Illustration of the Washington, DC, Project Center's 50th anniversary

WPI’s First Project Center Celebrates 50 Years

As our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., is home to many “firsts,” which is why it’s only fitting that it was chosen as the location for WPI’s first project center
back in 1974.

“The authors of the WPI Plan wanted to get students off campus to complete full-time projects in one term, and in 1974, Washington was at the center of a political upheaval,” says Kent Rissmiller, associate dean of The Global School, who advised projects in the city in 1993 before becoming director of the center in 2012. Due to the ongoing Vietnam War and the impending Watergate investigation, he adds, “I think we all knew that history was in the making.”

That spark of history (combined with the efforts of folks like Bill Grogan ’46, Jim Demetry ’58, and former dean of undergraduate studies Frank Lutz, who made cold calls to D.C.-area alumni, searching for potential project sponsors) led to the creation of WPI’s first global project center. In those 50 years, students who’ve traveled to the nation’s capital for their Interactive Qualifying Projects have worked with sponsors like the U.S. Coast Guard, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the U.S. National Park Service, and the U.S. Department of Energy. They’ve completed projects focused on everything from developing recommendations for handling stormwater runoff in Dumbarton Oaks Park and emergency response procedures in harbors to improving the processing of the Federal Drug Administration’s adverse event reports.

I hope we can continue to do this important work. The agencies are ready to engage our students—and the projects are meaningful.

Kent Rissmiller

“It’s a fascinating assignment,” Rissmiller says of his role as project center director. “We’ve been able to provide students with projects in highly professional environments with dedicated federal servants. I really respect these people who are both committed public servants and very engaged project sponsors. But it’s a two-way engagement; our students have been highly effective and have made significant contributions to the missions of these agencies.”

The opportunity to make contributions to the federal government is exactly what attracted Joe Peregrim ’24 to Washington, D.C. Together with his teammates, he worked with the U.S. Coast Guard to investigate best practices for preventing and responding to lithium-ion battery fires at sea. Because trained firefighting professionals can’t respond quickly to the fire, he explains, he and his group consulted firefighters, fire prevention specialists, and representatives from independent testing agencies before presenting 21 recommendations to their sponsor, including preventative policy changes, response training, and containment methods.  

“It truly felt like I was working a real job,” Peregrim says. “I gained experience in communication and coordination by working with multiple departments of the Coast Guard and other agencies, all while working on a project that would benefit my entire country.”

His groupmate, Ryan Malaquias ’24, agrees. “Completing this project for the Coast Guard was an amazing opportunity,” says Malaquias, “and I met some great people, too. I never thought I would have the chance to work with the Coast Guard to complete a project that would help save lives.”

Working on the project was only one highlight of his time in D.C. Besides visiting the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial with his fellow students, he cites getting to see everyone else’s presentations as an especially memorable moment. “A great group of people went to the Washington Project Center,” he says, “and it was great seeing all the hard work everyone put into their projects.”

After more than 1,200 students having completed project work with more than 80 sponsors, the DC project center will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2024. “It’s been an honor to be associated with this program for 12 of its 50 years,” says Rissmiller. “The project opportunities here in the U.S. provide wonderful ways for our students to contribute to our sponsors. I hope we can continue to do this important work. The agencies are ready to engage our students—and the projects are meaningful.”

Reader Comments


  1. M
    Mark Andrews

    Enjoyed my IQP project – here is a LINKEDIN post I wrote about my time in Washington in 1979.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Please fill in all required fields marked *

When posting a comment, you are stating that you have viewed and agree to the posting guidelines.

All comments will be reviewed prior to posting and any comments that violate these guidelines will not be posted.

Other Stories

A Living Spirit of Innovation Grace Wang and students in the lab

A Living Spirit of Innovation

Grace Wang writes that innovation at WPI is a living, breathing force that permeates every part of campus.

Read Story
Adaptive Golfer Doug Shirakura Hopes To Inspire Adaptive golfer Doug Shirakura

Adaptive Golfer Doug Shirakura Hopes To Inspire

Doug Shirakura hopes to apply his skills as a player and an engineer into the adaptive golf industry.

Read Story
Q&A: Solomon Mensah on Encouraging STEM careers Solomon Mensah

Q&A: Solomon Mensah on Encouraging STEM careers

Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering Solomon Mensah, answers questions about introducing high school students from underrepresented communities to the biomedical device industry.

Read Story
Click on this switch to toggle between day and night modes.