The Great Problems Seminar

Filed in Uncategorized by on May 15, 2012

Great Problems Seminar

For more than 40 years, WPI has been a leader in higher education for educating students to tackle real-world problem solving through the project-enriched curriculum established by the WPI Plan. In 2007, our faculty brought a new level of innovation to the WPI project-enriched learning experience with the introduction of the Great Problems Seminar (GPS) for first-year students. This signature program gives students the opportunity to work on interdisciplinary teams to address a major global problem over the course of two terms (e.g. August-December).

Many times, academic courses are structured with the major/discipline as the primary focus;  examples for class tend to be narrow in scope and focused on one discipline. WPI knows that societal problems are often broad and interdisciplinary and the faculty created the Great Problems Seminar (GPS) to address this need and supplement the educational process.

The “Grand Challenges” seminar for example, looks at issues that affect the global population and includes an overview of the problems that go with population growth, energy consumption, mobility, and resource recovery/reuse, just to name a few. First-year students then dig more deeply into specific topics, researching alternative methods, best-practices, or new concepts to solve the problems at hand. From researching Worcester area food deserts in “More than a Mirage: Oasis in the Desert,” to developing a program for “Treating and Caring for Swazi Children Orphaned by AIDS,” students come to intimately understand an issue faced by society.

First-year students participating in the program gain additional reasoning, writing, and presentation skills at a level previously expected of WPI juniors and seniors. Subjects such as “Feed the World,” “Fuel the World,” “Power the World,” “Heal the World,” and “Grand Challenges” have been explored. New subjects such as “The World’s Water,” “Educate the World,” and “Living on the Edge” will be the subjects for the 2012-2013 academic year.

As the program has developed, WPI faculty have been careful to track and understand student development of this project through assessments and surveys. Foundations of students’ WPI first-year experience are forged, including asking fruitful questions, working in an interdisciplinary team-based project, developing research that is personally meaningful, and learning that a “right” answer may one day be found, if they keep on working this way.

For more information regarding the Great Problems Seminar, consider visiting the WPI Great Problems Seminar website. For more information regarding the WPI Plan and the project-based curriculum, please visit the respective websites.




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