WPI staff member in front of old machinery

Community Spotlight: Bob Brown

Working Behind the Scenes to Elevate Project Work

January 30, 2019
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When WPI’s eProject-2.0 system debuted, its framework provided long-awaited services to help students navigate all the options within projects, make the system run smoother, and enhance the impact of WPI’s work.

Although his modest manner defers eProjects’s success to his team and the collaboration between several departments especially IGSD and the Gordon Library, Bob Brown is the driving force behind the technical and highly complex infrastructure project.

For 17 years, Brown, now the director of Web App Development & Academic Integration, has held roles as varied as an ECE department computer manager, HPC integrator, and an ECE guest lecturer. But no matter what he does, he says he keeps his focus on one primary goal. “We are here to help the students and support research,” he says. “After that, everything just falls into place. But we start with the students. That’s why we are here.”

Connecting Project Work Seamlessly

eProjects allows the many facets of WPI’s extensive project-based learning approach to be linked, making possible everything from finding an MQP project using a mobile device to comparing domestic and international IQPs to sharing final project results. The process is not only simpler, but is now infinitely more accessible, and the student work is easier to find and retrieve.

The eProjects-2.0 solution is one of which he is especially proud. “The WPI Plan has been around for a long time, and eProjects directly supports that,” he says. “We can store and preserve the students’ work for future generations.”

In the university’s technological environment, Brown appreciates how WPI uses its resources to encourage and assist student success. His work to make projects easier to find, navigate, and preserve is exciting. “Today, there are lots of formats for student projects,” he says, “including PDFs, transmedia, imaging and video. People use desktop and mobile devices from anywhere in the world to find information. It’s a new world, and we need to support that.”

After so many years of working with the WPI Plan, Brown knew a piece was missing: making connections between projects. Always thinking of ways to help students and the important work they do, his thoughts continued to churn until he found a way to make it happen.

Brown collaborating with Derek Murphy (seated) and Mark Santiago (on screen).

Now eProjects connects parallels in projects that could spark new collaborations. For instance, a project in San Juan investigating water resources and a project examining soil in Morocco might have connections that amplify existing or future research. He is thrilled at the thought of students and advisors being able to access information and then use it in ways that were previously impossible or cumbersome.

It is clear eProjects is getting results. “This year, more than 70 students applied to the IGSD program while at the Global Fair using eProjects 2.0 on their smartphones,” he says.

Brown’s Work Valued Across Campus

According to senior vice president for enrollment and institutional strategy Kristin Tichenor, Brown is one of WPI’s unsung heroes. “He singlehandedly saved the day when our graduate application platform failed several years back,” she says. “Bob had created a student application review platform for ECE [known as EGADS] that we were able to expand and make available to all of WPI’s graduate departments. We ended up using this system for multiple years before finally migrating to third-party software Slate. But Bob’s system pre-empted anything on the market at the time and made it possible for us to continue reviewing candidates for graduate programs electronically.” 

And while the projects form a foundation for Brown’s latest work, one specific element makes his job compelling. “It’s the people,” he says. “The faculty, staff, students, and our partners. It’s the relationships you develop.”

Those connections are so essential that Brown says he moved the team to Atwater Kent to be closer to the students and faculty. “We want to encourage interaction and collaboration and develop a better understanding for what people need,” he says.

Before joining WPI Brown spent 30 years in the corporate world, so making sense out of the kinds of large-scope international projects he is well-known for requires a mindset he has fine-tuned. “Understanding the objectives and staying focused is especially important on longer term projects,” he says. “eProject-2.0 is about helping students conduct projects anywhere and preserving and protecting their work.”

Welcoming the Challenge

Especially at home in the energetic environment of a college campus, Brown is known to many as a go-to guy for complicated and complex infrastructure design. He likes the challenge.

“We are all students,” he says. “WPI is a fun place to work, especially working and sharing and collaborating with people across departments. There are lots of different experiences here. Every day I learn something new.”

-- By Julia Quinn-Szcesuil