5 Minutes with Kent Rissmiller

Q: How would you describe the project center experience?

A: Students are completely immersed in a new environment with the task of solving a real world problem for 7-8 weeks. They are working directly with local organizations, who frequently ask them to do field work in the community. When the students arrive, they often find their project has changed in some way. Students live, travel, negotiate language barriers, buy groceries and learn how to solve a problem together in such a short timeframe. The experience is tremendously enriching for the students and helps them to mature. During the course of the term, students become truly invested in their projects and become proud to share the experience and results with others.

Q: How many project centers does WPI have around the globe? What are the most popular project centers?

A: WPI has nearly 50 project centers serving 34 groups of students in 26 countries. There are 6 domestic sites, the rest are international. Our first project center opened in Washington in 1974.  It took some time to open the London program in 1987. Some of the more popular sites now are New Zealand, Australia, Costa Rica and Copenhagen. Our newest project center is in Ecuador, where students studied for the first time this past academic year.

Q: What is the interest level of students in doing projects abroad?

A: This past year, we received 883 applications for approximately 850 spots. Students are eager to do projects internationally, however, financial barriers are the number one reason why students don’t participate.

Q: Can alumni living internationally do anything to assist?

A: It is important to keep our international alumni connected with the institution. When we look to open new project centers, we look for engagement of alumni in the local areas. Alumni networks abroad can help us to establish new WPI project centers. Many alumni have paved the way for new project centers by offering to incorporate students into their own work. Alumni can also support Global Scholarships, which provide financial support for students who can’t afford to do projects abroad.