Summer Sandbox Grants

Summer Sandbox Grants

Summer Sandbox Grants will support faculty who will design and test new approaches to teaching and advising in an undergraduate summer course or project.  This is an opportunity to use summer as a learning laboratory for the academic year. Support is available for faculty who wish to develop online and hybrid teaching skills, groups of faculty in a department or program who are developing new approaches for core and large-enrollment courses, and for any faculty exploring fundamentally new approaches to teaching and learning.   

Summer Sandbox Grants 2024

Post-IQP Academic Publishing 

John-Michael Davis, Assistant Professor of Teaching, The Global School 


Photo of John Michael Davis

The course will be open to students who completed their IQPs in Puerto Rico in C-term 2024. In E term 2024, I plan to work with 2-3 teams to repackage their IQP report into a journal article. The course will be a 1/6 credit course. Students will deepen their knowledge of their IQP research and its relevance both within Puerto Rico and more broadly, further develop their academic writing skills, learn firsthand the process of academic publishing, and (ideally) co-author a peer-reviewed article offering a major achievement as an undergraduate student. I plan to balance offering teaching opportunities with modeling strong academic writing. The course will involve regular Zoom meetings with teams that will follow Wendy Belcher's book "Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks." 


Afro and Indigenous Voices in Latin America 

Lina Munoz-Marquez, Assistant Teaching Professor, Humanities & Arts 


Photo of Lina Munoz-Marquez

I propose to develop a Spanish Special Topics Course that explores the narratives and experiences of indigenous and Afro-Latin American activists, artists, writers, filmmakers, and singers. Starting with a critical analysis of racial, gender, and class inequalities in Latin America, students will be exposed to cultural and artistic products that present social justice responses. Through this approach, students will be able to engage at a deeper Spanish level with their study of the diversity of cultures and identities in Latin America. This project involves designing modules, lesson plans, interactive projects, and activities that will be made available to other professors and will benefit students who are completing the HUA Requirement in Spanish, and who are preparing to complete study abroad programs or to work at WPI’s Project Centers in Latin America. 


Social and Political Philosophy 

Geoffrey Pfeifer, Associate Professor of Teaching, The Global School  


Photo of Geoffrey Pfiefer

This will be an upper-level course to my intro to the course where I use Perusall the social annotation reading app to help build community in addition to offering short lecture videos and a once-a-week live drop-in session for students to discuss course material in person. I plan on doing something similar in the upper-level PY 2712 class and I also want to re-imagine some of my content for an asynchronous format. I am thinking about adding different forms of media to help with philosophical content and new video assignments to help students connect with the material, and each other, in the asynchronous space. Much of what I do in this course will differ from what I do in the introductory course as it is a higher level. 


Topics in Modern Physics: A Roadmap of Women Contributions 

Izabela Stroe Associate Professor of Teaching, Physics 


Photo of Isabella Stroe

In this project, I will create a Roadmap of Women Contributions to discoveries and technologies related to topics taught in the Modern Physics course PH 1130. Further, I will redesign the course structure to best incorporate and align these contributions with the required learning course outcomes. Creating the roadmap and incorporating it in this course and other courses is one important step to acknowledge women contributions in science, provide role models to women students, and ultimately help bridge the gap of women’s participation in these fields. 


NeuroPhysics of Yoga 

Snehalata Kadam Assistant Teaching Professor, Physics, (PI) Jagan Srinivasan Associate Professor, Biology & Biotechnology 


Photo of Snehalata Kadam


Photo of Jagan Srinivasan

Our major goal is to create novel pedagogical approaches for learning concepts in STEM-oriented subjects and provide an atmosphere for acceptance and equity for all students. This endeavor will help students adopt exercising regularly, develop problem-solving skills; and learn to manage emotions. The holistic practice of yoga will allow individuals to appreciate the biomechanics of the human body by increasing strength, flexibility, balance, and awareness of physical sensations within the body and emotions.  Increased awareness of the body and emotions improves mental well-being and can also impact decision-making by creating some between registering a stimulus and engaging in a behavioral response. We are collaborating with the Center for Wellbeing at WPI to assess the impact of the program on well-being by administering the Well-being Improvement Survey in Higher Education (WISHES) to participants and developing wellness courses related to these activities.  


Hey, AI! Is That a Scarlet Tanager in My Yard? 

Marja Bakermans, Associate Teaching Professor, The Global School 


Photo of Marja Bakermans

I aim to create a new online course that redesigns an introductory biology course, making it accessible, engaging, and building community. This course will be offered in the summer in an online format, integrating a component of field biology into a course to connect students to outdoor ecologies and ecosystems. The course will embed AI-informed nature apps in the course structure to engage students in the natural world. It will integrate an online data analysis software platform that promotes exploration of the data in science in a user-friendly, drag-and-drop platform. The course will promote the exploration of ecosystems and nature while building a welcoming community. Students all over the globe will be able to participate in this online class and encouraged to integrate local cultures and values around nature, biodiversity, and conservation and share this with their classmates. We will take lessons from using nature-based apps and the online data analysis platform in this setting and consider how to incorporate similar elements into the in-person version of this course. 


AI for Agency and Identity 

Thomas Patrick Noviello, Instructor, Physics 


Photo of Thomas Noviello

Efforts have been made within the physics community to ensure that students have agency in the classroom, which has been accomplished through the adoption of inquiry-based activities and active learning philosophies. These settings offer students a glimpse into what professionals do and how they think, thus forming a preliminary sense of professional identity. However, agency and identity can fall short when homework problems are assigned through a textbook, which are often contrived problems that are not tailored to student needs and/or interests. It is proposed that students use AI in the form of ChatGPT 4 to generate their own problem sets based on their interests, analyze the output problems, thoroughly compare their work to AI-generated solutions, and write targeted reflection pieces to document skills obtained, areas of improvement, and to create a plan for subsequent assignments. 


GPThermo: An In-House GenAI Tutor for Thermodynamics 

Alireza Ebadi, Assistant Professor of Teaching, Mechanical & Materials Engineering  


Photo of Alireza Ebadi

As generative AI becomes more widespread, educators should consider how to apply it responsibly to education. Current commercial systems sometimes struggle with technical prompts. However, with careful in-house training focused on course materials, AI could provide students with rapid feedback to reinforce key concepts. This project aims to train a GPT model focused on thermodynamics using in-house resources, such as ES 3001 lecture notes and video transcripts. The model shall serve as a baseline to create similar models for other courses. 


Beyond Boundaries: Expanding Access to Chemistry Education Through Virtual Reality Technologies in First-Year Labs 

Raúl Orduña Picón, Assistant Teaching Professor, Chemistry & Biochemistry (PI), Robert Dempski, Professor, Chemistry & Biochemistry 


Photo of Raul Picon


Photo of Robert Dempski

To address first-year students’ learning challenges in chemistry laboratories, this proposal aims to design, implement, and assess new extended reality tools to foster students’ opportunities to learn when engaging in project-based learning in the CH1010 laboratory at WPI. This pedagogical tool's development and assessment will contribute to the recent redesign of the CH1010 laboratory by offering an additional mechanism to teach laboratory safety, basic chemistry skills, and the use of instruments/glassware. 


AI as a Cognitive Mentor in Troubleshooting 

Ahmet Can Sabuncu (PI), Assistant Professor of Teaching Mechanical & Materials Engineering 


Photo of Ahmet Sabuncu

The goal of this project is to experiment the utilization of generative Artificial Intelligence to help students master their troubleshooting skills. This is a pilot project in which we would like to understand the potential of AI as a cognitive assistant to students. We explore AI platforms such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Microsoft Copilot. We look for options to train language models using our laboratory handouts and frequently asked questions we collected from students. Finally, we model the AI prompts so that it provides meaningful support to students as they excel in their troubleshooting skills.