of Shelton, Conn., Marc Ortins of Peabody, Mass., and Jason Pinssonnault of Palmer, Mass. and was entitled "Management of Coffee Wastes in Puerto Rico." The group was advised by Peter Christopher, associate professor of mathematical sciences and Dieter Klein, associate professor of management. The project was completed at WPI's Puerto Rico Project Center.

The students designed a simple, inexpensive system that enables farmers to treat coffee wastes so that Puerto Rico's water bodies are no longer polluted. The innovative solutions to the problem of pollution from coffee wastes included clay lined ponds or lagoons in which wastes were processed through a variety of means such as fountains or rock aeration. The students said they emphasized utilization of existing equipment in their research design as many Puerto Rican coffee farmers are unable to afford new equipment on their sometimes small incomes.

Other President's IQP Award finalists included: Joshua Brotherton of Oxford, Mass., Diane Guevin of Prospect, Conn., and Richard Riccio of Taunton, Mass. These three students' IQP presentation was entitled "Exploring the Marketing Possibilities of Orchids of the Rain Forest Aerial Tram." The project was completed in Costa Rica with Associate Professor Susan Vernon-Gerstenfled as the advisor.

Matthew Cross of Stoughton, Mass., Michael Feely of Westwood, Mass., and James Ierardi of Avon, Mass., presented an IQP entitled "Public Policy in Urban Watershed Modeling." Their IQP took place at the Washington, D.C. project center with American Forests as their sponsor and Associate Professor Richard Vaz of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Engineering Department as their advisor.

The IQP is one of three projects all undergraduates at WPI undertake as part of the innovative WPI Plan, a flexible and academically challenging program introduced in 1972. Under the Plan, students are provided with unique opportunities for integrating classroom studies with preprofessional academic projects conducted on campus or at companies, agencies and project sites in the U.S and abroad. The purpose of the IQP is to make students aware of their responsibilities to manage technology effectively and ethically. Over 250 IQPs are completed each year.