A global experience in one area code | New

Established in 2000, the Worcester Community Project Center (WCPC) may not be the newest of WPI’s more than 50 project centers worldwide, but it is one of the most innovative. He’s hosted mobile-focused projects for the Worcester Art Museum, created an adaptive bike with Worcester Earn-a-Bike, and developed a STEM program for the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester, all right here in the back -yard of WPI.

Thanks to the combined efforts of WCPC Director Laura Roberts and Associate Professor of Spanish and International Studies Aarti Smith Madan, WPI students who complete their project through WCPC have the opportunity to have a global experience without leaving the Worcester County.

Roberts, Madan and several students who completed a project for a local nonprofit food pantry recently pondered this new collaborative chapter for WCPC. They discussed how they could continue their project work experiences with them in the future.

“I strongly believe that WPI students can have a global experience without ever getting on a plane…this experience has the potential to change not only the way they think [ local Latino] communities, but also themselves and the United States. —Aarti Smith Madan, Associate Professor of Spanish and International Studies

Collaboration is in WPI’s DNA, so it’s no surprise that it’s also behind WCPC’s latest initiative. After winning a grant in 2020 to develop an undergraduate curriculum, the on-campus Latin American and Caribbean Studies (LACS) group, of which Madan is a part, sought to open up inroads in the Latino community. of Worcester. They have connected with the WCPC to do just that by providing local opportunities for students to meet the requirements of the academic project, namely the IQP, while connecting with global stakeholders.

Projects would aim to give students a global experience in a local context. Madan met with local Latino-oriented organizations to assess their needs and interest in working with WPI students, and the Local Latino Projects program was born soon after.

While their ultimate goal is to incorporate similar project opportunities into the WPI program, it was decided by Madan and the rest of the LACS team that the first two projects under the Latino Local Projects program would be hosted under the WCPC due to Roberts’ alignment with their intertwined ties. global and local goals.

“The whole experience made me feel like I was part of the Worcester community instead of a student just attending WPI.” —Olivia Rockrohr ’23

The past year has seen two projects focused on helping local organizations serving Latinos, the Latino Education Institute on Chandler Street and El Buen Samaritano (EBS), a nonprofit food pantry on Piedmont Street that also provides clothing, housing assistance, translation services, immigration assistance and other services since its inception in 1991. This year’s team worked with EBS to design a digital system to improve its system of inventory with the goal of reducing redundancy and possibly expanding the services it offers.

Although none of the students on this year’s teams were pursuing a LACS minor, they had invaluable exposure to another side of Worcester – immersing themselves in the local community and spending time chatting with Worcester Community volunteers. Food Bank and sharing bubble tea on Fridays after a week at work, sharing memories that would mark them, personally and professionally.

“We were able to help make their food distribution more efficient, as well as make sure no food was mistakenly skipped,” says team member Caleb Talley ’23. “I’m from Worcester, and this was a great opportunity for me to improve the community and help those in need.”

A student discusses some information with her project teammates.

“Even though there was a language barrier, they kept thanking us, and that gave us a strong sense of accomplishment.” —Janie Leung ’23

The team members may have been tasked with creating a digital system for El Buen Samaritano, but they didn’t stop there. They have immersed themselves in working with the non-profit organization, regularly assisting with the weekly food collection and distribution, which is not only appreciated by the volunteer staff of El Buen Samaritano.

“[Food pickup] is usually done by the sponsor’s dad and a volunteer… when the four of us helped collect food, the process went very quickly and they were very happy,” says Janie Leung ’23. “One of our teammates was even able to find a group of volunteers to help pick up food each week.

“One day when we were coming back from the Worcester County Food Bank with one of the workers, we started having a conversation in Spanish about life,” says Chris Cook ’23, explaining that his work via WCPC allowed him to improve his self-confidence. speak the language, something he plans to continue using after graduation. “It was just a very nice experience.”

Students volunteer to deliver and pick up food at El Buen Samaritano.

“I hope that students will gain a sense of agency and responsibility to use their time and talents for the benefit of the local community, and that they will continue to be more community and civically engaged in their lives. beyond WPI.” —Laura Roberts, Director of the Worcester Community Project Center

WCPC has been the backdrop where students have completed hundreds of projects, but the partnership with LACS is just beginning, creating a wealth of exciting multidisciplinary potential. It’s something special, and as such gives Roberts and Madan hope that the participating students will get something even more out of it.

“I hope students will enjoy Worcester as a global immigrant city,” Madan said, citing the Irish who shaped much of the city’s history, the refugees who settled here through a myriad of community support systems and Latin American communities. who have come to take root in the heart of the Commonwealth. “My teaching philosophy as a teacher of Hispanic languages ​​and literatures is that students better understand, through these subjects, who they are now and who they want to be in Worcester and around the world.

A student carries food into El Buen Samaritano's pantry for delivery.

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