From conserving water on the WPI campus to creating green spaces in Detroit and promoting hand sanitation in Ghana, WPI first-year student teams once again showcased a wide range of innovative solutions to some of the world’s most critical challenges at the Fall 2015 Great Problems Seminar (GPS) Poster Presentation day on Monday, Dec. 14.
The biennial event, held each year at the ends of B- and D-Terms, enables WPI community members to learn about the impressive project work carried out by first-year students in GPS courses. This year, more than 300 students presented nearly 70 posters in seven topics: The World’s Water; Livable Cities; Heal the World; Ignorance Is Not Bliss; Recycle the World; Culture, Technology, and Human Rights; and Biosphere, Atmosphere, and Human Fears.
While each team had the same remit—to research and propose a solution to one of the world’s great problems—they approached their projects in very different ways.
Katharine Dunphy says that her team chose “Mental Health in Kenya” because they were interested in exploring stigmas surrounding mental illness in developing countries.
“It’s estimated that 25 percent of people in Kenya suffer from mental illness, but they are often misdiagnosed and mistreated,” says Dunphy. “Many people actually believe that patients are possessed by demons and they beat them.”
Dunphy and her team created a model for a virtual education program that uses webcams to teach Kenyan doctors about mental health issues and treatment. The seven-week course is designed to be sustainable by enabling doctors who score highly to later become teachers.
While the team members are not sure if they will continue working on this specific project, they are interested in exploring its applications in other areas.
“I think our model of using a webcam to deliver educational programming sustainably in remote areas could definitely be useful in future project work at WPI,” says Dunphy.
Another project presented at the event with the potential for widespread application is “Modular Rooftop Green Technologies,” a rooftop system designed to re-create ecosystems destroyed by growing urbanization.
“We realized that rooftops in urban areas are not being used to their full potential,” says team member Peter Carosa. “Our system brings essential natural processes like air purification and temperature regulation back to cities.”
Carosa and his team members hope carry out a case study of the system, which includes interlocking modules with solar panels, algae farms, and native vegetation, using a roof on a building at WPI or in Worcester.
Another student team took a different route by seeking to make a small but direct impact with their project, “Guaranis para Paraguay.”
“Through our research we found out that the government of Paraguay does not provide funding for technology in education,” says team member Amanda Alves. “We decided to connect with two organizations that are already focusing on this issue by supplying laptops for students.”
The team ran a fundraising campaign, including a bake sale on campus, and raised $220, the amount needed to buy one laptop. They expect it to be delivered to a school in Caacupé, Paraguay, on December 31 of this year.
“We’re really glad that our project was able to make a difference in someone’s life,” says Alves. “Everyone wants to somehow change the world, and we’re excited to have been able to improve at least one Paraguayan child’s life and provide them with a better education and an improved life overall.”
PAST CONNECTIONS AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS
More than 70 WPI community members—including faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends—were on hand at the event to serve as judges. Woody Bradford ’89, president and CEO of Conning and chairman of the board of the Greater Boston Food Bank, gave the closing address.
Kris Wobbe, associate dean of undergraduate studies, says that one exciting aspect of the event was being able to bring back alumni who had previously taken GPS courses to serve as judges.
“One of our GPS alums from the fall of 2009 came back to judge for us, and she left us with a great Luke Skywalker lightsaber, saying, ‘this Luke Skywalker Lightsaber reminds me of all the Jedi you train year to year.’ She now works for Hasbro, in toy development,” says Wobbe.
Although the GPS was launched nearly 20 years after he graduated, Bradford also reflected on the value of project learning at WPI and reminded students of all the skills they had gained through their intense 14-week projects.
“You’ve done something that most students your age haven’t had the opportunity to do.” he said. “Based on this experience, you should all feel more confident, more prepared, and hopefully more than a bit curious about how you can continue to grow. I hope that many of you think of what you’ve done here not as an end but as a beginning.”
Here are the poster presentation winners from each GPS category:
The World’s Water
Winner: Rain Gardens in Worcester
Patrick Meehan, Ty Moquin, Zachary Weiland, Qindong Zhang
Runner up: Phosphorus Coes-ing Some Trouble
Matt Biondi, Brooke Pierce, Graysen DeLuca, Michael Taylor
Culture, Technology, and Human Rights in the Developing World
Winner: A Renewable Energy Program for Bishop Kodji, Nigeria
Arial Goldner, Travis Roth, Gunnar Tornberg, Alexandra Wheeler, Jackson Whitehouse
Runner-up: On-the-Go Connections
Stephany Halfrey, Erin Morissette, Carly Neeld, Solomon Ortega, Erika Snow, Jonathan Tai
Winner: Rooftop Rainwater Collection System on Foisie Innovation Studio
Nolan Bell, Dylan Flety, Chenggu Wang, Katherine Williamson
Runner-up: Table for Five
Alyssa Konsko, Alex Kuros, Ben Leveillee, Nathan Pietrowicz, Austin Shrewsbury
Recover, Reuse, and Recycle: Building a Lasting World
Winner: From Trash to Cash: Helping Paraguayan waste pickers turn glass from the streets to money in their pockets
Tess Hudak, Muhammad Hussian, Angela MacLeod, Daniel Ottey, Rasheeda Samih
Runner-up: Red Mud Recovery: A Zero Waste Solution?
Cory Brolliar, Emily Molstad, Connor Murphy, William Schwartz, Kyle Tyler
Heal the World
Winner: Modern Vector Control: Genetically Modifying Anopheles gambiae
Will Bass, Michelle Kerns, Alex Kim, Aylin Padir
Runner-up (tie): Reducing Child Mortality Due to Rotavirus
Brianna Buke, Jaqueline Garcia, Eric McCann, Andrea Rota
Runner-up (tie): Open Defecation in Zambia
Ben Abram, Joshua Boynton, Mason Handy, Angelina Nicolella
Biosphere, Atmosphere, and Human Fears
Winner: Bean Town to Green Town
Cole Godzinski, Liana Nguyen, Alana Sher, Tyler Wilson
Runner-up: Downsizing The Dump
Laura Auerbach, Jane Lockery, Victoria Lusk, Karina Naras, Karen Noble
Ignorance Is Not Bliss
Winner: Replacing Blackboard: Finding a New Learning Management System for WPI
Eva Barinelli, Brian King, Wivaagg
Runner-up: Multidimensional Poverty Analysis: Will the Poverty Stoplight Work in Worcester?
Nicole Franco, Benjamin Hylak, Sylvia van der Weide
People’s Choice Award Winner
Taking the Higher Ground: Growing Cleaner on Boston’s Rooftop Farm
Ginger Adams, Melissa Galgano, Kylie Juarez, Mercedes McDermott
-By Jennifer Wyglinski