WPI Plans New Student Project Center in Hull, Mass.

Students will spend seven weeks performing environmentally based research
Media Contact
January 11, 2007

WORCESTER, Mass. - Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) plans to launch this fall a new student project center in the town of Hull, Mass. The center will be part of the university’s Global Projects Program, through which students complete projects, at more than 20 sites around the world, that require them to use their knowledge of science and technology to address important societal and cultural problems.

The theme for the Hull Project Center will be environmental issues affecting a small New England community. WPI administrators and faculty members met recently with representatives of local agencies and environmental groups and toured several sites in the Hull area, including Weir River Estuary Park, the Hull wind turbines, Straits Pond culvert, Gunrock, Nantasket Beach and seawall, Pemberton Point, and Hull Gut. Numerous project ideas were discussed at a luncheon hosted by Hull Selectman Joan Meschino.

“I am impressed with the energy and commitment of Hull’s organizational representatives and citizen volunteers,” says Rick Vaz, dean of WPI’s Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division and a member of the WPI team that visited Hull.

In WPI’s project-enriched curriculum, all undergraduates complete three significant projects: a humanities and arts project, which helps them become well-rounded by exploring fields beyond science and technology; the Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP), in which students address issues at the intersection of science, technology, and society; and the Major Qualifying Project (MQP), a design or research experience in a student’s major field. About two-thirds of students complete projects off campus, either overseas at sites in Costa Rica, England, Italy, Namibia, Thailand, and several other nations, or in the United States, at sites including Washington, D.C., New York City, Boston, and Worcester.

At an annual project fair on the WPI campus, students will select from a list of proposed topics, such as studies of the region’s watersheds, coastlines, and energy resources. After preparatory on-campus coursework designed to enhance teamwork, approximately six teams of three to four students will spend seven weeks on location in Hull, mapping the physical environment, interviewing concerned residents and technical experts, designing technical solutions, and disseminating results to the community. The projects will constitute the students’ sole academic work for that period; on-site faculty will supervise them full-time. Each project entails about 1,400 person-hours, “considerably more than an average undergraduate class assignment,” Vaz notes.

To provide student teams with needed equipment and facilities, WPI is seeking project sponsors from among local businesses and state and local government agencies, Vaz said. In addition to financial support, resources such as office space, Internet access, and inexpensive accommodations for student groups are needed. Those interested in sponsoring projects or providing resources should contact Declan De Paor, WPI research professor of geophysics, at declan@wpi.edu.

In the photo, front row, from left : Malcolm Brown (Hull Light Board), Andy Stern (Citizen Advocates for Renewable Energy), Declan De Paor (WPI Physics Department), Anne Herbst (Hull Conservation Agent), Sarah Das (Hull Conservation Commission). Back row, from left : Lawry Reid (Straits Pond Watershed Association), Sue Vernon-Gerstenfeld (Academic Programs and Planning Director, WPI Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division,), Judeth Van Ham (Weir River Estuary Park), Rick Mattila (Hull Water Resources Committee), Rob Gilman (Hull Beach Management Committee), Joan Meschino (Hull Selectman), Constance Clarke (WPI Humanities and Arts Department), Rick Vaz (WPI Dean of Interdisciplinary and Global Studies), Samantha Woods (Weir River Watershed Association), Sheila Connor (Hull Conservation Commission), Paul Mathisen (WPI Civil and Environmental Engineering Department). Photo by John Harre.