WPI Students Lauded for Projects on Namibia Flood Control and Wind Turbine Energy

Media Contact
February 02, 2007

WORCESTER, Mass. – Student research projects on flood control in the African country of Namibia and generating wind power for a Worcester high school garnered top honors in the annual Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) President’s Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) Awards. A judging panel deemed both projects worthy of first place, based on their significant local – and global – scientific and technological impact and the quality of the student teams’ presentations on campus on Jan. 31.

The first-place projects focused on important environmental issues affecting two very different parts of the world. In the first, students Nicole Labbe, Nicholas McBride, and Ethan Ray targeted ways to help the local community solve flooding and erosion problems in the settlement of Otjomuise in Windhoek, Namibia. The students demonstrated how they were able to get the community more involved in preventing erosion in their settlement by assessing problems and developing and implementing solutions. The students taught village residents how to build walls made of rubber tires to protect their gardens and staircases leading to their homes from washing away because of heavy rainfall. Since there was a language barrier, the students developed creative ways to communicate with village residents and also designed a pamphlet, with the help of a translator, to remind the residents of what they were taught. Advising the Namibia project were Professor Chrysanthe Demetry and Professor Richard Vaz, dean of the university’s Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division (IGSD). The Namibia Housing Action Group sponsored the project.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in Worcester, another group of WPI students helped administrators at Holy Name Central Catholic Junior-Senior High School determine that they could eventually save millions of dollars in school energy costs by constructing a wind turbine on the school’s property. For two years, students Brian Foley, Tyler Forbes, Hans Jensen, and Adam Young studied whether it would be feasible to use a wind turbine to conserve energy, and also attended regional conferences on alternative energy to network with experts and learn more about the topic. The students worked to obtain necessary city permits, state grants, and federal aviation approval with the assistance of Holy Name administrators and politicians, including U.S. Congressman James McGovern, D-Worcester. The students’ research helped the school secure a $575,000 grant last fall from the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust, managed by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. Professor Alexander Emanuel served as advisor; the project was sponsored by the school.

The other project finalists focused on sustainable development, education, and assistive technologies. The second-place prize was awarded to “Good Management Practices for Shrimp Farming in Costa Rica,” researched by Daniel Bryand, Andrea Kadilak, and Sandro Pani, and advised by professors David DiBiasio and Guillermo Salazar, and Natalie Mello, director of global operations for the IGSD. There was a tie for third place. “Partnerships Implementing Engineering Education: 2nd and 3rd Grade Lessons,” was researched by Cale Putnam, Jessica Rosewitz, Michelle Tucker, and Robert Weir. Professor Jill Rulfs served as advisor. Tim Buck, Kerri George, Jeremy Turner, and Nick Verlinden researched “Content Suggestions for Universally Designed Hearing Aids,” a project advised by professors Paul Davis and Kevin Clements.

This year, 34 student teams submitted entries for the President’s IQP Awards. In addition to the five finalists, six projects were chosen to receive special commendation. The finalists gave their presentations to President Dennis Berkey and a panel of judges, including Peter Spotts, science reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, and Kathleen Stephens, principal deputy assistant secretary of the federal Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs in Washington, D.C.

“The IQP Awards presentations are a wonderful opportunity for the university to celebrate outstanding achievements by WPI students,” says Vaz. “Although these projects represent a wide spectrum of topics, they all address the broader question of how to build a brighter future.”

One of three projects required of all WPI undergraduates, the IQP encourages students, working in teams under the guidance of faculty advisors, to examine a problem at the intersection of science, technology, and society, locally, or at one of the more than 20 project centers WPI sponsors around the world. Since 1972, when the WPI Plan -- the university’s project-enriched curriculum -- began, thousands of IQPs have been completed in cooperation with industry and private and public organizations.

“These projects are life altering for the majority of students who undertake them, especially off campus,” explains Professor Susan Vernon-Gerstenfeld, director of academic programs and planning for the IGSD and director of the WPI student project centers in Puerto Rico and Costa Rica. “What WPI students learn is critical to their education as decent human beings, voters, and citizens of a shrinking world.”

To be considered for the President’s IQP Award, projects must be superior in conception, execution, and presentation. The award consists of certificates of merit for the students, and certificate of merit for the project advisor(s).