The Melbourne Project Center (MPC)

History and Goals

The Melbourne Project Center is one of over 40 international project centers established by Worcester Polytechnic Institute  as part of its  Global Projects Program.  Established in 1998 by professor Jonathan Barnett, the MPC’s goal is to challenge small teams of engineering and science students to broaden the technical lens of their disciplinary training, and to account for the social, cultural and political factors of  real-world problems within specific cultural contexts.  In undertaking projects sponsored by local organizations in and around Melbourne, WPI students learn to understand new cultures, apply and adapt their technical knowledge, manage complex projects, work with diverse partners, and innovate in ways that meet real community needs.  Early projects were advised by former WPI professors Jonathan Barnett and Matthew Ward. Partnering with  emergency service organizations, such as the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and the Australian Fire Authorities Council, early project teams analyzed behaviors, such as hoarding, which increase fire risk in the community. Professor Holly Ault took over the role of project center director in 2006 and continued building on these collaborations. Working with another early partner, CSIRO (Australia’s leading science agency), our student teams developed innovative training and education materials for STEM outreach and education programs. Now directed by Professors Lorraine Higgins and Stephen McCauley, the MPC has expanded its focus, having worked with over 37 community partners in Melbourne and across the state of Victoria, to complete projects that

  • Educate the public about climate change
  • Foster sustainable community practices for energy use
  • Support the work of public safety organizations (fire, police)
  • Help  Arts and Educational organizations adapt to new roles and  technologies
  • Advocate for social justice in underserved communities

MPC Process and Timeline

Today, the MPC sends 12-18 interdisciplinary project teams to Melbourne each year (six teams in the October-December term, six in the January-March term, and six in the March-May term).

Community partners develop project topics suitable for teams of 3-4 students. The teams then undergo seven weeks of research and cultural preparation in the US, advised by WPI faculty. They and their faculty advisors then spend seven weeks on site in Melbourne. The teams work full-time with local partners to complete the project, delivering a final report, professional presentation, and other deliverables to complete the project goals and disseminate results.