Sara L.

Major/Minor

Junior, BS in Biology/Biotechnology; Minor in Biochemistry
Completed Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) at the Tirana, Albania Project Center.
An IQP is often called life-changing by WPI students, requiring teams to delve into a problem that matters to real people.
Project

Sara traveled to the Albania Project Center to complete her IQP, working with three other students and local sponsor Eco-Albania to assess the economic value derived from exporting medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) to international markets. She and her teammates examined ways in which the harvesting techniques of these plants along the Vjosa River could be improved; they also considered the potential impacts of the impending dam construction and trade implications on the plants.

Reflection

Sara and her team were faced with communication challenges between themselves and the natives throughout the IQP experience. Her inability to communicate effectively pushed her to study the language and work hard to connect with the locals, both verbally and through body language. Her team was ultimately able to complete a field study in southern Albania where many of the people spoke little or no English.

Overall, Sara gained a greater sense of independence from her time in Albania, and is no longer afraid to try things on her own. She learned a great deal about traveling safely and became more comfortable with the idea of being alone and still thriving in a new, unfamiliar environment.

Image of Sara L.
Hometown

Bedford, NH

Major/Minor

BS in Biology/Biotechnology; Minor in Biochemistry

Project Sponsor
Achievements
  • Working alongside a biotechnology professor in a laboratory her freshman year and completing a summer undergraduate research fellowship, contributing data to a pending multi-department publication.
  • Appointment as Director of Parent and Alumnae Relationships in her sorority chapter and new connections she formed.
Aspirations
  • Attend graduate school to work towards a PhD in either molecular or cellular biology.
  • Securing a career in academia.

Typical Work Week Schedule

8:30 AM

Meet team members at Mon Cheri, a coffee shop down the street from our apartment. 

10:00 AM

Meet with a professor at the University of Tirana to discuss logistics for a field study we are planning for our project in the Vjosa Valley.

11:00 AM

Went to a cafe for some çaj mali (mountain tea) and to discuss our plans for our field study as a team.

11:30 AM

Conducted a quick meeting with our faculty advisors to confirm our goals for the project and the field study.

12:30 PM

Stopped for lunch at a restaurant near our apartment for some traditional Albanian food with our favorite waiter. 

1:30 PM

Meet up with our sponsors at a cafe down the street to discuss our trip to Vjosa Valley. Our sponsors give us contacts to assist with the planning of the trip while we sip on some tea.

3:00 PM

Walked to the EcoAlbania office to continue working on questions for the interviews we have planned with a medicinal plant collector in Berat this weekend.

5:00 PM

Visit the Spar (supermarket) on the way home from the sponsor’s office to pick up some snacks for the week.

6:00 PM

Meet up with a few other WPI students in our group for dinner at Petro’s, where we get platters of seasoned pork to share.

8:30 PM

Head home to go to bed.

Typical Weekend Schedule

8:00 AM

After traveling by bus from Tirana to Berat on Friday evening with the entire WPI team, we wake up and meet at the hotel restaurant for a traditional Albanian breakfast with coffee, breads, jams, and vegetables.

9:00 AM

Embark on a three-and-a-half-hour bus ride through the mountains and villages to the Osumi Canyon.

12:30 PM

Arrive at the canyon and hike down about 45 minutes to the water’s edge. The canyon is beautiful and is nothing like I have ever experienced before.

3:00 PM

Enjoy a quick lunch of sandwiches at the base of the canyon and spent time taking photos.

5:00 PM

Hike back up the canyon and spend some time exploring the site of the Albanian Rafting Group’s future eco-adventure park (another WPI team project).

7:00 PM

Arrive back to the hotel and spend time in downtown Berat for dinner. We have the opportunity to meet some local students here—their English teacher was a Peace Corps volunteer from Connecticut!

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A visit to the Berat Castle, a fortress overlooking the town of Berat, situated above the Osumi river in south-central Albania
A visit to the Berat Castle, a fortress overlooking the town of Berat, situated above the Osumi river in south-central Albania

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Greeting an employee of Gjedra, a medicinal and aromatic plant collector in the Berat region, while visiting for a plant tour
Greeting an employee of Gjedra, a medicinal and aromatic plant collector in the Berat region, while visiting for a plant tour

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Taking a tour at a medicinal and aromatic plant collector facility in the Berat region
Taking a tour at a medicinal and aromatic plant collector facility in the Berat region

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Team meeting with project sponsor, EcoAlbania, at the sponsor’s office
Team meeting with project sponsor, EcoAlbania, at the sponsor’s office

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Interviewing an employee from a medicinal and aromatic plant collector facility in the Berat region
Interviewing an employee from a medicinal and aromatic plant collector facility in the Berat region

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Greeting the tour guide at a medicinal and aromatic plant collector facility in the Berat region
Greeting the tour guide at a medicinal and aromatic plant collector facility in the Berat region

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Touring the Berat Castle, a medieval fortress built in the 13th and 14th century, situated above the Osumi river in Berat
Touring the Berat Castle, a medieval fortress built in the 13th and 14th century, situated above the Osumi river in Berat

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Outside Gjedra facility, a medicinal and aromatic plant collector in the Berat region
Outside Gjedra facility, a medicinal and aromatic plant collector in the Berat region

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Preparing to conduct interviews and gather materials from the medicinal and aromatic plant collector in the Berat region
Preparing to conduct interviews and gather materials from the medicinal and aromatic plant collector in the Berat region

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Hiking excursion to the Valbona region in northern Albania
Hiking excursion to the Valbona region in northern Albania

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Team photo with members of Gjedra, a medicinal and aromatic plant collector in the Berat region
Team photo with members of Gjedra, a medicinal and aromatic plant collector in the Berat region
I learned how to work efficiently in a team of vastly different personalities and to manage my time to stay on task, produce high-quality work, and meet critical deadlines.