Students Complete Problem-Solving Projects in Bangkok

WPI Plans to Honor All of Its World-Traveling Students May 21 in Worcester

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

BANGKOK, Thailand - No matter where you go in the world, the historic qualities that make each place unique are in danger of modern encroachment. To remedy that problem in Thailand, three Worcester Polytechnic Institute juniors have completed a project and made some recommendations to help one historic areas preserve its culture. At the same time, these students addressed the environmental and financial situation that has caused the problem.

The project, conducted by Danielle LaBrecque of Pembroke, Mass., Brittany Noga of Harvard, Mass., and David Schwalb of Northwood, N.H., focused on Rattanakosin Island, formed by a series of canals. The island contains many historical sites including Bangkok's Royal Palace and a number of Buddhist temples. Unfortunately, the canals have become polluted due to urbanization. To develop their recommendations, the students completed extensive research on sustainability plans and a hands-on study.

"While visiting important historical sites, we noticed that some artifacts such as statues and murals were in need of repair," the students wrote in their final report. "Murals were peeling and the Buddha images' gold layers look picked apart." To combat the deterioration, the students suggested measures to protect the artifacts from further destruction. The students also completed a water quality analysis of the canals, which revealed dangerous levels of pollutants.

"It was found that one cause for this pollution was a lack of sewer systems in the waterfront communities along the canals," the students noted. "If proper management and control of wastes were implemented, then fewer pollutants and bacteria would enter the canal systems." Their recommendations were presented to Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, which sponsored the project.

Through the Global Perspective Program, WPI students work for a seven-week term at a residential project sites in the United States, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Denmark, Germany, Zimbabwa, Sweden, Italy or Switzerland. Project work provides students with opportunities to learn by solving problems through professional or government agencies.

On Friday, May 21, from 2:30-4:30 p.m. at the Worcester, Mass., Crowne Plaza Hotel, WPI will honor its world-traveling students at "A Celebration of Global Experiences."

The event will commemorate the achievements of students who have taken part in the Global Perspectives Program this year. WPI, one of the top technological universities in the United States, sends teams of students and faculty advisors to locations around the world each year to complete required Interactive and Major Qualifying Projects, part of the WPI's educational plan.

"These projects run the gamut from humanitarian efforts to environmental work to technology applications," said Professor Richard F. Vaz, who, along with Professor Karen A. Lemone, advised the students in Bangkok. Here's a look at other projects completed this year in Bangkok, one place where students try to make a difference:

  • Showing Energy Use: People the world over must learn to use the earth's resources wisely. Now, with a plan for a new exhibit at the Bangkok Science Center, WPI students hope Thai children will learn about the limitations of petroleum use and become more interested in energy conservation. WPI participants are juniors Vinesh Chatterjee of Andover, Mass., Jessica Godfrey of Holliston, Mass., Catherine Lee, of Randolph, Mass., Jason Nelson of Syracuse, N.Y., and Ken Zhao of West Roxbury, Mass., and senior Manny Lertpatanakul of North Arlington, N.J.

  • Preventing Salt Pollution: For years, the people of Isan near Bangkok, Thailand, have made their living by extracting salt that naturally occurs beneath their farmland. But due to deforestation, ground and water contamination and sinkholes, the Thai government has limited the areas where salt can be harvested. What can be done to help salt farmers survive, while preserving the environment? WPI juniors Dylan Hirsch of Silver Spring, Md.; Martin McCue of Waterford, Conn.; and Timothy Thies of Brattleboro, Vt., recommended the use of a retaining pond to house the byproducts of salt production, preventing pollutants from entering the ground and the drinking water. The pond would also provide an additional source of income, allowing farmers to sell the solution to contractors and government agencies to use as a dust suppressant on unpaved roads - cutting down on air pollution.

  • Learning a skill: Seana Winsor, a member of a WPI project team in Bangkok, teaches Thai children how to weave plastic bags into useable items, helping ot cut down on pollution in the slums of the city.
  • Turning Trash To Treasure: Tons of plastic bags are used and discarded into the waterways of Bangkok. That problem is multiplied when mosquitoes find bag-choked canals the perfect breeding ground. To combat this health issue, WPI juniors Wesley Marcks of Hingham, Mass., Catherine Nunes of Middleboro, Mass., and Seana Winsor of North Scituate, R.I., aimed at a dual prevention and cleanup approach. They devised a traveling puppet show to educate youngsters, including a weaving demonstration to teach them how to make plastic bags into arts-and-crafts projects.

    The WPI team reached more than 4,000 Bangkok residents with their homemade puppet show.

    "We developed several product designs including a floormat, placemat and pocketbook," they wrote in their final report prepared for Bangkok's Human Development Center.

  • Improving Soil Fertility: Farmers have found it hard to keep up with the great demand on land resources. It's an especially tough situation in the northeast of Thailand. WPI juniors Irving Liimatta of Pontiac, Mich., Alexander Lutzky of Easton, Conn., and Leon Vehaba of Brewster, N.Y., completed a project with the hope of improving farmland fertility, and possibly strengthening farmers' economic security.

    The WPI students gathered, organized and analyzed socio-economic and agricultural data to gain an understanding of the problem. They talked with farmers about agricultural techniques, crop yields, land characteristics, expenses and income, family composition and village structure. They analyzed this data, creating budgets and charts to correlate agricultural and economic information, then made recommendations. For example, while rice has been the staple crop for centuries, they advised diversification.

    "By growing more fruit trees, vegetables and livestock, these farmers acquire extra income to spend on the fertilizers and irrigation that will help preserve the future productivity of their remaining rice fields," they wrote in their final report, submitted to the International Board of Soil Research and Management, the Thai Department of Agricultural Extensions and the Ubon Rice Research Center.

  • Helping The Handicapped: Thailand's poor and handicapped population needs more educational opportunity to achieve economic independence. This need is especially keen for children who live in the slums of Bangkok, where Jason Gleghorn of North Dartmouth, Mass., Kristina Goesch of Worcester, Mass., and Jerry Joseph of Newington, Conn., found they were working against a cultural bias.

    "Thai society has portrayed the idea that handicapped people are incompetent and unintelligent human beings," they wrote in their final report. "Many parents, to avoid embarrassment, prohibit their (handicapped) children from attending school."

    There are few opportunities available to the handicapped population.

    "Last year there were 6,000 jobs available for handicapped people in Thailand, yet only 3,000 were filled because many of the applicants did not meet the basic education requirements of the jobs," the students noted. The WPI students joined with a local human-service organization, the Duang Prateep Foundation, to develop a framework for an educational program for the handicapped. The team then produced an informational pamphlet about training programs, vocational schools and the rights of the handicapped.

    The students also wrote an editorial, which they submitted to the Bangkok Post. In it, they talked about the many capabilities possessed by handicapped people. "The article emphasizes the need for change, and how equality for the handicapped should start now," the students said. The Thai Ministry of Education requested a copy of the report to study its findings.

  • Stopping Air Pollution: Dusty roads lead to dusty air, creating a serious air pollution problem in Bangkok, Thailand. But a solution may be in the wind.

    Brian Hagglund of Uncasville, Conn., Kevin King of Dunstable, Mass., and Jonathan Tripp of Bilthoven, the Netherlands, worked on a project titled, "Controlling Dust on Roadway Construction Sites in Bangkok." Bangkok has been undergoing an enormous construction boom, thanks to Thailand's rapid economic growth over the past several decades. Yet construction generates a great deal of dust that adds additional problems to an already polluted atmosphere. Currently the only agent used for dust suppression is water.

    The students studied various methods of keeping dust down. In addition to background research in the United States and Thailand, they conducted interviews with local experts. In outlining the need for dust suppression, the WPI project team emphasized the resulting health-care benefits.

    "The government could save up to 23 million baht (the Thai monetary unit) per year in health care subsidies," the students wrote. They included a cost benefit analysis in the report, which was submitted to its sponsor, Thailand's Chulalongkorn University.

  • Saving A River: Many factors affect the environmental, social and economic systems of a river basin. In their project, WPI juniors Peter Chin of Randolph, Mass., Sean Kowalik of Monson, Mass., and Amanda Santos of Little Compton, R.I., found lessons they hope will be useful to understanding environmental systems everywhere. They developed a detailed computer model of a river basin in Southeast Asia. The model allowed them to compare information about environmental impacts on the waterway.

  • Sharing Resources: How do you convey to policy makers at local, national and international levels the important issues involving a shared natural resource? According to WPI senior Kiki Dreyer of Centereach, N.Y., and juniors Virginia Jerome of Norton, Mass., and Justin Lin of Randolph, Mass., you research the facts and present them in a way that can be accessed by the most people.

    These students developed data and presented findings to their project sponsors, who will use the information to educate laypersons and policymakers about that vast mineral, biological and transportation resource, the Gulf of Thailand.

    The WPI students developed multimedia displays, including PowerPoint computer presentations, an electronic photographic library and the format of a Web site. They recommended the future development of video and CD-ROM presentations to increase the availability of information.

    "Each of the nations surrounding the Gulf - Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam - have historically profited from the Gulf's many resources," the students wrote in their final report. "In recent years, there has been an ever-increasing need for uniform policy in the management of the Gulf."

    These findings may help minimize conflict and maximize cooperation for management of this vital resource.