The recently launched Virtual Undergraduate Research Showcase D 2020 highlights the high level of research and design projects WPI students do during their undergraduate years. With accessible-to-all slide and video presentations describing their research problems, their solution approaches, and their results, more than 130 undergraduate student research project teams and individuals are able share their work and accomplishments virtually.
Suzanne Weekes, associate dean of undergraduate studies, ad interim, and professor of mathematical sciences, says it’s not lost on her that the showcase comes in the 50th anniversary year of the WPI Plan. It is, she notes, Lehr und Kunst—theory and practice—on full display. She says few universities offer the level of research WPI offers to undergraduates—in particular, professional-level work in the student’s major field. Every student graduates with significant research and design experience, and Weekes says the showcase, which moved to a virtual format when D-Term moved to all-remote learning, is particularly exciting.
The Herd sat down (virtually) with Weekes to talk about the showcase.
Q: How did the virtual showcase come about?
A: In the fall, we did the Works in Progress symposium and that was just the beginning. We were well on our way to our spring edition, which was to be held in April, but once we saw signs that we wouldn’t be able to stay on campus, we started planning for an online forum.
Q: Why was it important to still hold this showcase and move it into a virtual format?
A: When I thought of all the students who had been getting ready to present in our April event and, in particular, all the seniors who would be missing their day in the sun because we would not have our usual Project Presentation Day, we had to do something. And, we realized this does something that an in-person event does not—it gets rid of the time and space constraints. When you go to an event like Project Presentation Day, you may get to see all the projects in your major. But you may never get to see projects in other disciplines because they are all occurring at the same time. The virtual showcase allows the whole WPI community, and students’ families and friends, to look at the projects when they want and as often as they want.
Everyone can come to this. My hope is that by hearing the students’ voices and seeing them on camera, it makes this remote forum more personal than just having a static poster or slides.
Q: What continues to excite you about undergraduate research at WPI?
A: I am in awe of what students, faculty, and advisors come up with—the innovations, designs, solutions, and questions. They tackle significant problems to which they don’t know the answers, but they make progress. Then they communicate what they find.
I am in awe of the university and what the WPI Plan brings. The Major Qualifying Project (MQP), unlike at most universities, is something for every single student. It’s not just for particular students or for honors students. We are so used to it here, we sometimes forget how special it is.
Q: Can you tell me a little more about the students who helped you make this virtual showcase a reality?
A: Ally Salvino ’22 and Petra Kumi ’20 did so much work to get the showcase going. We needed to build this from scratch to get exactly what we wanted. Of course, the staff at the ATC and the Global Lab were great about giving us the support we needed.
I feel very lucky I had two students who were committed to this, who had opinions, had skills, and were tenacious. A question would come up and I’d say, ‘Do you think we can do this?’ and the answer that always came back was, ‘Yes. We’ll figure out a way to do it.’ That’s WPI students for you!
-By Julia Quinn-Szcesuil