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A Smart Approach to Curbing Traffic Abroad

WPI student team recognized for project that reduces traffic congestion in India

February 18, 2015
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Pictured (from left to right) at the Jan. 30 ceremony: A. McGrath, K. Rissmiller, L. Leshin, A. Bornstein, L. Pafumi, J. Keleher, and A. Aberdale

A team of undergraduates from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and the Indian Institute of Technology Mandi (IIT Mandi), who researched and implemented solutions for the reduction of traffic congestion in a small city in India, recently took first place from among the five finalists for the prestigious 2014 WPI President's IQP Awards.

The IQP (Interactive Qualifying Project), one of two major projects required of WPI undergraduates, enables 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 40 WPI-sponsored global project centers to address—and solve—real problems that lie at the interface of science, technology, social issues, and human needs. Students who complete their IQPs at project centers address local issues, develop an understanding of other cultures, and see how their lives and work will play out on a global stage.

"There is no aspect of the curriculum that is more signature to the WPI experience than the IQP," said WPI President Laurie Leshin. "It showcases the sometimes difficult gap between highly technical course work and the very real problems facing local, national, and international communities. With these awards, our students have shown the ability to overcome that gap to define and implement real-world solutions that have lasting impact around the world."

The President's IQP Awards recognize 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. During the 2013–14 academic year, about 300 student teams completed IQPs. Of those, 59 teams entered their projects for consideration for the award, and the best five projects were selected as finalists.

2014's top award was presented to "Proposal for Traffic Congestion Alleviation in Mandi, Himachel Pradesh, India," which sought to develop strategies to reduce the traffic in Mandi in order to decrease air and noise pollution, traffic-related accidents, and inefficient road travel. The team included WPI seniors Alyssa Bornstein, Jan Keleher, and Lena Pafumi, and IIT Mandi students Shiv Sankar Baishya, Shoubhik Debnath, Suraj Malode, and Sachin Saini. Their advisors were Ingrid Shockey, WPI assistant teaching professor, Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division; and Arti Kashyap, associate professor, IIT Mandi.

The team spent seven weeks interviewing a variety of local stakeholders, mapping traffic patterns, and analyzing their findings to develop a comprehensive set of short- and long-term recommendations, some of which have already been implemented.

According to Bornstein, the recognition is particularly gratifying because the team was among the first group of students to travel to WPI’s new Mandi project center. It is one of only two centers where WPI students work directly with students from the host country.

"It was such a rewarding experience to be able to go to India," said Bornstein. "We definitely had to overcome some cultural barriers in working so closely with students from another country, but in the end it really helped us learn to collaborate to complete an intense project."

Leshin praised the team for effectively using the talents of all team members and utilizing a balance of anecdotal evidence and qualitative measurements. "Your solutions were thoughtful, and during your presentation, you represented the region very well—we felt like we were right there with you."

During the IQP Awards event on Friday, Jan. 30, all five finalist teams gave presentations before a panel of judges, including Leshin; Andrew Aberdale '89, CFO of Target Logistics Management; Anne McGrath, program manager and science competitions and education relations manager for Intel; Barbara Olds, associate vice president for educational innovation and professor of liberal arts and international studies at the Colorado School of Mines; and Benjamin Orbach, founder and director of America’s Unofficial Ambassadors initiative at Creative Learning.

Kent Rissmiller, associate dean of interdisciplinary and global studies, congratulated all of the finalists 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 year's top team was particularly impressive."

The four other finalists were honored for projects on issues ranging from water contamination in Thailand to adaptive bicycles in Worcester:

2014 President's IQP Award Honorable Mentions were also granted to the following projects: