In August 2014, Aaron Sakulich and Tahar El-Korchi were awarded a grant titled IRES: Environmental Impact of the Panama Canal Expansion Project (Grant #1357667 ). During each year of this grant, five undergraduate students participated in the Panama Canal Authority’s International Internship program for 15 weeks. Research projects, which are used to fulfill the requirement that every WPI student carry out a senior design project,  focused on the civil engineering aspects of the expansion project, particularly on whether or not the program is meeting its sustainability-related goals. The IRES experience included significant pre-departure training, professional development activities, and evaluation and dissemination efforts. The grant was also organized with particular attention to promoting diversity in engineering.

In 2015, Aaron Sakulich and Laureen Elgert received supplemental funding to this grant in response to the Dear Colleague Letter titled SEES: Interactions of Food Systems with Water and Energy Systems. This funding  used the logistical architecture of the existing IRES grant to expand student research both spatially and thematically, from evaluating the technical sustainability of engineering systems to evaluating the expansion program’s impact on the Food/Energy/Water nexus in the wider watershed region. Five IQP students were supported for eight weeks during B Term, 2015.