February 28, 2022

The Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) is one of the biggest accomplishments for a WPI student and a signature element of the project-based learning curriculum. But in the 2020–21 academic year, IQPs looked a little different. Students not only had to overcome academic challenges—finding a way to work in teams across disciplines, tackling real-world problems globally and locally—but, because of pandemic restrictions, they also had to find a way to work with partners and sponsors around the world, without being able to physically travel to far-flung locales.

The 2020–21 IQPs were reimagined and largely hybrid—a mix of in-person and virtual activities that saw students and advisors adjusting their travel plans and project work. The students either went remote, taking to Zoom, WhatsApp, text message, and email to work with collaborators around the world, or they stayed local in the Worcester area, helping to make an impact on the lives of community members in their own backyard.

The President’s IQP Awards event followed that same mode, as faculty advisors, parents, and peers gathered in the Odeum and on Zoom and YouTube on Friday, January 28, 2022, to see IQP teams present their work to a panel of judges that included President Laurie Leshin. Of the hundreds of teams completing IQPs, five were selected as finalists for awards, an annual recognition given to those teams whose IQP work is determined to be outstanding in its focus on science, technology, and society.


For students working with international sponsors and partners, adapting to pandemic-related restrictions meant working with people they had never met in person, and in countries they may have never visited. The difference in time zones to gather for meetings—and working around COVID issues and restrictions affecting their sponsors’ home countries—also posed challenges. Traveling a matter of miles was no easy feat for the students either. For the teams who stayed close to home to conduct their projects in-person, the Coronavirus Emergency Response Team (CERT) still had to sign off on their plans for travel and off-campus work.


This year’s projects included creating a healing garden in Worcester, helping to launch a competitive youth robotics team in Namibia, co-designing a sustainable sanitation system in Ghana, and finding opportunities to restore and preserve wetlands in New Zealand.

Therapeutic Gardening: Advancing a Healing Garden Program and Partnership

Matthew Adams, Christopher Davenport, Mairead O’Neill, and Ciara Young

Advisors: Scott Jiusto, Gbetonmasse Somasse

Sponsor: Healing Garden Institute

(Cape Town, South Africa Project Center was pivoted to a Worcester, Mass., project)


Launching a Competitive Robotics Team for Physically Active Youth

Augustine Asumadu, Devan Blechinger-Slocum, Margaret Gunville, Sarah MacDonald

Advisors: Alexander Smith, Nancy Burnham

Sponsor: Physically Active Youth – Windhoek, Namibia Project Center; STEM Education Project Center


Akyem Dwenase Sanitation

Elaine Chen, Ruchita Choksey, Danielle Upton, Casey Willis

Advisor: Rob Krueger

Ghana Project Center: Development Design Lab


The Role of Wetlands in the Ruamahanga Catchment

Caroline Dalton, Daniel Dietrich, Meng Lian, Brooklynn Paris

Advisors: Fred Looft, Ingrid Shockey

Sponsor: Rawiri Smith, Ian Gunn

Wellington, New Zealand Project Center


Mobile Farm Stand: A Vehicle for Education

Minh Anh Kieu, Noah Brennick, Sophia Cheng, Darius Luo

Advisor: Derren Rosbach

Sponsor: Turn Back Time – Farm Stay Project Center



First place honors went to Therapeutic Gardening: Advancing a Healing Garden Program and Partnership. The judges were impressed with the team’s goal of helping vulnerable populations in WPI’s own backyard, as well as its design process, its ability to find a suitable local partner in Seven Hills ASPiRE, and in the way the students presented their proposal to Seven Hills.

The five finalist teams now have the opportunity to present their work to an even wider audience, by discussing their projects on The Global School’s podcast “Have you Herd?”


Four teams received honorable mention—a higher number than average, and another testament to the strength of this year’s projects and the students’ ability to produce thoughtful, well-designed work in spite of the disruptions caused by the pandemic. Honorable mentions went to Utilizing Volunteers to Save the Văcărești Wetlands, Strengthening ACE Outreach and Communication with African Families, Exploring Governance Strategies to Restore New Zealand’s Biological Heritage, and Enhancing the Visitor Experience Along the Sibiu County Trails.


President Laurie Leshin

Leshin is WPI’s 16th president and the first woman to lead the university. Under her direction, the university has steadily built its reputation as the global leader in project-based learning, and was recognized by the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings for best balancing excellence in teaching with groundbreaking research.  

Patty Eppinger

Eppinger is a community volunteer and philanthropist, who has dedicated her time to organizations focused on education, youth, and equity. She is also a member of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, the founder of the Worcester Education Collaborative, and has co-chaired One City One Library, a public-private initiative to expand library services in Worcester. She is the proud parent of Lauren Eppinger, a member of the Class of 2024.

Navjot Singh

Singh is a Senior Partner at McKinsey’s Boston office and is a leader in the Life Sciences, Strategy & Corporate Finance practices, with a focus on innovation. He brings deep business expertise in strategy, innovation, operations, business development, and risk management. He is also an expert in Six Sigma methodologies for product development and process design, and has been awarded 20 patents for his work in these areas.

Jillian McLeod

McLeod is an associate professor of mathematics at the United States Coast Guard Academy, where she also chairs the Equity Taskforce. She is currently serving as an American Council on Education Fellow, which has allowed her to spend the fall semester at WPI in leadership development, under the mentorship of President Leshin.

Mimi Sheller

Sheller is the inaugural dean of The Global School at WPI. Prior to joining WPI, she was head of the Sociology Department at Drexel University, where she founded the Center for Mobilities Research and Policy. She is also the founding co-editor of the journal Mobilities and past president of the International Association for the History of Transport, Traffic, and Mobility. She has also been a consultant for corporations and public entities such as the World Bank, the National Science Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council and is the author and co-editor of 15 books and more than 120 articles.