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Great Problems Seminars Lead Institution: Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA Collaborating Institutions: University research center; cultural & educational institutions; non-profit; community programs Category: First Year Date Implemented: Fall 2007 Website: http://www.wpi.edu/academics/Undergraduate/FirstYear/gps.html Program Description: Great Problems Seminars (GPS) engage first year students with current events, societal problems, and human need; require critical thinking, information literacy, and evidence-based writing; develop effective teamwork, time management, organization, and personal responsibility; and the senior year; (3) increased awareness of the impacts of provide first year students with a project experience that engineering interventions and solutions on environment and prepares them for more substantial required projects. Current culture; (4) big picture thinking about one's professional GPS offerings have either a singular focus problem (energy, development; (5) appreciation of complexity of real life issues food, healthcare) or analyze the NAE Grand Challenges. and embracing humanities and social science offerings on Courses are team-taught by faculty from Engineering, Arts and campus; (6) self-exploration via increased critical thinking, Sciences, and Business. The instructors are questioning canon, defining professional present concurrently, demonstrating mutual interests earlier; (7) teamwork; (8) im- respect and modeling intellectual discourse proved oral, written and public communi- and learning. Grades are largely based on cations; and (9) improved success at written work and projects, not quizzes and attaining internships and summer employ- tests. In the first half of the course, faculty ment post-GPS. and students explore the depth and breadth Assessment Information: GPS is assessed of the problem, developing an appreciation of the complexity externally each year to explore student attitudes towards and inter-relatedness of the technical, social, economic, attaining global learning outcomes, student and faculty percep- cultural, political, and historical issues using selected readings tions of the program, and student performance on a project from a variety of sources like news media, books, scholarly required for graduation. Methods include pre/post surveys of writings, or historical texts. The faculty's role is that of facilita- students, student and faculty focus groups, and surveys of tor and tutor in leading class discussions. Students respond to project advisors. A survey revealed that GPS students reported and further explore the issues through writing, discussion, and statistically significantly higher levels of engagement than non- open-ended problem solving, both as individuals and in teams. GPS students in working effectively in teams, developing a Invited speakers and experiential learning provide further greater understanding of contemporary and global issues, opportunities to cement knowledge and expand understanding. solving complex problems, and presenting and defending Teams of 3-5 students work on a project for the final half of the opinions by making judgments about information, validity of course, either developing a solution for a sponsor's problem or ideas, or quality of work based on a set of criteria. GPS alumni solving some aspect of the course's big problem. With substan- indicated they developed skills in project management, team- tial guidance, students research the problem, identify possible work, time management, presentation skills, critical thinking, solutions, select effective solutions taking into consideration team leadership, accepting critical feedback, and having real-world constraints, and design an implementation process confidence to speak with individuals in positions of power. and mechanisms to assess effectiveness. During the process, the Funding/Sustainability: Prior to initiation, WPI made a students are expected to communicate with sponsors, advisors, commitment to reinvigorating first year programs by investing external experts, and other teams, seeking feedback and advice. in a 50% new position, the Associate Dean for the First Year. The team produces a report and promotional literature targeted Costs specific to GPS are: summer support/course develop- to the audience from whom action is required as well as a ment, $35,000; instructor compensation, $65,000; and course poster presented to the WPI community in a joint GPS poster costs, $10,000. An alumnus made a substantial donation each of session. GPS was informed by pedagogical literature, and the first two years and the difference was funded from the faculty have been engaged in pedagogical research projects and university's operating budget; the University operating budget have used their background and expertise to inform course now provides full support for the program. We continue to hire activities. faculty who have designated responsibility for teaching in the Anticipated and Actual Outcomes: Anticipated outcomes GPS. Departments have an expectation to contribute by were increased disciplinary engagement, big picture thinking, allowing faculty participation. The program has funding to help appreciation for social context, self-exploration, teamwork, and cover faculty time if necessary. We solicit philanthropic improved oral, written, and public communications. Actual contributions to support the program, but the program is not outcomes included: (1) leadership in international Interactive contingent upon receiving external funding. WPI has fully Qualifying Projects (IQP) for graduation, which are interactive committed to the program as part of its academic operation. projects between social sciences and technical issues; (2) high Other key contributors are technology professionals, reference level of interest in Grand Challenges graduates in Global librarians, and the offices of Undergraduate Admissions and Perspectives Program and seamless transition to IQP and Major Academic Advising, which make incoming students aware of Qualifying Projects (MQP) in the student's major carried out in these courses when they register prior to their first semester. 31