WPI to Expand Collaborations with Panama

Will capitalize on existing Panama Project Center to partner on efforts to encourage and develop educational initiatives
February 09, 2015

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Just months after an informative and productive visit to the Republic of Panama, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) President Laurie Leshin has signed a letter of intent with a number of Panamanian organizations and signatories to explore opportunities for additional academic and strategic science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) partnerships.

Also signing the letter:

  • Jorge Quijano, Chief Executive Officer, Panama Canal Authority (ACP);
  • Irvin A. Halman, General Administrator, National Authority for Government Innovation (AIG);
  • Jorge R. Arosemena, President, Ciudad Del Sabor (City of Knowledge);
  • Dr. Jorge Motta, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Government Agency for Science and Technology (SENACYT); and
  • Dr. Oscar Ramirez, President, Technological University of Panama (UTP).

In November 2014, Leshin, joined by WPI colleagues Tahar El-Korchi, head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Jeanine Plummer, director of the Environmental Engineering Program; and Aaron Sakulich, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, visited Panama to further support the relationship between Panama and WPI. The tour—co-hosted by Joe Adams '75, vice president of engineering operations at MWH Global, Inc., which manages one of the engineering contracts for the Panama Canal Authority; and Nicolas Corcione '91, president of Grupo Corcione and a member of the board of the Panama Canal—focused on the 3rd Lock Extension of the $5.25 billion Canal Expansion Project, which will double the cargo capacity of the canal.

"During the visit, it became clear that academic and technological projects and partnerships in Panama represent an incredibly exciting opportunity for WPI to increase its global reach and impact," said Leshin. "As home to the one of the world's largest engineering projects, Panama is a fertile STEM landscape. With our partner organizations, we look forward to developing productive relationships that will lead to unique learning experiences for our students and faculty."

WPI students are already playing a key role in the canal's refurbishment through WPI's Panama Project Center. Established in 2010 and directed by El-Korchi, the Panama Project Center is one of more than 40 project centers that offer WPI students hands-on, life-changing project opportunities in across the globe. Additionally, with the support of a recently awarded National Science Foundation grant, a cohort of WPI students—five women—will begin 15-week internships working on canal-related projects in July.

El-Korchi, who especially likes the global experience that project center work offers WPI students, looks forward to eventually expanding the project center work through these new collaborations. "It's humbling to work on a project that is simultaneously so historic and so enormous in scope," he said. "This is a game changer in how goods are going to be transported."

To further support these projects and encourage the development of collaborative initiatives, representatives of the WPI Panama Alumni Association, including Corcione, Fernando Motta '83, and Eduardo Navarro '81, also recently presented Leshin with a gift of $50,000 to establish the WPI Panamanian Alumni Fund.

According to Corcione, "We are very excited to support the WPI Panama Project Center. We have seen the amazing work WPI students have already produced at ACP and the opportunities that Panama offers as a regional hub for advanced education, research, and mutual collaboration. As alumni, we are proud to support WPI and further the initiatives of the project center."

The intended collaborations with Panama are reflective of WPI's increasing concentration on the university's global outreach and impact. "WPI's project centers give students an unmatched educational and cultural experience—and they truly make a difference to the communities in which they operate," Leshin said.