Holly Nguyen’s journey at WPI began with the Heal the World Great Problems Seminar, the seed of an ongoing interest in multidisciplinary problems, human health, and cultures around the globe. She reflects on how she integrated her major of computer science, a minor in business, and commitment to service as she created a business plan for women jewelry-makers in Ecuador, worked toward water security for rural people in Guatemala and Ecuador, and developed a mobile sleep app.
About the Grand Challenges Scholars Program (GCSP)
Endorsed by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in 2009, and motivated by NAE’s 14 GRAND CHALLENGES FOR ENGINEERING, the GCSP is a global movement that advances a new engineering education paradigm—one that prepares engineers to change the world for the better. The GCSP is a combined curricular, cocurricular, and extracurricular program with five competencies that are designed to prepare students to address the grand challenges facing society in the 21st century, in areas including sustainability, health, security, and joy of living. Implemented at more than 40 schools around the world, each institution develops its specific program within the NAE framework.
Meet Five of WPI's Grand Challenge Scholars
Alex Markoski makes connections between years of research on medical devices at Draper Labs, his work as a University Innovation Fellow and starting WPI's LaunchPad, learning about the climate for startups in Hangzhou China, and his core value of helping others, all with an eye toward leading development of life-saving and life-improving products.
Rachel Welch has a passion for space exploration and spinoff technologies that will improve life on Earth. She reflects on her leadership of the Satellite Development Club to research, design, and build a CubeSat and on the challenges of coordinating communication between multiple technical and non-technical subgroups. Rachel also learned from internships at Deep Space Systems and interacting with professionals and startups in Denmark, Israel, and Lithuania.
A computer science major with entrepreneurial aspirations, Derek Feehrer saw first-hand the power of multidisciplinary teams via successes in hardware and software hackathons and product pitches. As a contribution to the grand challenge of advancing personalized learning, Derek developed and applied research, multidisciplinary, and multicultural competencies as part of an IQP team that developed a multi-channel promotion plan to launch the first massive open online course (MOOC) in Namibia.
High school sports injuries led Maggie Vaccaro to a goal of becoming an engineer in the medical device industry. She reflects on how she developed Grand Challenge competencies from work with Boston Scientific and a small startup company, courses she took for her business minor, multiple design projects in biomedical engineering, and travel in Ecuador and Israel.
GCSP at WPI
The GCSP at WPI supports and recognizes undergraduates who wish to combine any major with a passion to address significant challenges facing society.
In August 2017 the NAE named WPI a Grand Challenges Scholars School, recognizing the university’s unique project-based curriculum—the core of the WPI Plan—that enables students to engage in real-world experiences across four years and around the globe. At WPI, our Grand Challenge Scholars Program builds on the WPI Plan. With the Great Problems Seminar, thematically related coursework through the Humanities & Arts Requirement, the Interactive Qualifying Project and Major Qualifying Project, Global Projects Program, summer experiences, and leadership roles in clubs and organizations, students have multiple opportunities to develop their research abilities, interdisciplinary and global perspectives, and entrepreneurial mindset, all in the service of society.
WPI Grand Challenge Scholars will be guided by advisors and mentors to make purposeful, informed decisions about their program of study with the multidisciplinary, global nature of societal grand challenges in mind. The goal of WPI’s GCSP is for students to connect and reflect on multiple learning experiences, inside and outside the classroom, as they develop the following five competencies:
- Research ability: Identifying and solving problems creatively through sustained critical investigation
- Multidisciplinary approaches and interdisciplinary perspectives: Interacting with and drawing from multiple fields of expertise; making connections between disciplines; analyzing the humanistic, social, historical, economic, and technical contexts of problems
- Innovation and entrepreneurship mindset: Creating value in the marketplace or in society with a viable business model
- Global and intercultural competency: Developing skills, knowledge, and dispositions to appreciate diverse perspectives and ideas and to engage in open, peaceful, and productive interactions with people and cultures around the world
- Social responsibility: Considering the social and human consequences of actions and responsibilities to others in local, national, and global communities; acting to improve the human condition.
Scholars will document their competencies, reflect on their learning, and communicate the impact of their work in an ePortfolio that touches on one or more of the Grand Challenges themes.
Program Eligibility and Application Requirements
First-year students and sophomores from any major are eligible to apply. The application consists of:
- An unofficial transcript
- A one-page essay explaining interest in the Grand Challenges and motivation for joining the program
- Two faculty endorsers, one from a science or engineering discipline and one from the Humanities and Arts, Social Sciences, or Business.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is the program only for engineering majors?
No. While the program was approved by the National Academy of Engineering, it is open to all undergraduate majors at WPI. Students in any major can develop the five program competencies in the context of complex societal problems.
If I join the program, do I need to focus all of my academic work on a particular Grand Challenge?
You may if you wish, but it’s definitely not required. College is a natural time for exploration. Any student who wants to make a difference in the general areas of sustainability, human health, security, or quality of life is a good fit for the program.
Can I apply even if I did not take a Great Problems Seminar?
Yes. While the Grand Challenges Scholars Program is a great way for students to build upon their work in a Great Problems Seminar (GPS), taking a GPS class is not required.
Will I need to take additional courses?
No. Grand Challenges Scholars complete the same course and project requirements as all undergraduates. The only additional requirement for Scholars is to create an ePortfolio that demonstrates development in the five competency areas by reflecting on multiple project, course, and extracurricular experiences.
How much of a time commitment is involved?
Scholars will be required to attend at least two half-day or evening meetings each year, typically scheduled at the end of term breaks, to reflect on what they learned in the previous term or semester and add to their portfolio of work. These meetings are also a time to connect with fellow scholars and a network of advisors and mentors from multiple disciplines to revisit and possibly refine their plan of study.
What are the benefits of the program?
WPI Grand Challenges Scholars will be able to connect with a range of peers in multiple majors who are passionate about making a difference in the world. For academic and career planning, scholars will have access to faculty and staff mentors with multiple areas of expertise related to the grand challenges. Most important, through the process of developing an ePortfolio, scholars will be poised to communicate what they’ve learned from their WPI experiences to potential employers, graduate schools, and other audiences.
Scholars will also be recognized at graduation and with a certificate from the National Academy of Engineering.