10 Years of Making Waves in Venice:WPI Undergraduate Projects Produce Important Database

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

WORCESTER, Mass. -- With its extraordinary historical, artistic and architectural heritage and its connection to the sea and the lagoon, Venice has been called the most beautiful city in the world. In the decade since WPI established a Venice Project Center, some 250 undergraduates have completed about 70 Interactive Qualifying Projects (IQPs) for Venetian, American and international organizations-creating the most complete database of information about Venice.

"Each year, WPI project teams explore a broad spectrum of issues important to Venetian leaders and residents," says electrical and computer engineering Professor Richard Vaz, who co-directs the Venice Project Center with Adjunct Instructor Fabio Carrera. "These students come to Venice in June and July to tackle problems of environmental, socioeconomic, artistic, cultural and technical concern. They leave their sponsors with carefully researched and documented reports that include recommendations for remediation and follow-up."

"The Venice Project Center is unique and important because it has always had clearly defined goals, thematically related projects, and continuity from year to year," says Carrera, a Venetian who received his bachelor's and master's degree from WPI. "For example, to date we've taken nearly 8,000 depth measurements of the city's canals, counted more than 100,000 boats as they travel through the city and the lagoon, and documented 4,500 pieces of public art. This accumulated knowledge base contains photos, videos and tape-recorded information that will ultimately be the foundation for the restoration and maintenance of the city's treasures and infrastructure and for historians in Italy and throughout the world."

This past summer, 23 students in six teams completed IQPs in Venice. Carrera and electrical and computer engineering Professor Fred J. Looft were the on-site faculty advisors for the projects. A description of each project and information about the students follows.

Jim Behmke of Seekonk, Mass., Tanya Corrado of Georgetown, Mass., and Gabriel Flores of Kendalia, Texas, developed a strategic planning and implementation initiative for next summer's celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Venice Project Center. The students worked with Vaz and Director of Special Projects Linda C. Looft to establish a blueprint for this milestone event. The project was sponsored by WPI's Office of Development and University Relations.

Addi Butler of Belchertown, Mass., John Casill of Rochester, N.Y., Samuel Castillo of Lawrence, Mass., and Turgut Sarioglu of Istanbul, Turkey, focused on boat traffic in the Lagoon of Venice. Heavy traffic causes frequent logjams and speeding boats present safety hazards and create wakes and waves that erode the coastline and canal walls. There is little that officials can do to alleviate the problem because there is no registration system for the boats-and consequently no way of policing them. The students provided the Province of Venezia with information about the busiest areas of the lagoon, the types of boats that cause the most problems, and the best locations to count boats and proposed transportation routes that will reduce the traffic.

UNESCO sponsored a project that involved the collection, validation and analysis of baseline data for the management of the walls of the city's canals. For their IQP, Kristopher Babic of Washington, Vt., Michael Borek of North Smithfield, R.I., Grant Leeds of Medfield, Mass., and Stylianos "Steve" Sidiroglou of Glyfada, Greece, assessed the long-term dynamics of damage to the walls and determined the sources and volume of pollution.

The City of Venice sponsored the project completed by Kenneth Bonanno of Wilmington, Mass., Go Ishikawa of London, England, Glenn Thoren of Chelmsford, Mass., and Lindsay Voss of Wyncote, Pa., formerly of North Brookfield, Mass. The students worked with the curators of the Palazzo Ducale (the Doge's Palace), the city's most famous and most visited museum. They created a Web page, conducted a visitor survey and analyzed the results, created a database for the museum's art and armory collections, and entered much of the inventory into the database, and created several styles of room labels for the museum's management to review and implement that showed the characteristics of the paintings in the museum.

Insula, the company in charge of maintenance for the city of Venice, sponsored two WPI projects this year. For their IQP, Stefano Ceriana, of Scarsdale, N.Y., formerly of Pino Torinese, Italy, Dan Nashold of Rocky Hill, Conn., Joan Olender of Somers, Conn., and Matthew Poisson of Raynham, Mass., created a management system to monitor and analyze the cargo delivery system in the boroughs of San Polo, Santa Croce and Dorsuduro, which is done by boat, since there are no highways in Venice. The challenge for the team was to evaluate dock usage, usability and maintenance so that the best alternate routes for cargo delivery can be determined for the times when canals are closed for cleaning.

For the second Insula-sponsored project, WPI juniors Rahul Bhan of New Delhi, India, Ashley Deliso of Sutton, Mass., Stephanie Hubbard of Brunswick, Maine, and Greg MacLeod of Randolph, Mass., analyzed and inventoried the bridges and pedestrian traffic in half of the city's boroughs and created a comprehensive bridge catalog that included measurements, materials and conditions for each structure. The team also looked at pedestrian traffic over a select number of bridges and noted who traveled across them and what, if anything affected how they crossed-age of pedestrians, wheelchairs, packages-and recommended areas that would benefit from increased handicap accessibility.

The IQP is one of three projects all WPI undergraduates undertake as part of the innovative WPI Plan, a flexible and academically challenging program introduced in 1972. Under the Plan, students are provided with unique opportunities to integrate classroom studies with preprofessional academic projects conducted on campus or at companies, agencies and project sites in the U.S. and abroad. The purpose of the IQP is to make students aware of their responsibilities to manage technology effectively and ethically.

"With this summer's projects, we've begun to transfer our knowledge base to the city of Venice, which will use it for day-to-day maintenance of the canals," says Carrera. "In the 10 years since WPI established its Venice Project Center, we've come full circle from creating databases to passing that information on to the city. In doing so, we have established the University as a valued presence in Venice and laid the groundwork for future projects and collaborations."

WPI, an independent technological university founded in 1865, is renowned for its project-based curriculum. Under the WPI Plan, students are provided with unique opportunities to integrate classroom studies with preprofessional projects conducted on campus and at off-campus locations around the world.

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.