WPI Student Team Places First for Project that Reduces Lead Exposure to Thai Elementary School Students

Chosen from a group of five winners, this year’s top President’s IQP Award acknowledges work to evaluate and implement solutions to a serious global health threat
February 07, 2014

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A team of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) undergraduate students that researched and implemented solutions for reducing elementary school students' exposure to lead in schools took first place from among five winners of the prestigious WPI President’s IQP Award.

As part of their required IQP (Interactive Qualifying Project), WPI seniors Brianna S. Hayes of Marble Falls, Texas, Taylor C. McNally of Burrillville, R.I., Trevor M. Rancourt of Nashua, N.H., and Tracy M. Sinkewicz of Georgetown, Mass., traveled to the southeast Asian nation of Thailand, where students are susceptible to numerous health problems due to lead exposure in schools and the environment.

The 2012 President’s IQP Winners talk about the process and the honor. Watch the video and learn more about this annual award.  >

The team designed an educational program to inform elementary school students, teachers, and administrators about the sources, effects, prevention, and mitigation of lead exposure. Input from teachers was used to create a comprehensive package of educational materials, including lesson plans, pamphlets, posters, stickers, and instructional videos. All materials were made accessible on a website for school faculties, families, and the general public. The program was tested at two schools and evaluations showed it to be effective. This project was done in collaboration with Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. The WPI faculty advisors were Stanley Selkow and Seth Tuler.

The IQP is one of two projects required of WPI undergraduates, and allows students to pursue hands-on, real-world research opportunities all over the world. Working in teams under the guidance of faculty advisors, students conduct their research either locally or at one of more than 35 WPI-sponsored project centers to address—and solve—real problems that lie at the interface of science, technology, social issues, and human needs. Through participation at project centers, WPI students address local issues, develop an understanding of other cultures, and see how their lives and work will play out on a global stage.

Last academic year, approximately 250 student teams completed IQPs. Of those, 67 teams entered their projects for consideration for this award, and the best five projects were selected as winners of the award. To be considered, projects must be superior in conception, execution, and presentation.

During the awards presentation held at the university on Friday, Jan. 31, associate dean of interdisciplinary and global studies Kent Rissmiller congratulated the winning project teams for their impressive work, and emphasized the importance of the IQP in WPI's curriculum. "I want to applaud these students, their advisors, and all the people behind the scenes; their efforts made for a really rewarding and challenging educational program," Rissmiller said. "It is heartening to see WPI students rise to the call every year through the IQP program, and this team was particularly impressive."

The President's IQP Award recognizes the student teams whose conception, performance, and presentation of their Interactive Qualifying Project has been judged outstanding in focusing on the relationships among science, technology, and the needs of society. To be considered for an award, the project must be superior in conception, execution, and presentation. There are no pre-determined categories for the awards, but the award recognizes the qualities for which the project excels.

"The implications for this project are quiet broad," said Joseph Sarkis, professor and head of WPI's Department of Management. "This initiative could be easily replicated throughout the world, so benefits gained from this project have the potential to go far and wide beyond the schoolchildren of Thailand, who these students were able to help. I congratulate them on doing an exceptional, professional job."

The five winning teams gave their presentations before WPI's interim president, Philip B. Ryan, and a panel of judges: Ann T. Lisi, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Worcester Community Foundation; Thomas Riddell, former professor and interim dean at Smith College; Christopher Sinacola, editorial page editor for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette; Joseph Sarkis, professor and head of the WPI Department of Management; and Erica Mason, artist and WPI alumna (Class of '96) and trustee.

The other winners:

• "Tsunami Awareness and Preparedness in the Greater Wellington Region," by Courtnae-Symone Currie of St. Andrew, Jamaica, Julian Enjamio of Miami, Fla, David Girardo of Reading, Mass. and Casey Hensel of Milford, Mass. Advisors were Michal Elmes and Ingrid Shockey. For more information on this project, see Wellington here.

• "Okundjeneka, Okutalaleka: A Two-Step Process for Sustainable Thermal Regulation in Kambashus in Katutura," by Timothy Grupp of Highland Mills, N.Y., Anthony Guerra of Eatontown, N.J., Olivia Hart of Plantsville, Conn. and Dana Wolkiewicz of Babylon, N.Y. Advisors were Creighton Peet and Alexander Smith. For more information on this project, see Katutura here.

• "Developing A Sustainable Waste Tire Management Strategy for Thailand," by Kailyn Connor of Belfast, Maine, Steven Cortesa of Uxbridge, Mass., Shakhizada Issagaliyeva of Taldykorgan, Kazakhstan and Adam Meunier of Johnston, R.I. Advisors were Stanley Selkow and Seth Tuler. For more information on this project see Thailand here.

• "Mapping the Potential for Urban Agriculture in Worcester: A Land Inventory Survey," by Jay Ringenbach of Huntington, Mass., Matthew Valcourt of Nashua, N.H. and Wenli Wang of Jiaozuo, China. Advisors were Robert Hersh and Suzanne LePage. For more information on this project, see Worcester here.