Students Present Global Projects Remotely; Goals, Impact Are Anything but Remote

(Note: This is the second installment of a three-part article about how the Bucharest, Romania Project Center pivoted to working remotely in D-Term. Here, we look at the academic aspect of project center work.)
May 11, 2020

Like countless WPI students before her, Deanna Kay ’21 stood in front of the sponsor of her Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) and laid out the scope of her group’s work aimed at helping raise awareness of the increase of pollen allergies in Romania.

However, unlike her predecessors, Kay wasn’t in her project sponsor’s country thousands of miles from campus or even standing a few feet away from them. She and her team members at the Bucharest, Romania Project Center were, instead, communicating via teleconference (Zoom) from their homes, a challenge for even the most experienced of presenters.

“Presenting virtually was something that I had never done before, but I think we did well," says Kay. "We practiced a lot to make sure our transitions were seamless because we couldn’t be in the same room as each other to read body language to know when someone was finished speaking. We tried to minimize difficulties with internet connection and screen sharing beforehand as much as we could.

The group used statistical analysis to find correlations between pollen and meteorological factors and between pollen and chemical pollutants. Their sponsor had never taken this approach, Kay says. She is excited that the team’s findings could help Romania further aerobiology research across Europe.

All of WPI’s D-Term project centers had to regroup following the onset of COVID-19, which triggered the suspension of WPI-related travel. Co-directors Bogdan Vernescu, vice provost for research; Rodica Neamtu, associate teaching professor, computer science; and advisor Bland Addison, associate professor, Humanities and Arts; combined culture and academics to give students an in-depth look at Romania. This culminated at the end of the term when the center’s five student groups presented their polished work to sponsors in Romania.

The varied work focused on promoting eco-tourism, raising awareness on pollen allergies, saving urban green spaces, redesigning intergenerational learning centers, and promoting collaborations through the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Romania. Each of the students took turns outlining their project’s goals, findings, and recommendations. Afterward, the students answered questions.

Several students noted that presenting via teleconference versus in person didn’t pose a learning curve. 

“I feel very proud of my project and that it made a difference. My team and I were able to develop a working website for AmCham Romania as well as make recommendations to improve their current website,” says Faith Stewart ’21, biomedical engineering. “The website we created contains information about the U.S. market to be used by AmCham Romania as a way for them to provide their members with resources and information on how to expand their business into the U.S.”

Terrance Cooper Jr. ’21, biomedical engineering, who worked on the ecotourism project, says the experience of presenting remotely will come in handy.

“It was … I think, an important experience to gain for future workplace presentations as not all of those will be to people in the same room as you,” he says.

Despite working remotely, the real-world impact of WPI student work was evident when Kay reflected on her D-Term work. “I am really proud of our project," she says, "because I think we put together a lot of information that Bucharest was lacking—because pollen research first started in Bucharest in 2014—and now our sponsor can take this information to create change for people with allergies.” 

-By Lauren Borsa Curran