The defining element of any WPI project center is the community it serves. No matter where the location, students arrive ready to collaborate, and the Cape Town Project Centre is no different.
Working with Cape Town area partners and WPI faculty members since 2007, students conduct projects that tackle issues such as water, sanitation, housing provision, children's needs, flood prevention, food security, local entrepreneurship, and a more sustainable livelihood for the community as a whole.
Scott Jiusto, associate professor in the Interdisciplinary & Global Studies Division (IGSD) and director of the Cape Town Project Centre since its inception, was recently named CASE Professor of the Year for Massachusetts. He explains the emphasis on shared action learning (SAL) found throughout all WPI project centers as the heart of the Cape Town success. "The students get a project and are the drivers, but they can’t make it work on their own," he says. The Cape Town students quickly become aware of strong social differences and eventually learn from working closely with community members at very deep levels. "Our program is so collaborative. Nothing happens without a lot of people making it go."
A strong proponent of SAL, Jiusto says that all WPI project centers embody this partnership of give and take, spurring on personal growth for the students and sustainable development for the communities involved. SAL emphasizes Sharing among partners of ideas, knowledge, resources, inspiration, and compassion; Action that supports the creative impulses and strengthening of communities and partners; and Learning drawn from research, action, and critical reflexive practice.
Jiusto was recognized with the CASE award not only for his recent direction of the Cape Town Project Centre, but for his contributions to WPI's Global Projects Program as a whole. He explains that part of the Cape Town success can be attributed to the work the students put forth in finding a solution to their goals, but also in the deep appreciation for humanity that comes from the collaborative work itself. "The students quickly learn that we have a mutual responsibility to one another. They discover how fun and exciting it can be to take a big risk. And to struggle with all that comes with that risk—plus, they learn to keep on going when they experience a problem."Mentorship is an essential component to all project centers, and Cape Town is no different. "Teaching students to navigate a community that is so different from their own begins by what I have learned through our Cape Town partners," Jiusto shares. "The way we do the project centers has been created through a lot of other advisors who have worked at Cape Town. They have helped think through what we’re trying to do—as well as our partners who have invited us to work with them. They show us the things that are important to them."
Cape Town projects in 2015 included supporting a sponsor's governing body in the lengthy government registration process and creation of funding strategies for an early childhood center; aiding a soup kitchen to develop additional programs, implement interior upgrades, document personal stories of regular guests, and address challenges that their guests face as street community members; the creation of a community hall to help strengthen community empowerment; advancing a peer-education approach to increasing access to information technology in poorer communities; and a proposal to empower area women to help them better understand new types of technology.
Recently taking over the helm in Cape Town is Nicola Bulled, medical anthropologist and assistant teaching professor in IGSD. She has a wonderful foundation to grow on, according to Jiusto. "Nicola will move forward with the evolution of the center, and will have new ideas to bring forth."
Jiusto, moving on as advisor to the Santa Fe Project Center, says that although Cape Town has its own unique flavor, it’s all about the program itself. No matter where WPI students and faculty go, it’s the difference they make that matters in the end.