» Schmid College Grand Challenges Initiative

We aim to develop inspired scientists capable of thinking across traditional disciplinary boundaries to take on the most complex problems of our time.

Working in small teams over their first two years in Schmid College, students tackle grand challenges that fascinate them - from realizing unlimited renewable energy to explaining how the brain functions. In the process, they build a sophisticated intellectual foundation for the rest of their academic experience and career.

+ - What is a Grand Challenge?

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy describes grand challenges as, “ambitious goals on a national or global scale that capture the imagination and demand advances in innovation and breakthroughs in science and technology.”

Some challenges tackled by our student teams might be:

  • Building net-zero-energy housing for major markets
  • Curing and preventing brain disorders.
  • Developing a sustainable, environmentally responsible, and intelligent transportation sector.
  • Improving nutrition to combat disease and obesity
  • Overcoming microbial drug resistance and super bugs.
  • Predicting and mitigating damage from asteroid collisions.
  • Understanding the physics of life.

+ - Example Student Projects

Below are student projects from Professor Andrew Lyon's popular "Science Blender" course, which was the pilot for the Schmid College GCI. These projects were produced over just one semester, so they represent only the tip of the iceberg of what students will accomplish over the course of the full, multi-semester GCI.

Chapman University science students also recently collaborated with other local university students in the Department of Energy’s 2015 Solar Decathlon. Competing against teams at the international level, they designed and built a net-zero-energy home tailored for the Southern California market. This is the kind of project students in the GCI can aspire to engage in.

Virtually tour the house they designed: Casa del Sol

+ - Student-driven Approach

In the Schmid College Grand Challenges Initiative students are empowered to discover and synthesize the information they need to solve big problems facing society. For example, under the mentorship of their instructors, students decide:

  • what grand challenge they want to pursue.
  • how they organize, operate, and grow their teams.
  • how to work together to devise strategies for tackling their challenge.
  • what knowledge and expert resources they need and how they’ll seek them.
  • how to communicate their discoveries and progress updates to their colleagues, professors and beyond.

Students in the pilot of this initiative, Professor Andrew Lyon’s “Science Blender” course, reported being profoundly and positively impacted by the student-driven approach:

"[the best part was] providing the students an avenue to self-drive research and learning."

"The open-endedness led to a lot of 'self-learning' and taught students to figure things out instead of being just told information that they must be able to regurgitate later."

+ - Building Career and Leadership Skills

As the teams delve deeply into their grand challenge, they’ll come to understand the knowledge gaps preventing a solution and then conceive solutions to those gaps. In this process, they become conversant in different disciplines and how team-based problem solving can enrich scientific pursuits.

As students emerge from the Schmid College Grand Challenges Initiative (GCI), their forward-thinking and driven approach to solving challenges will make them sought-after employees and extraordinary scholars and leaders.

The GCI ensures Schmid College graduates are not only burgeoning scientists adept in their major, but also problem-solvers who can work in teams and communicate across disciplines.

+ - Interdisciplinary Foundation

Interdisciplinary approaches have been the birthplace of innovative ideas since the beginning of science and technology. At Chapman University, we prepare our students to connect the dots between disciplines and emerge as highly effective problem-solvers.

The Schmid College Grand Challenges Initiative (GCI) is designed to do exactly this, while simultaneously supporting a student’s deep disciplinary learning in her or his science major.

The GCI engages every science major in Schmid College while also providing opportunities to collaborate beyond the sciences. From their first day on campus, Schmid College students will benefit from and have their hands in building a diverse STEM community, as well as an inclusive and supportive environment.

+ - Successful Scientists

What is sometimes forgotten about science education is that it’s not just the ‘product’ that creates value for students. The process of learning how to be a scientist gives our students the greatest value for their future.

By challenging our students with the world's most complex problems, they are compelled to work together to expand their understanding of the world around them and seek solutions. Through this approach, the process of doing impactful, team-based science becomes an integral part of their education.

Through the Schmid College Grand Challenges Initiative, students will develop:

  • Scientific Intelligence:
    • a fresh perspective on the breadth and depth of the sciences
    • an evidence-based approach to problem-solving
    • critical thinking across disciplinary boundaries
    • a foundation in science ethics
  • Leadership Skills:
    • oral and written communication skills
    • practical teamwork and leadership training
    • experience in team building and project management
  • Career Skills and Resilience:
    • experience in building a professional network
    • an informed view of career opportunities

+ - How the Program Works

In the GCI, all Schmid College students take six credits over their first two years in the college.

Semester 1: three-credit class

In their first semester in Schmid College, students engage in a 3-credit, discussion-based course where they use historical examples of grand challenges as a framework to learn how to:

  • identify and solve complex problems through evidence-based approaches
  • consider issues in scientific ethics
  • begin to develop their oral and written communication skills
  • practice different strategies for working in teams

Over the course of the semester, small teams form around different grand challenges of their choosing. Under the mentorship of a faculty member, they explore the nature of the challenge and how a diversity of methods can be engaged in pursuit of innovative solutions.

Semesters 2-4: one-credit experiences

In the following three semesters, students enroll in one-credit courses that guide them through the next stage of devising solutions to their challenge.

Teams will be mentored by faculty who will use evidence-based approaches to improve students’ critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills.

Faculty are joined by a number of external experts who:

  • provide students with additional insights into their challenges
  • introduce them to a diversity of careers in science
  • serve as the foundation of a professional network

In this phase, teams are also encouraged to grow, evolve, and even recruit new members from across campus, as it becomes clearer what skills are needed to advance toward their goals.

Continuing the experience

At the conclusion of this six-credit series, students can choose to continue in the program, furthering their projects or serving as peer-mentors for other teams. They can also choose to engage in internships, research with faculty, or begin working on their major capstone project - pursuing all with sophisticated interdisciplinary and collaborative problem-solving skills.

Developing Driven Students

The Schmid College Grand Challenges Initiative is a student-driven program that develops students who strive to explore, make connections, seek answers, and solve big problems.

Dr. Greg Goldsmith

Gregory R. Goldsmith, Ph.D., Grand Challenges Initiative (GCI) Director

"The Schmid College Grand Challenges Initiative is empowering the next generation of leaders – students who can work collaboratively and across disciplines to solve our planet’s greatest challenges."


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Andrew Lyon
"In the Schmid College of Science and Technology, we have made it our mission to mentor and grow the next generation of leaders through a curriculum that develops outstanding problem solving skills in the context of the grand, interdisciplinary challenges facing us today."