grand challenges initiative student team working with Dr. Goldsmith
Keck Center for Science and Engineering

» Grand Challenges Initiative

Grand challenges are described as "ambitious goals on a national or global scale that capture the imagination and demand advances in innovation and breakthroughs in science and technology." 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 interdisciplinary teams over their first two years, students engage in grand challenges that fascinate them, from realizing unlimited renewable energy to explaining how the brain functions. Throughout the program, students build a sophisticated intellectual foundation for the rest of their academic experience and career. 

Student Experience

GCI team working on drone

In the Grand Challenges Initiative, students are empowered to discover, evaluate, and synthesize the information they need to solve big problems facing society. 

Foundational Skills

professional and student at networking event

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, interdisciplinary, team-based science becomes an integral part of their education.

Through the 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

The GCI Solutions Laboratory

GCI student using 3D printer

The Grand Challenges Initiative is supported by its own Makerspace, where student teams can turn their solutions into reality. Unlike most Makerspaces, which are focused on fabrication, our space supports the diversity of projects that students are pursuing in the program. One team may be working on perfecting a virtual reality game, while the team next to them is using the 3D printer. Equipment in the space draws from biology, chemistry, environmental science, software engineering, electrical engineering, and manufacturing. Our current core equipment includes:


Ultimaker S5 3D Printer

Pulse XE 3D Printer

Carbide 3D Desktop CNC Mill

Snap-On Tool Cabinet (700 tools)


Soldering Stations

Raspberry Pi

Arduino Starter Kits


Alienware Desktop Computers

Flatscreen TVs

Oculus Rift VR


Fume Hoods

Incubator and Drying Oven

Refrigerator and Freezer

Analytical Balances


Thermocycler and Gel Rig

Hotplate Stirrers


Inside the GCI Makerspace »

Teaching and Research Fellows

GCI Postdoctoral Fellow

Our Post-doctoral Fellows are outstanding early-career scientists who contribute to innovative teaching and mentorship in our undergraduate Grand Challenges Initiative, as well as advance independent research in collaboration with a member of the faculty. They aspire to be the next generation of leaders in innovative teaching and research.


Our Fellows: 

  • Inspire our students to use science and technology as a means of understanding the world around them.

  • Teach our students skills associated with problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, teamwork, and leadership.

  • Engage in an active research program in collaboration with their faculty mentor, leading to peer-reviewed research, and external funding applications.

  • Foster diversity and inclusivity in the college.

  • Benefit from an extensive professional development program that advances their research, teaching and leadership skills, guided by an individual development plan.

Meet the Fellows

photo of Dr. Carter Berry

Dr. Carter Berry

By training, Dr. Berry is a ‘physiological ecologist’ meaning that he studies how plants use, move, and store basic resources (carbon, water, nutrients) needed to survive and how that alters their ability to live in current and future environments. This work has uncovered new insights into how plants strategically move water and carbon to maximize their interactions with their environment. At Chapman University he is exploring how changing cloud patterns alter light and water and the associated effects of how plants manage carbon with global implications for predicting species survival and improving carbon budgets.
photo of Dr. Robert de Bruijn

Dr. Robert de Bruijn

Before coming to Chapman University, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Carleton University in Canada, where he studied the ecology of stress in Pacific salmon. Dr de Bruin uses an integrative approach to his research, which focuses on how animals respond to and cope with changes in their environment.
photo of Dr. Cristhiano Duarte Silva

Dr. Cristhiano Duarte Silva

Dr. Duarte is a Brazilian mathematician working on foundations of physics, mainly on foundations of quantum mechanics. Broadly speaking, Dr. Duarte has been focusing his research on the existent overlap between foundations of quantum mechanics and mathematics. He is mainly interested in learning how to explain the emergent classical reality we perceive in our daily lives as arising from the more basic structure provided by what goes by the name of quantum mechanics. Dr. Duarte dedicates his research to the analysis of quantum-to-classical and classical-to-quantum transitions.
photo of Dr. Aaron Harrison

Dr. Aaron Harrison

Dr. Harrison's research focuses on studying photochemical oxidation of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and aerosols present in the atmosphere from both biogenic and anthropogenic sources. His research uses a combination of experimental and computational techniques to characterize important photochemical reaction products as well as overall reaction mechanisms and quantum yields.
no photo available for Dr. Shana Welles

Dr. Shana Welles

Dr. Welles is a plant evolutionary ecologist conducting original research and sharing her passion for biology with others through teaching and outreach. In her research, Dr. Welles investigates how invasive plants evolve following introduction into novel ranges. Dr. Welles combines population genomic approaches with functional trait studies to generate an understanding of the role of evolution in the success of invasive species.

GCI Fellow Alumni

photo of Dr. Charlene McCord

Dr. Charlene McCord

Assistant Professor of Biology, California State University Dominguez Hills
GCI Fellow 2017-2019
photo of Dr. Anne Sonnenschein

Dr. Anne Sonnenschein

Bioinformatics Scientist at Tempus Labs
GCI Fellow 2017-2019

Interested in becoming a Fellow?

Our next search will begin in November for Fall 2020 Fellows. Check back here for more updates. If you have any questions, email

Appointments begin in late summer and can be extended for up to three years on mutual agreement.

Support the Grand Challenges Initiative

Help our science students undertake the most complex problems of our time! Your support will ensure that the students in this program can be successful, providing them the resources they need to tackle these challenges.

Developing Engaged and Motivated Students

GCI is a student-driven program that develops students who strive to explore, make connections, seek answers, and solve big problems.

Dr. Greg Goldsmith

Dr. Gregory R. Goldsmith
Grand Challenges Initiative Director

"The Grand Challenges Initiative is empowering the next generation of leaders to use collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches to solving our planet’s greatest challenges through science, technology, engineering and math."

Contact Us

Dr. Gregory R. Goldsmith
GCI Program Director

Rebecca Green
Administrative Support

Dr. L. Andrew Lyon

Dr. L. Andrew Lyon

Founding Dean of Fowler School of Engineering

"We started this program with the goal of giving our students ownership of their education. As the program's founder, it was vital to me that they learned to be outstanding critical thinkers while solving problems about which THEY were passionate."