• Grand Challenges Initiative students working on their project
  • Grand Challenges Initiative students working on their project
  • Equipment in the Grand Challenges Initiative Makerspace
Grand Challenges Initiative

» Grand Challenges Initiative (GCI)

The GCI is a unique two-year project that is part of the curriculum for all incoming first-year students in Fowler School of Engineering and Schmid College of Science and Technology majors. You’ll work with a small team of 4-6 fellow students and a research mentor to take on one of our most pressing problems, from reversing climate change to improving data security to developing new health technology—and many more. 

Students from a variety of STEM majors work together, in and outside class, on their GCI projects. On a given team, you might find data science, chemistry and physics majors (and maybe even film students) collaborating on solutions to their challenge.

Through this interdisciplinary work, you’ll get exposure to different subject areas. Your project will also benefit from the perspectives of various teammates, which spurs exciting new ideas and solutions.

Grand Challenges Initiative is a required part of the curriculum for Fowler Engineering and Schmid College students. It is also open to students from all majors, including undeclared students with an interest in STEM.

What You'll Do

Since we want you to focus on what you’re passionate about, you’ll play a direct role in shaping your project. 

In the first semester of your first year, you’ll take a First-year Foundations course called Grand Challenges in Science and Engineering, where you’ll select the challenge your group will take on. You’ll also develop plans to move forward with smaller goals and milestones that build toward the grand challenge.

Here are just a few sample GCI projects Chapman students have done:

  • Designing and Building an Affordable Insulin Pump with 3D printing
  • Juju: an iOS App to Improve Social and Educational Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Killing the Plastic Problem: Biochemical Plastic Degradation
  • Simulating the Terraformation of Mars Using Virtual Reality
A Virtual Visit to Mars
Student James Kistner tests a virtual simulation of gravity on Mars while his teammates observe.
Quadcopters Take Flight
Jack McGrath, Corey McCrea and Chase Toyofuku-Souza with the drone they built using the 3D printers and soldering equipment in the GCI Makerspace. Their team is studying how to use unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver emergency medical supplies.
Confidence to Think Outside the Box (and 3D Print One)
Students Sanika Pandit and Alex Jones watch as the first layers of a 3D-printed housing are made for their team’s portable heart monitor.
Stamping out Cybercrime
The Cyber Smart Panthers team is fighting cybercrime one security workshop, website and PSA at a time.

What You’ll Learn

The Grand Challenges Initiative provides foundational skills in critical thinking, problem solving, communication and teamwork. These are essential for success in nearly any STEM-related field or professional role. Beginning in your first semester, you’ll learn how to:

  • Find and evaluate scientific information
  • Solve complex problems
  • Develop professional oral and written communication skills
  • Establish effective teams and project management strategies
  • Explore new fields with people outside your major (which might spur interest in adding a minor or second major)

You’ll also develop concrete skills through project-based learning. These opportunities include:

  • Writing project proposals to solicit funding
  • Meeting with external experts for guidance and outside perspectives (you’ll have access to Chapman’s extensive contacts with experts from around the world)
  • Learning project management principles and techniques
  • Understanding how academic and professional research happens and gets published

After your two-year GCI experience, you’ll have plenty of options. You can continue in the program and go further with tackling your challenge. You can gain additional experience through an internship or by joining a faculty-led research project. You could also begin working on the capstone project for your major.

Regardless of your next step, you should be well-equipped to succeed with valuable interdisciplinary and problem-solving skills.

GCI Curriculum

The GCI program is required for first-year students whose major is in Fowler Engineering or Schmid College. Transfer students may be waived from participating depending on the number of credit hours they have accumulated.

You can learn more about degree requirements for first-year and transfer students on our GCI Curriculum page.

Understanding the Brain
Chapman University students in the Keck Center for Science and Engineering.
The brain is our most complex and high-functioning organ, but that didn’t stop these students from finding out how to make it work better. You can read about their GCI experience in our article.

Where It Happens

Chapman University GCI students working in the Keck Center for Science and Engineering. GCI is supported by both its own GCI Makerspace – open 20 hours a week, including some evening and weekend times – and the Keck Center for Science and Engineering

The Makerspace has everything from 3D printers to virtual reality hardware to professional scientific equipment. The Keck Center features state-of-the-art research laboratories and open collaborative spaces where students, faculty and research fellows can work together.

Learn more on our GCI Facilities page »

CGI fellow working with Chapman studentWho You'll Work With

In addition to working with other students, every GCI team is mentored by a Postdoctoral Fellow. Our fellows are world-class early-career teacher-scholars. They also come from diverse research backgrounds, ranging from cancer genetics to atmosphere chemistry. What they all have in common is a desire to share their passion for science and engineering with students.

Meet our GCI research fellows »

GCI Internships

Many of Chapman’s corporate partners are excited to support students who work on GCI projects that align with their company's mission. In addition to meeting with teams to contribute to projects, partners often attend GCI career networking events, where they help students explore the range of professional options available following graduation. 

These companies may also provide internship opportunities to students, with a wide range of industries being represented:

  • Aerospace
  • Biomedical implants
  • Business/data analytics
  • Medical devices
  • Semiconductor manufacturing
  • Software development
An Innovative Internship
Students Monroe Roush and Daisy Haas visited the American Association for the Advancement of Science as part of their internships at the Institute for Learning Innovation.

Ask a Student

Still have questions about GCI? Ask a current Chapman student! All Fowler Engineering and Schmid College students participate in GCI and would be happy to answer your questions and share their experiences.

Students having a discussion while sitting on a staircase

Ask a Student

Contact Us

Dr. Javier Espeleta
GCI Program Co-Director

Jess Van Antwerp
Administrative Coordinator, GCI

Support the Grand Challenges Initiative

You can help our students undertake the most complex problems of our time by donating. Your support will help provide the resources they need to take on those challenges in concrete and meaningful ways.