Global Impact illustration of Venice

Preserving the Beauty of Venice

The Ponte di Rialto, Canal Grande, St. Mark’s Basilica—there’s an abundance of beauty in Venice. For Evans Owusu ’24, however, a prime example of that beauty didn’t come from bridges, canals, or architecture, but from a small thrift shop.

“A few friends and I found a shop run by an elderly man when shopping for my sister’s Christmas gift,” they explain, adding that despite the language barrier, the shop owner was sweet and interested in learning more about the group members and their studies. “After showing me a beautiful jacket for my sister, I found out his reason for running the store—he was raising funds to take care of dogs he had found! How could I not support such a sweet shop?”

It’s a beautiful sentiment from what’s considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world, a city that WPI students are working hard to help preserve. Established in 1988 by Professor of Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Fabio Carrera ’84, the Venice Project Center offers students the opportunity to complete projects focusing on everything from mobility and city history and art to technology and data management, all with the common goal of improving living conditions in Venice.

Seeing students grow and mature in the few months that they’re there while also having an impact on society, it’s like nothing else.

Fabio Carrera

“I was only four years older than the students when I started the center,” says Carrera, who has served as the project center’s director since its inception. “We’re celebrating our 35th anniversary soon, and over the years we’ve become a major repository of Venetian knowledge for the world.”

As a native of Venice himself, Carrera jumped at the opportunity to implement improvements in his home city while simultaneously giving WPI students the chance to complete invaluable project work. As of this year, almost 250 projects have been completed.

“Seeing students grow and mature in the few months that they’re there while also having an impact on society, it’s like nothing else,” Carrera says. With a laugh, he adds, “They get to experience the food, too. I’m sure that’s definitely a plus.”

While they didn’t specifically cite the food as a reason for deciding on the Venice Project Center, Owusu was influenced by the city’s natural allure. “Getting to experience a city on water was a chance I couldn’t miss out on,” they say. “I also wanted to make an impact in regard to climate change. Life in Venice is highly dependent on the rising seas that are projected for the near future.”

Owusu and their team contributed to the Venice Project Center’s impressive breadth of work with a project focused on relaying information about the MOSE floodgates. Short for “Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico,” these floodgates rise up from the seafloor to stop incoming tides, protecting the city from flooding. Working with their sponsor, Commissario Straordinario per il Mose, the team conducted interviews with local residents and business owners to discuss what they already knew about MOSE and what they’d like to be aware of in the future. Ultimately, the team used those interviews and their own skills to design a mobile app that includes MOSE gate status and updates, tide and weather forecasts, and travel information for residents to utilize during a flood.

Owusu’s time in Venice not only provided an invaluable project experience; they also credit it with helping them understand how to navigate life after graduation. “[I was] actively living in a new city, living independently, and managing a work-life balance,” they say. “I know that when I get my own place, I’ll be a lot more prepared, thanks to the fact that I already did it in Italy.”

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