WPI Student Project Wins National Association of Counties Award

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE/September 18, 2001
Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

WORCESTER, Mass.-A project completed in the fall of 2000 by a trio of WPI undergraduates for Montgomery County, Maryland's five Regional Services Centers (RSCs) recently won an award from the National Association of Counties (NACo). Montgomery County's RSCs are located in Bethesda, Silver Spring, Colesville, Wheaton and Germantown with satellite offices in five other locations. These RSCs link the citizens of their regions with the many departments and services of Montgomery County and coordinate efforts to assist neighborhoods and businesses with a wide range of issues. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., NACo is a public interest group that represents the nation's 3,066 county governments before Congress and the agencies of the federal government, providing counties with a voice on Capitol Hill. NACo provides many forms of assistance to county governments, including recognition and publicity for innovative county initiatives.

The NACo award honored the RSCs for their program, "Customer Service Measures." The centers needed a procedure for regularly evaluating the quality and effectiveness of their their customer services. For their Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP), a WPI degree requirement, Brian Blackwell of Taunton, Mass., Antonia Colognesi of Southbridge, Mass., and Stephen Haas of Stratham, N.H., researched several feedback options before recommending that the RSCs employ a mail survey of citizens and "mystery shoppers" to assess the responsiveness of the centers to requests for information. In their final report, the students included a database for recording the assessment results, instructions for implementing the procedures, preliminary results on RSC service quality and effectiveness from the students' tests of those procedures, and recommendations based on the results they obtained.

This past spring, the centers completed their first round of surveys and mystery shopper assessments based on the work of the project team. "The results were very useful and, in some cases, quite surprising," says John Greiner, a senior management and budget specialist responsible for coordinating the county's performance measurement efforts for the Office of Management and Budget. "We look forward to working with more WPI teams later this year."

One of three projects all WPI undergraduates complete as part of the innovative WPI Plan, the IQP helps students understand the responsibility scientists and engineers have to the society in which they live. The students completed their IQP at WPI's Washington Project Center. Arthur C. Heinricher, associate professor of mathematical sciences, and Yi Hua Ma, professor of chemical engineering, were the project advisors.

Blackwell, Colognesi and Haas are all members of WPI's Class of 2002. A biomedical engineering major, Blackwell is the son of Donald and Ann Marie Blackwell, both of Taunton, Mass. Colognesi, a management major, is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Colognesi of Southbridge, Mass. Haas, son of Mr. and Mrs. Donald Haas of Stratham, N.H., is majoring in civil engineering.

Founded in 1865, WPI was a pioneer in technological higher education. Early on, it developed an influential curriculum that balanced theory and practice. Since 1970, that philosophy has been embodied in an innovative outcomes-oriented undergraduate program. With a network of project centers that spans the globe, the university is also the leader in globalizing technological education. WPI awarded its first advanced degree in 1898. Today, most of WPI's academic departments offer master's and doctoral programs and support leading-edge research in a broad range of areas.