WPI Students Help with 13 Projects in Costa Rica

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

Shauna Malone '02, liason Anna Maria, Jimmy Cook '01, W. Lucas Churchill '02, and Felix Rieper '02

Amanda Beaudoin '02, David Cooney '02, liason Jorge Warner, and Benjamin Kurtz '02

Liason Fabiola Rodriguez, Director Susan Vernon-Gerstenfeld, Katie Archer '02, Kimberly Morin '02, and Jessa Thomas '02

Katie Archer '02, Kimberly Morin '02, and Jessa Thomas '02

Lauren Abrahamsen '02, James Ford '01, Jamie Stern-Gottfried '02, Jessica Weathers '01, and liason Luis Sanchez

WORCESTER, Mass. - This summer 13 teams of students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute traveled to Costa Rica to complete several projects for local organizations. The projects contribute to the goals of non-profit, educational and business groups, and also fulfill a graduation requirement for the students. A technological university, WPI emphasizes a learning-by-doing approach to education exemplified by global projects such as these.

One project, "Geographic Information System (GIS) Development in Costa Rica," was completed by Shauna Malone, a junior biotechnology major and the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James Malone of Guilford, Conn.; W. Lucas Churchill, a junior mechanical engineering major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. William Churchill of New Gloucester, Maine; Jimmy Cook, a senior mechanical engineering major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Brian Cook of Dallas, Texas; and Felix Rieper, a junior computer science major and the son of Marga Peters of Hamburg, Germany.

The project was sponsored by the Costa Rican National Fire Department, which had been struggling with communications difficulties during emergencies. The department needed an information management system to improve fire response time and availability of information.

The students suggested the use of a GIS, a computer-based system that combines maps and demographic data to create a powerful organizational and analytical tool.

"A correctly implemented GIS gives firefighters access to pertinent information, such as optimal route recommendations, hydrant locations and information on hazardous materials when en route to and at the scene of an emergency," the students wrote in their final report.

By studying a similar system recently installed in Winston-Salem, N.C., and conducting other extensive research, the students made their recommendation for a similar system in Costa Rica.

"Investigation of New Construction Systems for Habitat for Humanity: Prefabricated Systems for the 21st Century" was completed by David Chevrier, a junior biotechnology major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Chevrier of Wilbraham, Mass.; David Emery, a junior biology major and the son of Steven Emery of Westford and Mary Jackman of Sudbury, Mass.; and Victoria Steward, a junior mechanical engineering major and the daughter of Ronald and Elizabeth Steward of Wellington, Fla.

The sponsor, the Costa Rican affiliate of Habitat for Humanity, builds low-cost homes for those in need. The goal was to improve standard living conditions by comparing five alternative building technologies to the current method used by Habitat for Humanity. The comparison would help determine if alternate methods could reduce the cost and time of housing construction without adversely affecting social considerations or the environment.

Of the five methods, the WPI students found two improved on time; one improved on both time and cost. After examining social and environmental impacts, they discovered a clear winner, which they recommended to Habitat officials.

"This research could encourage Habitat for Humanity International to reexamine the work being done in other Latin American countries and possibly implement some of the changes that this project suggested," the students wrote in their final report.

"Designing an Interactive Children's Museum Exhibit" was completed by Katie Archer, a junior biotechnology major and the daughter of Virginia Nye of Whitman, Mass.; Kimberly Morin, a junior biotechnology major and the daughter of Catherine A. Borah of Enfield, Conn.; and Jessa Thomas, a junior civil engineering major and the daughter of Jessa Thomas of Worcester, Mass., and Stephen Thomas of Standish, Maine.

The WPI students hoped to provide an educational enhancement for Costa Rican schools by updating an exhibit, "Living Creatures of the World," at El Museo de los Ninos (the Children's Museum) in San Jose. The team suggested adding interactive components to the exhibit to entice children to learn more about the world around them. The students developed a new design for the exhibit, outlining interactive features and educational content in detail.

"The design itself was modeled after the rainforests of Costa Rica, which reinforces a strong sense of culture in the children and visitors of all ages," the students wrote in their final report.

Because the museum is short on funds, the students compiled a list of U.S. companies willing to support the new design, which focuses on the five animal kingdoms.

"With the potential funds acquired, the proposed design should be implemented over the next several years," they noted.

"Alternatives for Power Generation Systems, Connectivity and Environmental Testing" was completed by Anthony Durand, a senior electrical engineering major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Durand of Shoreview, Minn.; Kevin Caudill, a junior chemical engineering major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Caudill Jr. of Southbury, Conn.; and Elionex Rodriguez, a senior mechanical engineering major and the daughter of Rosa Burgos of Holyoke, Mass.

The project was sponsored by the Costa Rican Foundation for Sustainable Development.

"Many impoverished communities around the world do not have the technology and necessary knowledge for improving their way of life," the students wrote in their project report. "The way some communities have tried to develop caused much damage to their environment with only moderate success in human development and the economy."

To promote more successful development, the project sponsor offers what's called a Lincos container, which comes complete with a computer lab, information center, media center and a health and environmental center. The foundation charged the WPI students with figuring out how to make these containers available to a wider population.

The students had to figure out how to generate power and how to connect the computer lab and information center to the outside world. They looked into sources of renewable energy, including hydropower, wind power, fuel-based power, solar power and hybrid systems, and wireless and other means of connectivity. They compared power systems in terms of output, cost and environmental impact; they researched various wireless satellite systems and four wired options. In addition, they studied the environmental testing kits that come with the Lincos container, researching different tests for soil and water quality. Their extensive findings were presented to the project sponsor for further action.

"By (reaching) more locations, marginalized communities around the world can benefit from the Lincos container through human development, economic balance and respect for the environment," they noted in their report.

"Water Filtration and Recirculation at a Banana Packaging Plant" was completed by Jesse Halter, a senior biomedical engineering major and the son of Daniel J. Halter of Gilmanton, N.H., and Barbara Andrews of Bridgeton, N.J.; Joseph McGrail, a senior mechanical engineering major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph McGrail of Spencer, Mass.; and Courtney Broughton, a junior biotechnology major and the daughter of Carol Carter of Hampstead, N.H.

The project was sponsored by Standard Fruit Co. of Costa Rica. The WPI team proposed options for recycling water during the processing of bananas, taking into a variety of factors.

"Standard Fruit can use the information that the project team has provided to expand upon their knowledge," the students wrote in their final report.

Recycling Post-Consumer Plastics in Santa Ana, Costa Rica," was undertaken by Janelle Arthur, a junior biotechnology major and the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Arthur of Hanover, Mass.; Elizabeth Caswell, a junior biotechnology major and the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Steven Caswell of Keene, N.H.; and Katherine Wheeler, a junior biotechnology major and the daughter of Linda Wheeler of Fair Haven, N.J.

Just as in the United States, the burgeoning of plastic technology has offered myriad new uses for plastic while creating more and more waste.

"Costa Rica currently lacks a post-consumer plastics recycling program, due in part to the fact that plastics arrive at collection facilities often with dirt and contaminants adhered to their surfaces," the WPI students wrote in their report.

Working for a pollution research division of the University of Costa Rica, the team investigated recycling processes and made recommendations for a pilot program for the city of Santa Ana.

"While the pilot program has been designed with specific needs and resources in mind, it nonetheless serves a model for establishing successful community recycling programs in Costa Rica," the students noted.

"Performance Evaluation Solutions: Improving Service Quality at a Telephone Solicitation Service" was completed by Michael S. Cuipa, a junior mechanical engineering major and the son of Gail M. Cuipa of Tyngsboro, Mass.; Kevin M. Keenaghan, a junior electrical engineering major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Edward J. Keenaghan of Rumford, R.I.; and Paula P. Russomanno, a senior management engineering major and the daughter of Alceu Maynard Araujo and Paulo R. Russomanno of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The WPI team studied Information Service 113, a provider of consumer information about residential, commercial and government telephone numbers. With an inadequate service evaluation method and rating system for its 150 operators and the company's overall performance, Information Service 113 needed help in establishing such a process. The team developed a computerized rating system for operators based on the number of calls correctly answered, producing a performance chart ranging from poor to excellent ratings. In addition, they created a manual for using and modifying the system, and developed a way to rate the service itself, based on a similar formula.

"The team presented a set of recommendations about improvements to the service's training program performance, as well as the working conditions of both the supervisors and operators," the students wrote in their final report. They also outlined expectations for improved service to its clients, the Costa Rican public.

"Development of a Corporate Environmental Policy for the Rain Forest Aerial Tram" was completed by Lauren Abrahamsen, a junior biomedical engineering major and the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Abrahamsen of Plattekill, N.Y.; James Ford, a senior mechanical engineering major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. James F. Ford of Wakefield, Mass.; and Katherine Johnson, a junior civil engineering major and the daughter of Elizabeth Johnson of Hamden, Conn.

Recognizing the importance of the Costa Rican rain forests in regulating the earth's ecosystem, the students noted that "man has already usurped three-fourths of Costa Rica's tropical forests."

The project sponsor, the Rain Forest Aerial Tram, which educates the public about the importance of rainforest conservation, wants to implement a series of voluntary international environmental guidelines. The WPI students succeeded in writing a corporate policy, outlining needs and courses of action. The team researched recommendations for water and energy conservation, waste prevention and environmentally sound cleaning and maintenance products.

"This study is intended to serve as a starting point for the Rain Forest Aerial Tram company goals," the students wrote in their final report. "The team has provided the company with sufficient information to begin fulfilling the clauses of the proposed environmental policy."

David Freeman, a senior management information systems major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Alan Freeman of New Milford, Conn.; Laura Paul, a junior biology major and the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Donald Paul of West Monroe, N.Y.; Christine Rojko, a junior chemical engineering major and the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Rojko of Pope Air Force Base, N.C.; and Gloria Winquist, a sophomore mechanical engineering major and the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. F. Floyd Winquist of Kingston, Wash., completed "Developing a Sustainable Network to Connect Youth in Costa Rica."

The WPI team gathered information on youth programs to determine the potential of an online network to boost civic participation among young people. The students found that Internet access among Costa Rican youngsters is extremely limited; however, they learned of an imminent government-sponsored increase in Internet access in public schools. They recommended a network using this system, and the development of relationships among youth organizations.

"It is this social integration that will truly promote sustainability of the online community," they noted. "One of the best ways to get people to work together is to provide them with a common goal: the development of a youth Web site."

The team suggested a nationwide design competition, with organizations working together to plan the event.

"Another benefit of a nationwide competition is the number of youth who will be involved and the knowledge and experience they will gain," the team noted. They suggested follow-up projects, including a conference to foster communication among business and political leaders and young people.

"Development of a Wellness Program for Costa Rican Firefighters" was completed by Nancy Baccheschi, a senior mechanical engineering major and the daughter of Mary Lynne Coombs of New Hartford, Conn.; Brian Gilman, a junior management information systems major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Sidney R. Gilman of Concord, N.H.; and Justin Lutz, a junior computer science major and the son of Kathleen A. Lutz of Walpole, Mass. Noting that fire fighting is among the most demanding jobs in the world, the team focused on the importance maintaining firefighters' health.

"The objective was to create a wellness program that includes physical fitness training, exercise prescriptions, firefighter task-related testing, health-risk assessment, health-related education and medical examinations," they noted.

The WPI students outlined various issues regarding physical fitness training for firefighters and the subsequent testing of their ability to perform the job. The team's initial program was implemented in 10 Costa Rican fire stations and eventually will be used in all 55 stations nationwide. The program offers health classes and remedial fitness classes.

"Foundation Image: Communication Bridges for Environmental Organizations" was undertaken by Katherine Dennen, a senior chemistry major and the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Richard A. Dennen of Rehoboth, Mass.; Jamie Stern-Gottfried, a junior mechanical engineering major and the son of Dr. Linda Stern of Melrose Park, Pa.; and Jessica Weathers, a senior biomedical engineering major and the daughter of Pamela Weathers of Stow, Mass., and Larry Weathers of Arlington, Mass.

Sponsored by Costa Rica's Rain Forest Aerial Tram Foundation, the project focused on the growing awareness of environmental issues in Costa Rica. An environmental group, the foundation aims to play a major role in preserving the environment by developing educational programs to instill an appreciation for the rain forest, among other goals.

To determine and develop approaches to environmental problems, the WPI team interviewed experts about the major issues plaguing the country. The students uncovered a communications gap among the various environmental organizations in Costa Rica, leading to setbacks for their shared goal of a healthier environment.

"If communication were improved, chances for funding would improve by reducing the number of overlapping requests for grant money from organizations that are doing research in the same area," the students wrote in their final report. "Many experts pointed out that often research progress is slowed down by the lack of communication because organizations work on projects that have already been done or are currently being done by other organizations."

The students recommended a conference for environmental groups to improve communication. The attendees could air specific concerns that affect all organizations. In addition, the WPI team recommended a consortium of influential organizations in the environmental community. The consortium could establish a Web page for participating organizations to publicize and share research efforts and upcoming programs.

"Promoting Ecological Education at Lankester Botanical Garden" was the project topic for Amanda Beaudoin, a junior biotechnology major and the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Lee Beaudoin of Millbury, Mass.; Benjamin Kurtz, a junior computer science major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Harvey A. Kurtz of Shorewood, Wis.; and David Cooney, a junior chemical engineering major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Bernard P. Cooney of Putnam, Conn.

The WPI students wanted to improve the financial and educational status of a Costa Rican non-profit botanical garden, where the emphasis had been on the conservation and cultivation of orchids. To increase the scope of the garden, the team developed a bird-watching program to increase awareness of Costa Rica's large variety of birds and to promote conservation. They suggested hiring guides from similar local organizations to run the program. The guides could offer, for example, a half-day bird-watching tour combined with a tour of La Basilica, a famous cathedral in Cartago.

The students devised a marketing strategy for the program using tourism data and surveys. They suggested low-cost ideas including distributing pamphlets at other sites visited by tourists and citizens, use of press releases, notification of guide books and distribution of public service announcements to Costa Rican radio stations.

The WPI team also created a Web site as a marketing tool and to provide ecological information and suggested alliances between the garden and other organizations to develop research and funding options.

"Our group feels that with this proposed program and these recommended marketing strategies and alliances, (the garden) will be able to better provide educational opportunities and information," the team wrote in the final report.

"Aquaculture Techniques Applicable to Developing Nations" was completed by Abel Alvarez-Calderon, a junior management engineering major and the son of Bernardo Alvarez-Calderon of Lima, Peru, and Karen Kosinski, a junior biotechnology major and the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Walter S. Kosinski of Middletown, R.I. The sponsor was Instituto Costarriacence de Pesca y Acuicultura (INCOPESCA), a government organization that develops fish farming.

"INCOPESCA endeavors to supply aquaculture information to Costa Rican fish farmers; however, the lack of an effective method of distribution has prevented them thus far from fulfilling their goal," the students noted.

The team aimed to find out what farmers knew and to identify what they needed to know to make their jobs more efficient and profitable. They studied the operation of one of the country's largest fish hatcheries, learning about fish feeding, development and breeding. They also researched the operation of a commercially viable system. They went on to compile information from surveys and field studies to produce a manual for fish farmers. After distributing the manual to several producers, they were able to verify that the farmers found their manual easy to understand and useful.

"Some of the greatest benefits of this tool are its immediate application yields," the students noted. "Once they have received a copy of our document, producers have the ability to implement adjustments and variations in their systems and see results as the changes take effect."

Founded in 1865, WPI enrolls 2,700 undergraduate and 1,000 graduate students in science, engineering, management, humanities and arts, and social sciences. Under the WPI Plan, undergraduates complete three projects focusing on their major course of study, the humanities, and the interactions among science, technology and society.