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Schmid College of Science and Technology

» Grand Challenges Initiative (GCI)

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 in Schmid College, 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. 

+ - What is a Grand Challenge?

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.”

Our student teams will take on challenges such as:

  • 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.
  • Building net-zero-energy housing for major markets.
  • Understanding the physics of life.

+ - 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.

To see how GCI courses integrate with your major, view your Major Academic Plan (MAP) on the Academic Advising web page.

+ - Example Student Projects

Below are student projects from Professor Andrew Lyon's popular "Science Blender" course, which was the pilot for the Schmid College Grand Challenges Initiative (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 full sequence of GCI courses.

In 2015, Chapman University science students also collaborated with others in the Department of Energy’s 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.

Take a virtual tour of their house "Casa del Sol"

+ - Student-Driven Approach

In the Grand Challenges Initiative, students are empowered to discover, evaluate and synthesize the information they need to solve big problems facing society. With faculty mentorship, 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 effectively communicate their progress and discoveries.

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."

+ - 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

+ - Interdisciplinary Foundation

Interdisciplinary approaches have always been the birthplace of innovative ideas and solutions. 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 Grand Challenges Initiative provides students the opportunity to contribute to and benefit from a diverse science, technology, engineering and mathematics community in an inclusive and supportive environment. The GCI engages every science major in Schmid College while also providing opportunities to collaborate beyond the sciences.

+ - 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 cross-functional teams and communicate across disciplines.

+ - Schmid College Teaching and Research Fellows

Schmid College 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.

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.
  • Aspire to be the next generation of leaders in innovative teaching and research.

Meet the Fellows

Dr. Jose Raul Gonzalez Alonso
“As a physics and astronomy teaching assistant at USC, I noticed over the course of six years the positive impact an instructor can have on the lives of students. I am interested in helping my students truly understand and fall in love with physics, and specifically for them to realize how it is exciting that science is related to their everyday lives.”

Dr. Carter Berry
“The Schmid College Grand Challenges Initiative is a powerful program because it has the students seek the large issues that are most pressing to them and it requires them to seek solutions that are interdisciplinary and comprehensive. This unique approach instills a sense of empowerment in students to strive for greatness while pushing the boundaries of their own interests and perspectives.”

Dr. Charlene McCord
“I look forward to working with students... to develop into creative independent thinkers and problem solvers. I am also excited to take my research in a bit of a new direction by studying hagfishes (evolutionarily and biomechanically fascinating jawless fishes) with Dr. Douglas Fudge. Now is a really exciting time for STEM at Chapman University, and I’m thrilled to be joining this vibrant and growing community!”

Dr. Anne Sonnenschein
“As an interdisciplinary scientist, I am very excited to be joining Schmid College and the Grand Challenges Initiative, where such a strong focus is put on interdisciplinary student-driven projects and science as a problem-solving process.”

Dr. Shana Welles
"[T]he Grand Challenges Initiative... [gives] me the opportunity to work with students entering university and teach them to be strong learners and critical thinkers preparing them to make the most of the rest of their college experience. Many students have never been asked to think beyond our current knowledge and come up with new ideas. Learning to think in this way is challenging but valuable in student’s future classes and careers.”

Interested in becoming a fellow?

Appointments begin in summer for two years, with a third year extension on mutual agreement. Applicants are required to identify a Faculty Mentor in their cover letter. Visit the directory of Schmid College Core Faculty to identify and contact possible Faculty Mentors. 

Please check here for information on the next application cycle (opening late-fall 2017 for 2018 Fellows).

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 Schmid College 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