Robin Chase, Founder of Zipcar, to Speak at WPI's 'Great Problems Seminars' Kick-Off on August 26

4th Annual Program is Part of University's First Year Experience
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August 23, 2010

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Transportation innovator Robin Chase, founder and former CEO of Zipcar, the largest car-sharing company in the world, will speak to first-year students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) at 5 p.m. on Thursday, August 26, about the need to rethink how our society uses its assets, the business opportunities that arise from "unused capacity," and the underexplored value propositions connected to expending less of our limited resources. Chase's lecture, which is free and open to the public, will kick off WPI's 4th annual "Great Problems Seminars," which is part of the university's innovative First Year Experience. The event will be held in Alden Memorial.

One of TIME magazine's "100 Most Influential People" of 2009, Chase founded Zipcar a decade ago in Cambridge, Mass. (WPI is committed to investing in sustainable solutions and has had a partnership with Zipcar since 2008.) Chase is also the founding CEO of GoLoco, an online ridesharing community. Her "Great Problems Seminars" lecture, "Solving the World's Problems: How People + Platforms = Speed + Scale," will explore why now is the time to focus on the world's most pressing problems, including climate change, water scarcity, lack of education, poor health, decreasing life expectancy, food insecurity, sustainability, and HIV/AIDs. Through the lecture, Chase will highlight the five points to spur innovation: problems, time, new thinking, low cost of inputs, and experimentation.

"As an entrepreneur, Robin Chase is working on solutions to one of the great problems the United States is facing--transportation--in a way that fits extraordinarily well with the Great Problems Seminars concept," said WPI Associate Dean for the First Year Kris Wobbe, "and that is to understand a problem from a variety of perspectives to arrive at a solution that will be implemented. In this regard, Robin is a perfect fit to kick off WPI's fourth annual Great Problems Seminars."

In 2007 the university launched the "Great Problems Seminars" as a new approach to WPI's first-year experience, thanks to the generous support of Eric Hahn, a 1980 graduate of WPI and partner of the Inventures Group in Palo Alto, Calif. The seminars focus on problems in the areas of food, energy, health, and engineering for sustainability--rather than on disciplines or departments or majors.

"Sustainability is the theme of one of our 'Great Problems Seminars' courses, and Robin Chase's work certainly is all about doing more with less," Wobbe explained. "She is a prominent thought leader, a successful entrepreneur, and a good global citizen. I know her work and her approach to business--and life--will resonate with students."

The addition of the Great Problems Seminars provides students with important early exposure to WPI's project-based curriculum and helps them develop the skills necessary for success in their future project work; as a requirement for graduation from WPI, students must complete two projects in addition to their course work. Undertaken in the junior and senior years, these projects provide WPI students with opportunities to apply classroom and lab-acquired knowledge to solve important real-world problems. Student projects are managed either on or off campus, and often take place at sites that are facilitated by WPI's Global Projects Program in 26 cities on five continents. The junior-year project is known as the Interactive Qualifying Project, and it facilitates student tackling societal issues related to science and technology. The senior-year brings the Major Qualifying Project, through which students work in teams to define a problem and then develop novel and creative solutions.