The Physics of Changing the World

As a freshman at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), I learned Newton's Third Law: for every action, there is an equal reaction. Thus, when you jump up, you move the world down, just a tiny bit. Everyone is a world mover.

To me, that means every action can have global implications. But I didn't see that as a freshman. Until I went to college, my perspective didn't extend beyond the predominantly blue-collar, old Massachusetts mill town in which I was raised. I wanted to be a biomedical engineer and make great changes in the world. But to change the world, you have to think globally, realizing your impact on other communities worldwide. At WPI, three projects—the Humanities Sufficiency, the Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP), and the Major Qualifying Project (MQP)—teach students how to think at that scope. To be a great engineer, I had to realize I was a world mover. Through my WPI projects, I learned how.

Part of creating positive change is realizing that in an interconnected community, what you do affects the lives of others. I learned that lesson through my Humanities Sufficiency, in my sophomore year. I conducted my project with the WPI Jazz History Database, a digital jazz archive, where I archived recordings of local jazz musicians. I thought the project would be a dull graduation requirement. But when I began interviewing musicians, I saw their passion for their music and their appreciation for the archivists' help. I realized that the database provided a means for local artists to preserve some essence of a life's work. My project had purpose: to help artists share a lifetime of music with the world.

I sought that kind of purpose in my junior-year IQP, at the London Transport Museum in London, England, where I developed materials to educate children about transportation engineering. Working in a foreign country far from home and from WPI put me well out of my element, but it let me engage with the wider world. As part of an educational initiative designed to inspire the next generation of engineers, I could see myself making an impact on a level I had never expected.

A year later, through my biomedical engineering MQP, I helped build a low-cost alternative to a cardiac tissue-engineering device. I walked into that challenge appreciating its potential. WPI had taught me to think globally—to see my senior project as a chance to advance medical research.

There is self-worth in finding your potential to change the world. A WPI education taught me that being a world mover isn't impossible: it's just physics.

Luke R. Perreault is a 2015 graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

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