How our program works

Project preparation

Projects are completed in two phases, a preliminary phase completed on campus in Worcester, MA, and a project phase completed on-site in Puerto Rico. For the Puerto Rico Project Center, the preliminary phase begins about 2 months before the students arrive on-site. This phase is guided by several WPI faculty members. Students must complete a preliminary 3-credit course, taught by a WPI faculty member, which runs for the 7 weeks prior to the start of the team’s on-site work in San Juan. This interdisciplinary course focuses on research methods in the social sciences, and as part of the course, the team works to complete a full research proposal.

During this preliminary phase, teams coordinate with representatives of their sponsoring organizations to be certain that their project proposal is consistent with the sponsoring organization’s concept of the work to be completed. During this phase, teams also work closely with two faculty members who serve as project advisors (and who accompany the students to Puerto Rico). In consultation with the sponsor’s liaison and the project advisors, teams work to identify project goals and objectives, and to determine an appropriate scope of work to be completed during the project phase. At the end of the preliminary phase, teams deliver a public presentation in Worcester and send their completed proposals to liaisons in advance of their arrival on site.

The project phase

Once teams arrive on-site, they will work full-time (~40 hours per week) on their projects for 7 weeks. There are usually 5-7 interdisciplinary teams of students in the group, with each team working with a sponsoring organization. Teams continue to coordinate with the liaison identified by their sponsoring organization, but are largely independent in their daily work. WPI also sends the two faculty members who continue to serve as project advisors for all project teams; this constitutes the professors’ full-time work for the 7 weeks, and they live locally in San Juan while the teams are working on-site.

Faculty advisors work closely with teams on all phases of project development and coordinate with the sponsoring organizations to meet weekly with the team and the liaison from the sponsoring organization. These meetings are intended to ensure that the project teams remain on target to complete a project that is consistent with the expectations of both the sponsor and the faculty advisors, and that the scope of work remains appropriate for the project. At the end of the project period, students deliver a public presentation of their investigation and deliver a final project report to the sponsoring organization.