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 class of 2017.
Fall 2013 Offerings:
GPS #1: Food Sustainability
Food is hot! Free range chickens, local food sourcing, 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 food 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?
Students in this course have...
- Designed a new set of nutritional recommendations for Native Americans,
- Provided solutions to eliminate food deserts here in Worcester,
- Developed a business plan for aquafarming in the Northeast, and
- Connected Heifer International with WPI's project Center in Namibia.
This Seminar sequence will count towards a Humanities and Arts (HU 1100) and Chemistry (CH 1000) general elective credit.
GPS #2: 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.
Students in Heal the World have completed projects that...
- Analyzed non-compliance for tuberculosis treatment in Tamil Nadu, India,
- Studied inefficiencies in the delivery of health care,
- Completed a case study of cervical cancer in Zambezia, Mozambique,
- Studied DNA vaccines for HIV/AIDS, and
- Studied river blindness and schistosomiasis in Africa.
This Seminar sequence will count towards a Biology (BB 1000) and Management (MG 1000) general elective credit.
GPS # 3: The World’s Water
We rely on water to keep us hydrated but also to support countless activities like growing crops, raising livestock, producing energy, and manufacturing goods. As populations explode and worldwide demand continues to rise, useable forms of water are becoming scarcer. This course explores the developing water crisis from personal, regional, and global perspectives focusing on environmental, social, and economic impacts of water use. Our challenge is to develop sustainable solutions to these critical water issues that include innovative technologies, increased awareness, and more effective water policies and strategies.
Student projects in this course have
- Compared road deicers for impacts on waterways.
- Devised new intelligent lawn irrigation systems.
- Evaluated various water filtration strategies.
- Recommended improvements in textile dying.
This Seminar sequence provides Engineering Science (ES 1000) and Management (MG 1000) general elective credit.
GPS # 4: Biosphere, Atmosphere and Human Fears (New for 2013!)
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 provides Biology (BB 1000) and Humanities (HU 1100) general elective credit.
GPS #5: 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.
Students in Power the World have...
- Developed a consumer guide for residential wind power,
- Analyzed policies for nuclear waste management,
- Analyzed the costs and benefits of a green roof on WPI's proposed recreation center, and
- Studied algae for biodiesel production.
This Seminar sequence will count towards Engineering Science (ES 1000) and Humanities (HU 1000) general elective credit.
GPS #6: Recycle our World: Recovering Earth's resources for all species and all time
Begins with a high-speed tour of the Grand Challenges for the 21st century: population growth, climate change, energy, mobility, water and food, aging infrastructure, resource recovery and recyclability, and health care. However the course's focus is on recovering material resources and reusing them - recycling. The course blends engineering with humanities and builds a framework for the world in which students will live, showing you how you can make the world different through ingenuity and innovation. Policy and societal issues are also discussed in the context of the recovery and recycling. Students will work in collaboration with the NSF Center for Resource Recovery and Recycling (CR3) and will work on projects that are sponsored by some of the leading global corporations. See: www.wpi.edu/+mpi
This Seminar sequence provides Engineering Science (ES 1000) and Humanities (HU 1100) general elective credit.
How to Register for a GPS Seminar:
Each Seminar is a two-course sequence and are linked together for A and B terms. Upon entering the Course Registration Number (CRN) into your worksheet within the bannerweb information system, you will need to enter both CRNs at the same time. Please see the chart for each seminar's corresponding sections and CRN numbers. You can add this to your course tracker to allow for easy course registration.
Please note that the GPS Seminars are all categorized as FY 1100 for A term and FY 1101 for B term.
If interested in registering in the future for a Spring GPS course, please submit the following form: