WPI Students Travel to England to Complete 10 Projects

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LONDON SCENE - WPI travelers (on top of the lion) Tina Casamassina and Kevin Boyd and (left to right on the ground) Holly Weymouth, Alyssa Schlichting, Peter Christopher, Joel Brattin and Jeffrey Ouellette enjoy themselves at Trafalgar Square. Ten teams of WPI students completed projects combining technology and social awareness - and still found time for sightseeing.

WORCESTER, Mass. - Worcester Polytechnic Institute students have completed a project that may save lives in the event of fire. Sponsored by the Loss Prevention Council of London, the project titled "Fire Engineering Management for Disabled Egress" included team members Samuel Girgis, a junior electrical engineering major from Dudley, Mass.; Nicole Roy, a junior mechanical engineering major from Cumberland, R.I., and Holly Weymouth, a junior biotechnology major from Abbot Village, Maine. They were one of 10 teams of WPI students working on technological projects with a socially responsible component, one of the requirements of a WPI education.

Great Britain has recently passed the Disability Discrimination Act, which requires public service facilities to be accessible to the handicapped. These students aimed to find cost-effective yet safe recommendations in meeting the mandates of this civil-rights legislation.

The WPI students completed extensive background research and interviewed and surveyed building owners, fire officials and disabled groups. Their recommendations were submitted to the project sponsor and to the survey recipients and interviewees. In addition, their final report appeared in the industry publication, Fire Prevention.

At WPI, all students are required to complete an Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP), which aims to make fledgling scientists aware of their responsibilities to manage technology effectively and ethically. More than 250 IQPs are completed each year, with some students opting to travel to one of 14 international WPI project centers, including this site in London, where the WPI faculty advisors were Peter Christopher, associate professor of mathematical sciences, and Joel Brattin, associate professor of English.

Here are other projects and participants from the 1999 seven-week term in London:

  • The project, "Refining the Wheelchair Prescription Process," sponsored by the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability, included Jovanna Baptista, a junior actuarial mathematics major from Stoughton, Mass.; Sean Landrette, a junior biotechnology major from Terryville, Conn.; and Alyssa Schlichting, a junior biomedical engineering major from Merrimack, N.H.

    In the course of their research, the students found that choosing a wheelchair is a complex task. The patient's physical problems, funding, future placement or environment, as well as the needs of the primary care provider, must all be considered. To complete the project, they conducted interviews, distributed and tabulated questionnaires and instituted an expert trial system with the hospital staff. They then made recommendations for a system to make wheelchair selection appropriate and efficient.

  • The project, "Financing a Town Improvement Zone in Wimbledon," focused on a proposal to make Wimbledon Town Centre more competitive in the marketplace and to enhance its character and diversity. Team members included Jiri Cistecky, a junior electrical engineering major from North Waterford, Maine; Jennifer Diamon, a junior civil engineering major from South Portland, Maine; and Jennifer Shemowat, a junior civil engineering major from Boxborough, Mass.

    Part of the London borough of Merton, Wimbledon was chosen as a pilot project for creating a sustainable financial and management strategy. The proposal submitted by the WPI students was patterned after the success of public-private partnerships in Business Improvement Districts in the United States.

  • "Assessment of Patient Satisfaction" focused on an evaluation of patient satisfaction at London's Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability, targeting quality of life issues. Team members included Kevin Boyd, a senior chemistry major from Derry, N.H.; Marc McKenney, a senior civil engineering major from Smithfield, R.I.; and Maureen Upton, a senior biomedical engineering major from Mattapoisett, Mass.

    The students used a survey and in-depth interviews to conduct their research. "A key aspect of research and implementation in the study was utilizing augmentative communication tools for neurologically disabled patients," they wrote in their final report. Their study revealed strengths and weaknesses in everything from overall atmosphere to the repair of wheelchairs.

  • Another project took a look at helping the elderly population of the United Kingdom. Tina Casamassina, a junior mechanical engineering major from New Port Richie, Fla.; Christopher Petersen, a senior computer science major from Derry, N.H.; and Meghan Sullivan, a junior chemistry major from West Boylston, Mass., completed this project.

    Contact the Elderly, an organization that provides social contact to elderly people in the United Kingdom, consists of a network of volunteers who provide weekly social visits and trips for the elderly. The WPI students designed a survey to gather data and develop background for the organization. "Contact the Elderly will use the profile we create to review and revise its screening process," the students wrote in their final report.

  • Another project aimed to explain how architects gather information from government codes, trade journals and design books. EMAP Construct, a London-based publisher of construction trade journals, sponsored the project and team members were Adam Howes, a senior mathematical sciences from Lewiston, Maine; Micah Morrison, a junior civil engineering major from New Braintree, Mass.; and Charles Swanberg, a senior management information major from Ellsworth, Maine.

    The students gathered data through face-to-face interviews with London-area architects and by conducting telephone interviews with their counterparts in the United States. They then analyzed the data to explore the reasons why and when architects use certain kinds of information.

  • Yet another project could help modernize The Royal Institution of Great Britain. Founded in 1799, this prestigious organization's mission for the past two centuries has been to popularize science through lectures and cutting-edge research. The WPI students aimed to bring the institution into the 21st century starting with improving the efficiency of its financial management system.

    Team members were John Bird, a junior management information major from Winchester, Mass.; Marybeth Frantz, a junior biotechnology major from Rochester, N.Y.; and Marissa Mertzic, a junior chemistry major from Barre, Mass. In addition to upgrading the accounting computer software, the students distributed questionnaires and interviewed staff members. They made a series of recommendations for the administration of The Royal Institution, including suggesting that a new computer network would improve communication and efficiency.

    "Once the administration incorporates these recommendations, the RI can go proudly into the next millennium, continuing to popularize science," the students wrote in their final report.

  • A WPI project evaluated the effectiveness of the United Kingdom's CyberCycle job skills training program for the unemployed. Team members included Melanie Chabot, a junior management engineering major from Turner, Maine; Jeffrey Ouellette, a junior management information major from Hampton, N.H.; and Emar Tongol, a junior electrical engineering major from Maynard, Mass.

    The students conducted background research on the social psychology of the unemployed as well as training methods and motivational techniques used in the workplace. This research, combined with detailed interviews, observations and the study of a successful program, helped develop recommendations on how to improve job training.

  • Another project also focused on CyberCycle, but this time on its computer-recycling program. Team members were Sakis Decossard, a junior mechanical engineering major from Brooklyn, N.Y.; Peter Miller, a junior electrical engineering major from Milford, N.H.; and Zachary Zebrowski, a junior computer science major from Windsor, Mass. The students worked to help the charitable organization understand why people make contributions.

    "To research motives for donations and potential donors' concerns, we reviewed existing literature regarding altruism, corporate donation, data security, Year 2000 compliance and computer recycling," the students wrote in their final report. "Based on our research, this strategy must alter existing policies and procedures and start new marketing techniques."

  • Yet another project aimed to provide a safer environment at rail stations in the London borough of Merton. Members of the team were Nathan Campoli, a junior electrical engineering major from Bedford, Mass.; Jeremy Johnstone, a senior electrical engineering major from Oakhurst, N.J.; and Jamie Szafarowicz, a junior mechanical engineering major from Oakham, Mass.

    Merton magistrates have been working on improvements to the rail stations to reduce travelers' fear of crime. WPI's goal was to assess passengers' perceptions of these changes. In addition to background research on crime and crime-prevention techniques, the students conducted a sample survey and in-depth interviews with passengers, transit officials and local authorities.

    "We found that the overall changes made to the stations were quite effective," the students wrote in their final report. "Our recommendations for further station improvement include public-address systems, real-time information signs for train arrivals, an increase of staff at each station, mirrors in stations with corridors, reconstructing vandalized passenger shelters on the platforms and installing seats at every station."

WPI, an independent technological university founded in 1865, is renowned for its project-based curriculum. WPI was ranked among the top national universities in the 1999 edition of U.S. News and World Report's Best Colleges Guide and was ranked 18th among the top national institutions in the magazine's Best College Values report.