President's IQP Winners Announced

Contact: Arlie Corday, WPI Media & Community Relations

Worcester, Mass. -- The WPI President's IQP Awards, the best of more than 250 Interactive Qualifying Projects completed at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and around the world for 1998-99, have been announced at the technological university. Four teams of undergraduate students competed for the awards at a formal presentation on December 8 before an overflowing audience of students, faculty, family, friends and judges.

As part of the WPI Plan, the university's project-based curriculum, undergraduates tackle projects on real-world problems. The Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP), usually completed during junior year, helps students become aware of the need to manage technology effectively and ethically. Each December, the best of the best are honored at the President's IQP Awards Competition and a formal dinner that follows.

A project conducted for the Wheelchair Clinic in London, England's Royal Hospital for Neoro-disabilities, took first place. The project was titled "Refining the Wheelchair Prescription Process," and included team members Jovanna Baptista, a senior actuarial mathematics major from Stoughton, Mass.; Sean Landrette, a senior biotechnology major from Terryville, Conn.; and Alyssa Schlichting, a senior biomedical engineering major from Merrimack, N.H.

This project aimed to refine the way wheelchairs are prescribed. To do so, the students explored the connection between a patient's physical, functional and environmental needs and the ability to meet those needs with technology.

"We discovered that wheelchair prescription with its interrelated variables is a very complicated process," they wrote in their final report. The WPI team made recommendations to reduce inaccurate prescriptions after conducting research that included interviews, shadowing sessions between technicians and therapists, follow-up questionnaires and an expert system trial with the clinic staff. They produced an analysis that identified major sources of inefficiency at the hospital. These included a "knowledge gap" between technicians and therapists, which they addressed by creating spreadsheets to provide the dimensions of each wheelchair and the adaptations that fit on each chair. "We also designed a flowchart expert system model to help prescribe each of the six most commonly prescribed wheelchairs," they wrote.

They also looked at the primary caregiver's needs, the transfer of information among therapists who work on a six-month rotation, and problems with a loan system. Faculty advisors were Professors Joel J. Brattin and Peter R. Christopher.

Second place went to "A Study of Marketing Possibilities at Lankester," by Kevin Dickert, a junior mechanical engineering major from North Grafton, Mass.; Loren Gordon, a senior electrical engineering major from Woodlake, Calif.; Jennifer Hardy, a junior electrical engineering major from North Chelmsford, Mass.; and Vanessa Melanson, a junior biotechnology major from Pittsfield, Mass.

Completed at the WPI Project Center in Costa Rica, the project developed a marketing plan for Lankester Botanical Garden, part of the University of Costa Rica's School of Horticulture. Budget cuts and lack of visitors left the garden with a small financial base, limiting its ability to hire employees and offer educational and research programs.

The students investigated marketing strategies, fund-raising for non-profit organizations and case studies of similar gardens. From their research, they developed 19 recommendations to attract visitors and increase income. Finding the garden's butterfly farm a most attractive asset, they suggested promoting it better as well as developing a bird-watching program. The students created a database of universities, other botanical gardens, research institutions and tour companies.

"The staff can use this information when looking for local resources to make improvements in the garden or when asking for assistance or guidance," they wrote in their report. Faculty advisors for the project were Professors Susan Vernon-Gerstenfeld and Arthur Gerstenfeld.

Two teams tied for third place. One was "Health Care System of Cyprus," by Kyriacos Felekkis, a senior biotechnology major from Nicosia, Cyprus. Felekkis evaluated the health-care system of his homeland, the Republic of Cyprus, to improve organization, finances and technical levels.

"In Cyprus, a health care system has developed which involves private and public health-care providers," wrote Felekkis in his report. The system, fraught with shortcomings, does not always meet the public's expectations. Felekkis reviewed information from the Cyprus government, the World Health Organization and the organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In addition, he examined the social and demographic background of the island, looking at its geography, population, politics, economy and health status. He found "major problems in the health-care provision of the country" and made suggestions, including a Universal Health Insurance Plan to offer financial coverage for the entire population while permitting increased competition among health-care providers. His faculty advisor was Professor John T. O'Connor.

The other third place project was "Speech, Language and Hearing Centre," by Anne-Marie Chouinard, a senior biotechnology major from Medfield, Mass.; Gregory Halloran, a senior mechanical engineering major from Chester, Conn.; and Jill Hubbard, a senior civil engineering major from Ballston Lake, N.Y. Developed for the Speech, Language and Hearing Centre in London, England, the project involved creating a three-to-five year marketing plan. The WPI students identified seven kinds of services provided by the Centre, including a morning nursery school, toddler group, one-to-one therapy, joint therapy, assessment, consultation and training of professionals.

The goal was to increase public awareness of the Centre and to decrease its net deficit. The students conducted interviews with current and past parents of children who attend the Centre, staff members at the Centre and professionals at other schools and institutions. They also performed a financial analysis for each of the seven services, determining revenues and costs.

National organizations provided statistics that helped the team determine market demand. "We gained a better perspective on the number of children in London and in England that are speech and language delayed or hearing impaired," they wrote in their report. "Form these numbers we were able to determine the number of children who could benefit from the services offered."

The WPI team identified services that should be increased or decreased, based on benefits to the Centre and to children, and offered ideas for increasing public awareness of the Centre. The faculty advisors were Professors Douglas Woods and Robert Thompson.

Judges for this year's IQP competition were WPI President Edward Alton Parrish; Matthew C. Larsen of the U.S. Geological Survey; Stephen B. Tucker, program manager of higher education at the GE Fund; Frank McMahon, vice president of engineering at Hilti Inc.; Robert Schoenberg of the American Council on Education; and WPI Professor John F. Zeugner of the Humanities and Arts Department.