Great Problems Seminars (GPS)

Jumpstart Your Project Experience in Your First Year

In the Great Problems Seminars, you will take problem solving out of the textbook and into the real world. 

Each Great Problem Seminar (GPS) focuses on one of the world’s big problems – water, food, health care, and energy to name a few.  You will study the causes and consequences of the problem, and then apply your knowledge while working with a team to propose a potential solution to some aspect, local or global, of that problem.  Along the way, you will get a head start on developing the skills that you will need to be successful in your project work at WPI and in your future career.   

The classes are lively – with two instructors providing diverse perspectives, guest speakers, field trips and lots and lots of class discussion and teamwork.  You’ll get to know your classmates and develop confidence in your ability to solve real world problems.  And that confidence and experience can lead to fabulous internships, even after your first year! 

Each GPS lasts two terms and gives two courses worth of credit (2/3 units), specific to the theme (see each course below for the credit it carries).  And no matter which GPS you take, it will count toward a minor (1/3 unit) or major (2/3 unit) in International Studies or Environmental and Sustainability Studies.     

There are six Great Problem Seminars planned for the fall:

NEW: Livable Cities

This Great Problems Seminar addresses the possibilities and liabilities of human life in the urban environment. As an increasing proportion of the world’s population becomes urban, the possibilities for human achievement and the particular difficulties encountered in city life become more pressing. Through lectures, readings, discussion, and group projects this course will examine the interdisciplinary topics of urban ecology, environmental justice, city design and planning, and gentrification as they relate to urban landscapes. Urban sprawl can pose many threats to the environment, and we will examine ecological conditions (e.g., land use, pollution, heat island), patterns (e.g., changes in diversity), and processes (e.g., invasion of non-native species) associated with urbanization. We will use lessons from ecology, case studies, and peer-to-peer learning to develop an understanding of historical global and local urban trends (e.g., Levittowns, urban village community). Students will investigate the role of the emerging fields of new and ecological urbanism as a way to increase sustainability and restore natural environments in urban settings. Additionally, students will develop an area of expertise in one problem of urban living and research, present, and propose sustainable solutions. 

This seminar sequence will count towards a Biology (BB 1000) and Humanities (HU 1100) general elective credit.

NEW:  Ignorance is not bliss:  can schools and technology help?

Should where you grow up and go to school determine how well you do in life? Do you wonder why education seems so dysfunctional at times? International tests indicate that Americans aren’t well educated: is that true? Have you ever taught an adult to read? Can you design a truly informative, cool way to present a tough topic? Do nature and nurture, equity and excellence, opportunity and outcome, vision and verification, and the availability of educational technology matter? In the end, what should an educated person know and be able to do at age 18, at age 22? Do you meet the criteria?

This seminar sequence will count towards a Computer science (CS 1010) and Social Science (SSPS 1100) general elective credit. (This course cannot be used to fulfill the CS requirement for the following majors:  BCB, BME, ECE, IMGD, MA, MG, MGE, MIS, PSY.)

Biosphere, Atmosphere and Human Fears

In this course we will explore the complex ecological challenges faced in today’s world. We will examine causes, trends, impacts, and solutions to land use changes, climate variability, loss of habitat and biodiversity, and other similar ecological problems from scientific, social, ethical, philosophical, and technological perspectives so as to gain a more complete picture of such challenges and possible ways of addressing them.

This seminar sequence will count towards a Biology (BB 1000) and Humanities (HUA 1100) general elective credit.

Food sustainability

Food is hot! Free range chickens, vegan versus caveman diets, organic veggies, frankenfoods, high fructose corn syrup – all topics in the news. Can we feed the world? Does the use of ethanol in gasoline cause food shortages? What are the dangers and benefits to genetic engineering of plants? Learn about and work to solve the current paradoxes of our food situation – the malnutrition of too little AND too much food: deprivation and obesity. What solutions are there – political, economic, biological, and chemical?

This seminar sequence will count towards a Management (MG 1000) and Chemistry (CH 1000) general elective credit.

The World’s Water

Explores the social, political, technical, and environmental dimensions of our looming water crisis. This course prepares students to analyze problems and seek sustainable and equitable solutions to a variety of water challenges. Changing climate and increased development are compromising many water resources around the world. Water scarcity is on the rise in many places due to drought and overuse. In addition, many water bodies are becoming contaminated as a result of various human activities. At the same time, natural systems that purify and protect our water resources are increasingly at risk. It is time to rethink our water use practices and polices regarding what we discharge into our water bodies as well as what we use to hydrate our own bodies and communities. Topics this course will cover include water as a human right, water pollution, virtual water, water security, blue, green and gray infrastructure, water use and control, and water purification.

This seminar sequence will count towards a social science (SSPS 1000) and Engineering science (ES 1000) general elective credit.

Heal the World

Starts with the biology of an infectious disease and moves on to study both the biology and the management of disease control. Students study the cost of research and regulation required to bring new drugs to market. You will learn to examine problems with local complexity and global scale. Students also study management issues as cost/benefit analysis, innovation, decision-making, and competitive analysis.

This seminar sequence will count towards a Biology (BB 1000) and Management (MG 1000) general elective credit.

The following GPS will be offered in the spring (C and D terms):

Power the World

Every community faces energy problems. Solutions to these problems always involve positive and negative consequences. Fossil fuels currently dominate the energy landscape but involve impacts that are becoming less and less acceptable. Renewable sources of energy, like wind and solar, are gaining traction but present a whole new set of challenges. This course investigates the depth and breadth of energy production, transmission and use. It explores the technical, social, economic and environmental effects and challenges of power generation.

This seminar sequence will count towards Engineering Science (ES 1000) and Humanities (HUA 1100) general elective credit.

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Last modified: April 17, 2014 08:40:25