As part of a junior year Interactive Project Experience, 24 students and two faculty traveled to Tirana, Albania, to embark on a distinctive immersive project experience working with six local sponsoring organizations.
Tirana, Albania Project Center
Albania has one of Europe’s fastest growing economies; its capital, Tirana, is a busy metropolis known for its lively atmosphere, constant construction, and heavy traffic. In the fall each year, WPI students travel to the Albania Project Center to help sustain and manage the region’s impressive growth by undertaking projects on topics ranging from advancing the recycling of e-waste to promoting community-based tourism, developing a water education program for high schools, and investigating the sustainable harvesting of medicinal herbs from Albania’s forests.
Population: 2.774 million (2013) World Bank
Official Language: Albanian
Area: 11,100 sq mi
The IQP journey begins for these 24 students at the annual WPI Global Fair more than a year prior to their travel. The fair features every off-campus project center, with WPI Global Ambassadors (those who’ve already had an immersive project experience) on hand to share and answer questions. Leaving the event with a lot to decide, the students have the next 14 weeks (two WPI terms) to explore the info, attend in-depth sessions, and complete an intensive application process, before committing to Albania.
With nearly a full year before their project, there’s much to learn and do. In April (sophomore year) there's a required orientation. A travel checklist and comprehensive timeline are reviewed. Returning to campus in August, the students, now juniors, complete two required courses: one on the Albanian culture and projects; the other on essential research, reporting, and team-building skills. And there's intense focus on general safety and details specific to Albania. The next move: get on a plane.
By the time they set out for Albania in October, they have a sense of the work ahead, have “met” their sponsors by phone or web, and have begun to coalesce in teams of four. They are excited, hopeful, ready to change the world. Four thousand miles and seven weeks later, they realize the experience has taken them further than they ever imagined. They leave Albania wiser and more humble, passionate about this place and its people, and beginning to understand that what's changed the most is how they view the world—and their place in it.
Having tackled distinct challenges in Albania, the students return to campus enthused about "a whole new world." Measuring time as before and after their IQP, the world that awaits them now is characterized as much by the topic they delved into as by the people and places they came to know. Re-immersion to campus life is part of the journey, and there's help from WPI Global Ambassadors, and such programs as "Back to Campus and Beyond."
In Albania, project center work revolves around the environment, tourism, education, and entrepreneurship—real needs that matter to real people. Students, faculty, and sponsors share their perspectives on the journey.