For a number of years, ESF has partnered with Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), a university in Massachusetts, USA to host third-year students undertaking an Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) research project as part of its Melbourne Project Centre. Founded in 1865, WPI was one of the United States’ first engineering and technology universities and is a world leader in project-based learning.
Their data shows that the experience students have during their project work is life-changing, and that it matters to employers. From an educational perspective, the IQP serves to emphasize team-based work and introduces a real-world responsibility absent from courses. Many IQPs have made a significant impact on the community in which they are done.
Established in 1998, the MPC’s goal is to challenge small teams of engineering and science students to broaden the technical lens of their disciplinary training, and to account for the social, cultural and political factors of real-world problems within specific cultural contexts. In undertaking projects sponsored by local organizations in and around Melbourne, WPI students learn to understand new cultures, apply and adapt their technical knowledge, manage complex projects, work with diverse partners, and innovate in ways that meet real community needs.
We are always pleased to host these college students, and their research projects help build the evidence to inform ESF’s work. Below are previous research projects conducted.
2023 - Impact of the job on children of emergency service workers
Megan, Aiden, George and Ellie undertook a qualitative study with ESF to understand how the job impacts the children of Victorian first responder.
The project team applied a comprehensive risk management process to ensure the safety of participants nevertheless it was difficult to recruit children because of the perceived risk. Participants in this study were recruited via social media and personal connections rather than through agencies. It has provided valuable insight to the wants and needs of children and direction for the sort of information and support they require.
Webinar presented by students Megan, Aide, George and Ellie on 3 May 2023
Video – Hidden Voices
2021 - Impact of emergency service work on family life
Casey, Sarah and Owen undertook a desktop review and interviewed 25 family members to help ESF understand the impact of emergency service work on family life.
This is the first time such conversations with family have taken place across the sector and the findings provide an important preliminary insight to what needs to be done to support the people at home support frontline workers. The voices of family members who participated were compiled into a short video
Insight Conversation presented by students Casey, Sarah and Owen on 15 December 2021
2021 - Helping volunteers transition to retirement
Working remotely Olivia, Jackie and Alexis concluded that there is much room for improvement in how the wellbeing of volunteers is supported as they transition to retirement. Based on their findings five recommendations have been made.
Insight Conversation presented by Olivia, Jackie and Alexis
2020 - Understanding what makes emergency service volunteers feel valued and how that links to wellbeing
Taking on the challenge of working virtually from October – December 2020 Dylan, Karen and Dan have helped ESF and the sector better understand what makes emergency service volunteers feel valued and how that links to wellbeing. Their final presentation and report with recommendations can be downloaded here.
2020 - Women’s perspectives on mental health and wellbeing
IQPs are generally done off campus at one of WPIs 42 study centres around the world. COVID-19 travel restrictions meant this project was undertaken remotely which naturally presented some challenges. Nevertheless, four STEM students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (USA) Alexis Boyle, Elizabeth Inger, Krystina Waters and Mannon Miller have assisted the ESF to understand what women from across Victoria’s emergency management sector feel will best support their mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
This investigation was driven by Beyond Blue’s Answering the Call research which found significantly higher rates of mental ill-health across the sector than in the general Australian population. In this study there was no in-depth qualitative analysis of women as a cohort group so it was fantastic to receive direct feedback from women in the emergency services sector about a number of organisational culture issues that can have a damaging impact upon wellbeing and help seeking behaviours. This work also addresses a recommendation of a study commissioned by Movember which suggested a gender lens was required to look at programs and support offered to women in the sector.
While this work has obvious limitations, it provides valuable insights for ESF and the agencies to improve women’s mental health and wellbeing sector wide.
Some key findings of the investigation were that women want line managers who are mental health literate, proactive and open to emotionally intelligent conversations about how women feel, and who acknowledge that women’s responsibilities outside the workplace can often be challenging. It seems many women are reluctant to seek support for fear of being stereotyped as ‘weak and emotional.’
Webinar presented by WPI students Alexis Boyle, Elizabeth Inger, Krystina Waters and Manon Miller on 11 May 2020
2019 - A close look at how the sector approaches transition to retirement
Four students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) worked with the ESF for seven weeks in early 2019 as part of their assignment to their university’s Melbourne Project Centre (MPC). The MPC is one of over 40 international project centres established by WPI as part of its Global Projects Program. Established in 1998, the MPC’s goal is to challenge small teams of engineering and science students to broaden the technical lens of their disciplinary training, and to account for the social, cultural and political factors of real-world problems within specific cultural contexts. In undertaking projects sponsored by local organizations in and around Melbourne, WPI students learn to understand new cultures, apply and adapt their technical knowledge, manage complex projects, work with diverse partners, and innovate in ways that meet real community needs.
The purpose of this project was to assess the current landscape of retirement support and formulate recommendations for a holistic transition to retirement program for Victorian emergency service workers that provides a framework for the Emergency Services Foundation to drive best practice in cooperation with sector partners.
The students presented their findings on 29 May 2019 to the sector at an event hosted by Maddocks.