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Global Impact at Home: Interactive Qualifying Project Supports Worcester’s Vulnerable

DEPARTMENT(S): 
October 26, 2020

At WPI, the term global impact often conjures visions of life-altering work being conducted in faraway lands. And although this is a completely accurate picture, WPI students and faculty never lose sight of our local community. 

The recent Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) Stigma Free Worcester, which earned both the President’s IQP Award and—this month—Worcester’s prestigious Key to the City, serves as a shining example of how our students

make a positive impact at home. The IQP team of Walker Christie ’20, Kyle Foley’20, Ash Honcharik ’20 and Michael Kola ’20 developed Stigma Free Worcester—a mobile app directory of Worcester’s substance use treatment resources to support one of the city’s most vulnerable populations. Under the direction of Professor Thomas Balistrieri, the team worked with Worcester Health and Human Service Departments to improve communication between Worcester’s treatment service providers and local residents seeking assistance. With the app, users can find multi-lingual support in areas ranging from mental health and substance use to housing, food, and clothing concerns. 

Understanding some of the most important learning happens beyond the campus borders, WPI’s Global Project Program, currently with more than 50 global project centers on six continents, has prepared generations of students to face the world’s most complex challenges. Team member and computer science engineer Walker Christie ’20 recently shared that although initially the technical challenge of the Stigma Free Worcester project grabbed his attention, things changed rapidly as he began to experience the human side of the project. Christie said it quickly became less about creating an app and more about ensuring the technical solution could help as many people as possible.

“This experience has given me a new perspective and empathy for those struggling with a substance use disorder or homelessness. Being able to learn from people working on the front lines was an invaluable experience for the whole team,” he says. 

When asked about his team being awarded Worcester’s Key to the City, Christie says, “It was certainly a satisfying feeling, but to know that Stigma Free Worcester is being used every day by people who need it, feels incredible!”

Like Christie, generations of WPI students indicate their IQP—a graduation requirement—especially if completed off campus, gave them an enhanced ability to solve STEM problems, a valuable understanding of the world’s societal challenges, and the ability to make a positive impact wherever they are in the world. 

Read more about Stigma Free Worcester.