Great Problems Seminars

Participation in extensive research projects is a major component of many health care professions. An understanding of the protocols and principles involved in conducting research is something medical and professional schools look for in their applicants.

WPI’s project-enriched curriculum provides many opportunities for students to get involved in research as undergraduates, giving our students an advantage over their peers at other universities when it comes time to apply to professional school. 

The Great Problems Seminars (GPS) are the first foray into research for many WPI students. The GPS are an introduction to project work and university-level research, giving first-year students a chance to focus on themes of current global importance including health, energy, food distribution, transportation, and housing. Current seminars include the following:

Power the World

Looks at both the history, policies and current trends in energy technologies. Every generation in every community has experienced an "energy crisis." People have found ways to proceed, but solutions have always involved positive and negative consequences. Our students gain access to this depth and breadth of awareness from the first day of the first term. This is key to becoming not only effective engineers, but effective citizens of the 21st century.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.

Global Health

Starts with the biology of an infectious disease and moves on to study both the biology and the moral, political, and cultural aspects of illness. You will learn to examine problems with local complexity and global scale. Students also study the socioeconomic parameters of epidemics and the current political and moral issues surrounding health care in the US.

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

Living on the Edge: Exploring the Balance between Human Needs and Natural Resources.

Today, in many remote parts of the world, we see rising conflicts between indigenous communities and the economic pressure coming from a global industrial sector that hopes to harvest the natural resources that surround them. This GPS seeks to explore the consequences of that edge of contact for both the natural populations of these regions (plant, animal, human) and the industries and resources that the world relies upon for advancement. Because this topic explores the intersection between community values and technological advancement, the course provides opportunities to explore both tangible “edges” (between geographic or physical boundaries) and conceptual “edges” (between negotiated or imposed categories of difference). The course focus thereby offers a base for a range of student projects related to conservation, climate change, energy use and natural resources, scientific discovery/exploration, poverty and welfare, health care and disease, and many more.

This seminar sequence will count towards an Engineering Science (ES1000) and Humanities (HU1100) general elective credit.

Educate the World

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 accountability, 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? In this course, you will dig deep into the background of perennial educational issues and problems, examine the forces and factors that promote or compromise educational systems and programs, create informed, persuasive positions of your own, and devote time to educating others. We think we can make the world a better place with better-educated people. Join us in our action plan to determine how this can be done.

This seminar sequence will count towards a Computer Science (CS1000) and Humanities (HU1100) general elective credit. (The CS credit will not fulfill the CS requirement for bioinformatics, management, management engineering, MIS, ECE, IMGD, Psychology majors)