Colleges of Worcester Consortium Praises WPI Students’ Community Engagement

Students Win Award for Their Work in Designing and Building a Garden in Worcester That Supports Nutritional Needs of Local HIV/AIDS Patients
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March 25, 2011

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A team of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) student researchers received a Community Engagement Award on March 24, 2011, from the Colleges of Worcester Consortium Inc. for a project that helped AIDS Project Worcester grow a community garden to support the nutritional needs of local HIV/AIDS patients.

Given annually, the Community Engagement Awards are presented to individual students and groups of students from Greater Worcester that provided outstanding service to their communities within the past year. Last fall, WPI seniors Robert Grady, a biology and biotechnology major from Londonderry, N.H.; Lee Hermsdorf-Krasin, a chemistry major from Wayland, Mass.; Evan Sawyer, an environmental studies major from Rutland, Mass.; and Jason Reynolds, a mechanical engineering major from Port Kent, N.Y., researched, organized, and helped build a community garden at the corner of Gold and Green streets that will support the nutritional needs of HIV/AIDS patients using the services of AIDS Project Worcester. Through their research, the students determined the costs associated with starting and maintaining a community garden as well as what types of fruits and vegetables would be most beneficial to those living with HIV/AIDS and which would thrive in the New England climate. Last October, the students helped build the 12 raised beds for the garden. They were joined by their advisor, WPI Professor Robert Krueger, director of the WPI Worcester Community Project Center, which is celebrating its 10th year of helping the Worcester community with important sustainability-related research projects.

Colleges of Worcester Consortium CEO Mark Bilotta praised the WPI students for their work in assisting AIDS Project Worcester. "Robert, Lee, Evan, and Jason performed exemplary work. Through their research, those living with HIV/AIDS will be able to benefit from nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables grown in the AIDS Project Worcester garden."

"What they came up with was so beneficial," said Joe McKee, the agency's executive director. "They plotted various garden scenarios and researched which vegetables and fruits help bolster a person's immune system." He noted that this season volunteers will plant cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, beans, squash, zucchini, peas, onions, garlic, root vegetables, chives, asparagus, rhubarb, artichoke, strawberries, and shrubs to protect the garden.

The students say they are happy to be recognized by the Colleges of Worcester Consortium. "All of our hard work paid off. Last fall, we were able to build part of this beautiful community garden and hope to be there this spring to add to it. In doing so, we’ve helped a community of people that will soon benefit from the garden's bounty," they said in a joint statement. "This project allowed us to not only realize our own ambitions, but it also allowed us to give back to the Worcester community. For that, we are most proud."

The team's research was part of their Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP), a research-driven project all WPI students must complete. The IQP applies science and technology to address an important societal need or issue. About two-thirds of students complete a project at one of the university’s more than 25 off-campus project centers, which are located around the world. These projects offer students the opportunity to apply their scientific and technical knowledge to tackle real problems that affect the quality of people's lives. In doing so, students develop an understanding of other cultures and see how their work can have a positive impact on real communities.

According to Krueger, WPI students make a positive and real impact on communities around the globe, including Worcester, through their "thoughtful, strategic, and purposeful problem-solving techniques. For the past decade, the Worcester Community Project Center has worked with local sponsors and projects that transcend 'the local.' It is because of this unique degree requirement coupled with the skills and enthusiasm of students like Robert, Lee, Evan, and Jason that make these projects win-win. They provide excellent educational opportunities for our students and research that our sponsors can act upon."

From their IQP, the AIDS Project Worcester team said they gained "valuable experience working in the professional world. We learned how to work as a team and how to rely on and learn from each other. Understanding group dynamics was an important lesson, and that experience will give us a heads-up on our competition once we graduate from WPI and enter the workforce."