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York College to host Feb. 22 events to showcase focus on project-based learning

February 11, 2019
Richard Vaz, director of Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Center for Project-Based Learning
Richard Vaz, Director of Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Center for Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning (PBL), when students work with community partners to develop key skills, is a hallmark of a York College education. Recent examples include engineering students using drones to study farming practices and the health of a local water reservoir, students in a communications class developing a plan to promote York’s Goodridge Freedom Center, students from hospitality management working on the renovation of the Yorktowne Hotel, and students from multiple disciplines building a telescope for the York County Parks System. 

February 22 will mark a day of learning about PBL, as York College faculty participate in a workshop by Richard Vaz, director of Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Center for Project-Based Learning.  A showcase of current projects, including those mentioned above, will be held from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in Yorkview Hall, Willman Business Center. The day will conclude with a public lecture by Vaz, “Project-Based Learning: Motivations, Implementation, and Impacts” at 4:30 p.m., in Weinstock Lecture Hall, Willman Business Center. The showcase and talk are open to the public free of charge.

During this presentation, Vaz will describe PBL as a strategy for helping students develop key skills and abilities such as critical thinking, communication, teamwork, and creative problem-solving. The talk will explore how PBL fits into the landscape of higher education, look at examples of PBL across the curriculum, and discuss results from a study looking at long-term impacts of PBL on graduates.

Vaz earned a doctorate in electrical engineering from WPI, focusing on signal analysis and machine vision. He held systems and design engineering positions with the Raytheon Company, GenRad Inc., and the MITRE Corporation before joining the WPI Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty in 1987. He served as Dean of Interdisciplinary and Global Studies for ten years, and has advised hundreds of undergraduate research projects in Australia, England, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Namibia, the Netherlands, Thailand, and the United States.

Vaz oversaw the expansion of WPI’s Global Projects Program from 18 locations in 2006 to 46 locations in 2015, including new programs in Africa, the Americas, Asia-Pacific, and Europe. In that time, he helped drive an increase in student participation in off-campus project programs, from 40 percent to over 70 percent, and a doubling of faculty participation in those programs. He oversees efforts to evaluate and enhance the quality of WPI’s interdisciplinary research project requirement; from 2012 to 2014, he directed a major study evaluating the long-term impacts of 38 years’ worth of project work by WPI alumni. In 2015, he led the development and delivery of WPI’s first Institute on Project-Based Learning, an initiative to help other colleges and universities make progress implementing project-based learning on their campuses. In January 2016, Vaz was named the inaugural Director of WPI’s Center for Project-Based Learning.

In his current role as director, Vaz works with colleagues across campus to help advance project-based learning at colleges and universities around the nation and the globe as well as support project-based learning on the WPI campus. Most of his scholarly and professional activity centers around experiential and international education. Through his involvement in organizations such as the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the American Society for Engineering Education, he works to promote WPI’s approach to undergraduate education as a national model.

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