May 12, 2020

Eight teams of undergraduates who revamped their spring global projects to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic will present their findings today during an online event covering subjects ranging from cows to laboratory learning.

The students, who were among those who had been scheduled to travel abroad but instead stayed home when WPI had to suspend D-Term travel and move to remote operations, hope their projects will make a difference in the world, says Peter Hansen, history professor and director of International and Global Studies at WPI .

"There's hardly anything going on in the world today that is more important than how we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and our students have been engaging with various aspects of it,” Hansen says. “We want to share some lessons they’ve learned. This is their chance to do it.”

The real-time online event will begin at 11:45 a.m. Those planning to attend must register in advance. The event will also be available live on YouTube. Each team will make a 10-minute presentation, and the event will close with a discussion.

Students Chose New Topics

Project-based learning is the cornerstone of a WPI education. Many students travel overseas to project centers during their junior year to complete an Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) that examines an issue at the intersection of science and society.


Some D-Term projects that had been planned for overseas project centers could not be completed remotely, so a number of teams chose new project topics.

"Though this pivoting was difficult for students and faculty, these projects succeeded because of the resilence and creativity of our project teams,” says Kent Rissmiller, interim dean of Interdisciplinary and Global Studies. “And they learned lessons about themselves and remote teamwork that will serve them later in life.”

Among the students who took on a new project are Kade Woolverton, Ivan Nikulin, and Matthew Withington. They had planned to go to Moscow to work on a nursing home search engine. Instead, they decided to work with students and professors at Financial University in Moscow on a number of models to simulate the most effective protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The project proved more complicated than anticipated, says Nikulin, an aerospace engineering major. But Withington made a breakthrough recently that the team will present, and the Russian students have developed models that could be worked on in the future.

“It’s a lot of different information, but we’re able to tie it together to show what’s significant about responding quickly to a pandemic,” says Woolverton.

Authentic Stories from Around the World

Emilia Perez, an environmental engineering major who had planned to work on an eco-travel project in India, is part of a team that collected stories from ordinary people around the world living through the pandemic. Perez says her


team found interesting trends in the stories.

“I think we collected authentic stories of what was happening to people, and I think that is unique and important,” Perez says.

Another team that collected stories had planned to go to Worcester, England, to work on a project about energy use in rental properties occupied by students. They did well taking on a new topic, especially since they had little time to do so, says Sarah Wodin-Schwartz, assistant teaching professor of mechanical engineering and an advisor to the team.

“They’ve preserved these important snapshots of what’s happening right now,” Wodin-Schwartz says. “I think the work was important for them to do as students, but I also think that it’s important work for others to see.”

Meanwhile, a student team composed of Connor Mulvey, Ryan Peters, and Nathaniel Rutkowski pivoted to focus on the impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. dairy industry. Among their findings: Dairy farmers who sell products through farm stands or market directly to consumers are less affected by the pandemic than those who rely on traditional mass markets. The team is drafting letters to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Congress to share their findings and urge legislative action to better support and protect dairy farms. 

“I have enjoyed immersing myself in learning the details behind dairy farms and the broader industry through talking with those working in the industry and hope we have been able to convey their stories through this work,” Peters says.

Advisor Ingrid Shockey, associate teaching professor of Interdisciplinary and Global Studies, was impressed by the work students accomplished remotely.

“The teams were able to conduct Zoom interviews, have phone conversations with important stakeholders, survey neighborhoods, and spent a lot of time learning new skills in data visualization,” she says. “I’m really proud of their ability to make the most of the situation.”

Projects in Showcase

Using Dynamic Models and Empirical COVID-19 Data to Showcase Pandemic Prevention Measures Presenters: (from WPI) Kade Woolverton, Ivan Nikulin, Matthew Withington; (from Financial University in Moscow) Anna Kozhieva, Astra Nikitina, Karina Nurgalieva, Olga Skiba

Advisors: (WPI) Svetlana Nikitina; (Financial University) Anton Losev, Dmitri Korovin


Transitioning During Covid-19: Student Perspectives

Presenters: Nicholas Boggiano, Olivia Lattanzi, Megan McCoole

Advisors: Bruce Bursten, Peter Hansen


Analyzing the Effectiveness of Remote Labs at WPI

Presenters: Patrick Macauley, Zachary Newlon, Erika Wentz, Peter Zollinger

Advisors: Bruce Bursten, Peter Hansen


Coronavirus Stories: Capturing the Voices of College Students

Presenters: Christopher Ferrari, Lucas Falsarella Guerreiro, Gelila Hailemariam, William Schwend

Advisors: Bruce Bursten, Peter Hansen


Recording Human Stories in a Time of Crisis

Presenters: Henry Poskanzer, Alex Klenk, Emilia Perez, Chioma Onyenokwe, Raj Dandekar  

Advisors: Uma Kumar, Ingrid Shockey


Global Stories of Young Adults During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Presenters: Scott D’Attilio, Chenxi Li, Andrew Ressler, Jeremy Gagnon  

Advisors: Uma Kumar, Ingrid Shockey


Evaluating Impacts of COVID 19 on the Dairy Industry

Presenters: Connor Mulvey, Ryan Peters, Nathaniel Rutkowski  

Advisors: Uma Kumar, Ingrid Shockey


The Many Faces of COVID

Presenters: Matthew Gulbin, David Robie, Gwyneth Zelmanow  

Advisors: Tom Balistrieri, Sarah Wodin-Schwartz


-By Lisa Eckelbecker