For four decades, thousands of junior-year students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have taken what they've learned in their professors' classrooms and traveled abroad for seven weeks with a purpose: to solve problems.
Those problems are not found in textbooks; they’re real. They are in as far away places as Europe, Asia, and Australia, and as close as downtown Worcester. They can range from developing a water and sanitation facility to prevent waterborne diseases in South African settlements, to designing plans for solar energy panels that would help the Leicester (Mass.) School District save on electricity costs.
As part of WPI's revolutionary project-based curriculum, juniors are required to complete a research-driven project known as the Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP). IQPs are conducted around the world at WPI's 26 Project Centers that are overseen by the university's Global Projects Program. WPI boasts a 60 percent participation rate in the program, and, since its launch in the 1970s, the university has sent more engineering and science students abroad than any other American university. These projects offer students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in tackling real problems that blend science, technology, social issues, and human needs. In doing so, students develop an understanding of other cultures, and also see how their lives and work can make a real-life impact on their host communities.
The best of the best IQPs are honored every January at the President's IQP Awards Competition. This year, five were selected to compete for the top prize. The students who completed these projects made a presentation and answered questions before a judging panel that included WPI President and CEO Dennis D. Berkey on Friday, Jan. 29, 2010, in the Campus Center Odeum. The results of the competition will be posted on the WPI website after they are announced.
The following projects were chosen for the 2009-10 competition:
"Hydroponic Farming in Mahasarakham: Integrating Hydroponics into the Agricultural Curriculum While Introducing Entrepreneurial Skills," by students Aubrey Dumaoal Ortiz, Hilary A. Rotatori, Elizabeth Alice Schreiber, and George von Roth; and advised by professors Chrysanthe Demetry and Richard Vaz.
- The project's goal was to design and build a hydroponic system that can be incorporated into a northeast Thailand university's agricultural curriculum. The system will be used to teach students new farming techniques, such as hydroponics, to help alleviate underdevelopment and poverty in the region.
"Wind Generation on Nantucket," by students Diana M. Berlo, Jennifer L. Hunt, Amanda L. Martori, and Justin Skelly; and advised by Professor Michael Elmes.
- This project team studied the feasibility of implementing land-based wind turbines on Nantucket. Through research and interviews with local officials, the team addressed pertinent laws, regulations, and permits; ownership and financial arrangements and concerns. The project provides a timeline to address laws, regulations, and permits; evaluates turbine-size costs; recommends ways to mitigate concerns; and proposes how Nantucket can proceed with a land-based wind project.
"Water and Sanitation in Monwabisi Park, Cape Town," by students Marcella C. Granfone, Christopher Richard Lizewski, and Daniel Olecki; and advised by professors Scott Jiusto and Robert Hersh.
- Inadequate sanitation takes the lives of hundreds of residents in informal settlements like Monwabisi Park every year in Cape Town, South Africa. To address that issue, the team's initiative resulted in the development of a communal water facility. Through interaction with community members and city officials and field observation, a facility was designed to alleviate unhealthy living conditions through a process that promotes cost effectiveness, sustainability, and ecologically friendly principles.
"Mapping as a Foundation for Spatial Redevelopment in Monwabisi Park," by students Debra Ann Franck, William Wyke Mayo, Matthew Ryan Tomasko, and Yanxuan Xie; and advised by professors Scott Jiusto and Robert Hersh.
- This project documents the current conditions of Monwabisi Park, and the team's analysis is to serve as a catalyst for spatial redevelopment. The students offer recommendations for immediate redevelopment and for future planning. Their plans, developed with input from the residents, seek to create a more sustainable environment while preserving the community aspects on which Monwabisi Park operates.
"Leicester Energy Study," by students Christopher Daniel Gabrielson, Stephen William Hanly, and Laura Elizabeth Montville; and advised by Professor Fred Looft.
- The students worked to determine the feasibility of alternative energy sources for the town of Leicester, Mass. A solar electric system was determined to be the best option for the town, based on its low payback period and maintenance costs, ample available roof space, and optimal solar potential at the Leicester Public Schools. The team recommended the purchase and installation of three solar electric systems: a 100kW system to be located on the high school roof, a 50kW system on the middle school roof, and a 50kW system on the Memorial School roof. This would cost the town $508,750 after rebates. Based on costs and savings, full payback would be achieved in approximately nine years. The net savings of the system would be almost $2.8 million over 30 years, assuming a 6 percent annual increase in electricity cost.