Great Problems Seminars

The Great Problem Seminars (GPS) give first-year students and faculty the opportunity to step outside their disciplines to solve problems focused on themes of global importance, culminating in annual Poster Presentation Days that celebrate students’ innovative research. While tackling some of the world’s most pressing problems, students who choose these classes will develop skills, knowledge and confidence valuable not only for the rest of their college career, but also for life.

 Alumni of the GPS give more information about their experience in the video below and credit the course for:

GPS Can Change Our World

 Unlike most work in courses, these projects live on—used by people all over the world with over 65,000 downloads of student project materials to date!

A world map displaying all of the locations where the GPS projects are used.

GPS Course Offering

GPS courses are a two-term linked project experience taught by two faculty members.  In the first term you will explore many facets of a great problem and then, in the second, work in a team with support of faculty to produce a solution, and show it off to the whole campus!  Note that each course carries different credit. Click here to learn more about where the GPS credit  will count in your degree program.

Great Problems Seminars are available in either A-Term and B-term or B-term and C-term.  Current course offerings include:

A and B-Term:

Preregistration is closed. To register for one of these courses follow the registration procedure when registration opens on June 22.

Global climate change is here, from sea level rise, to stronger storms, and more dangerous wildfire seasons – just to name a few impacts. What does it mean to live in this new environment? What does it mean for our ecosystems and civilization? How can we adapt to a new and unpredictable climate and mitigate practices that could lead to further warming? We will examine the causes and consequences of climate change on the environment and people, incorporating a local to global approach. Both scientific (environment, ecology, wildlife, weather events) and humanistic (politics, ethics, economics, social justice) pieces of the climate puzzle will be investigated. This course will place a special emphasis on valuing differential impacts on vulnerable people and habitats. While working toward identifying a problem that your team can solve, you will build skills in critical thinking, teamwork, communication, and ethics.

This GPS carries 1/3 unit BB1000 credit and 1/3 unit INTL1000 (counts towards HUA) credit.

  • Course numbers FY 1100  and FY 1101 

Throughout most of Earth’s history, species disappeared at an average rate of 1 to 5 per year, and fossil evidence shows that five mass extinction catastrophes have occurred. Scientists estimate that we are witnessing the sixth mass extinction; species are currently disappearing at 1,000 to 10,000 times the normal background rate. Where are extinctions currently having the greatest impact? How might conservation efforts prevent extinctions? This Great Problems Seminar will examine debates about past and present causes of extinction, the factors that contribute to vulnerability or resiliency of endangered species, and the consequences of species loss. For example, studies now demonstrate that the trade of wild animals and increasing habitat loss driven by human activities are making pathogenic outbreaks such as the COVID-19 pandemic more common. Student project groups will focus on specific extinction-related problems and develop and present sustainable solution approaches based on their investigations. 

This GPS carries 1/3 unit BB1000 credit and 1/3 unit HU1100 credit.

  • Course numbers FY 1100  and FY 1101 

This course focuses on material resources and reusing them—recycling. It blends engineering with humanities and builds a framework for the world in which students will live, showing them how they can make the world different through their ingenuity and innovation. Policy and societal issues are also discussed in the context of the recovery and recycling. Students collaborate with the NSF Center for Resource Recovery and Recycling (CR3) and work on projects sponsored by leading global corporations.

This GPS carries 1/3 unit ES 1000 credit and 1/3 unit HU1100 credit.

  • Course numbers FY 1100 and FY 1101 

If the moment we are living in has revealed anything, it is that our contemporary modes of life are deeply unsustainable. The world’s ecosystems and social systems are vulnerable to a number of accelerating threats from environmental degradation and climate change to economic inequality and environmental injustice. The recent global pandemic has added to this and shone a light on unsustainability while also giving us a glimpse of a possible future with reduced fossil fuel use and carbon emissions. In this class we will look at these problems from a number of perspectives and try to understand what a transition to a more sustainable mode of existence might entail.

This GPS carries 1/3 unit SS1000 credit and 1/3 unit HU1100 credit.

  • Course numbers FY 1100  and FY 1101 

This course tackles one of humankind’s greatest challenges: How do you provide shelter for over 7 billion people, almost half of whom live on less than $5.50 a day? With rising slum populations and increasing natural disasters, homes damaged by earthquakes and overflowing refugee camps, how do we address the growing demands for safe living spaces?  What do we need to understand as designers, engineers, or aid workers to provide shelter for the world? Working in teams in this design studio, we will learn about relevant design concepts, the Design-Build process, materials, and structure to address this housing challenge. We will build a shelter-model that is affordable, safe, and appropriate for our selected population.

This GPS carries 1/3 unit ES1000 credit and 1/3 unit SSPS1000 credit.

  • Course numbers FY 1100 and FY 1101 

B and C-Term:

Preregistration is closed. To register for one of these courses follow the registration procedure when registration opens on June 22.

This course explores the concepts of development, technology, and water access in a remote region of southwest Morocco, where indigenous people have historically been denied access to basic human rights, including water and sanitation. In recent decades, climate change and other factors have further damaged the water access of these rural villages. To both study and address the problem, this course will explore the culturally appropriate and technologically advanced methods of harvesting water from fog that have been used by the NGO Dar Si Hmad (http://darsihmad.org/fog/ ), which operates the largest fog water harvesting system in the world. Our approach is integrative, where students work on teams to learn approaches and concepts from engineering, humanities, and the integration of these disciplines.

This GPS carries 1/3 unit HU1100 credit and 1/3 unit ES1000 credit.

  • Course numbers FY 1100 and FY 1101

Should where you grow up and go to school determine how well you do in life? Students will study educational systems around the world and explore how factors like nature and nurture, opportunity and outcome, and the availability of education technology affect a person’s life.

This GPS carries 1/3 unit CS1010* credit and 1/3 unit SSPS1000 credit.

*Will not count as CS in distribution requirements for any but CS majors.

  • Course numbers FY 1100 and FY1101

Every community faces energy problems. Solutions to these problems involve both positive and negative consequences. Fossil fuels currently dominate the energy landscape but have 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 GPS carries 1/3 unit PH1000 credit and 1/3 unit SSPS1000 credit.

  • Course numbers FY 1100 and FY 1101