The Grand Challenges Scholars Program at Olin

Olin’s GCSP helps students leverage their educational experiences and participation in the Olin community to galvanize lifelong learning and community participation.

This objective is grounded in the intersection of three overlapping areas: Developing Self (“I”), Developing Olin (“We”), and Developing the World (“All of Us”).

Developing Self: The five competencies of GCSP as set forth by the NAE (see below) enumerate skills and mindsets to be developed by the program participant, constituting a significant program of self-development.  In addition, the undergraduate years are typically ones of great potential for self-development regardless of major or course of study; we believe GCSP can provide support for students to connect broader self-development with the professional development inherent in the NAE’s program. Our aim is to help our students grow into their professional identities and integrate those identities with their whole selves.

Developing Olin: The social consciousness competency tells us “serving people is the vision served by the Grand Challenges.” At Olin we believe that serving people begins with one’s local community and spreads to the global community. Thus developing the Olin community is an important part of our GCSP, both in its own right and as preparation for developing the larger communities in which our students participate. Developing the Olin community also helps our students learn what it means to participate in a community of practice and how that community informs their own identity. Through this objective, GCSP benefits our students as individuals and our community as a whole.

Developing the World: Serving the larger community is an explicit aim of the NAE’s program. At Olin we choose to define the larger community in the broadest way possible: the world. Some of our students might choose to focus on other communities at different scales; we want to encourage them to think broadly about what “their community” can mean. GCSP is one way that we at Olin help prepare our students to fulfill our mission of doing good in the world.

How can students participate in Olin's GCSP? 

Opportunities range from casual participation to completing the requirements to graduate as a Grand Challenges Scholar. Activities include: 

  • Attending a GCSP-sponsored event - just once or throughout the undergraduate career. Events include the ongoing Interesting Conversations series and the annual Soirée, at which Scholars share with the community their final projects. 
  • Keeping a record of thoughts and conversations about what you care about, what you're learning, and what you want to do in the world, and what connections you see among those. 
  • Taking a GCSP course: a 1-credit introductory GCSP Seminar or a 4-credit culminating AHS course titled Change the World: Personal Values, Global Impacts, and Making an Olin GCSP. 
  • Sitting on the GCSP student steering committee.
  • Completing the requirements to receive the designation of Grand Challenges Scholar on your transcript: 
    • Take both GCSP courses and receive passing grades in both. 
      • During the transition to the new program, completing both courses is recommended—completing Change the World is strongly recommended—but not strictly required.
    • Complete a Personal Vision and Mission project:
      • The project includes a free-form response, in any medium, to the questions “who am I and what is my place in the world,” as well as written responses to specific prompts around learning experiences and personal values. 
      • Addressing the prompts will require having had learning experiences, in classes and/or otherwise, that include pursuit of the five GCSP competencies listed below. It will also require significant personal reflection. 
      • This project is the final deliverable of the Change the World course. During the transition to the new program, a student wishing to graduate as a Grand Challenges Scholar without taking the course will still need to complete this project.

GCSP Competencies and Connections to the National Academy of Engineering

The Grand Challenges Scholars Program was created by academic leaders at USC Viterbi School of Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering at Duke, and Olin College of Engineering in 2009 as a response to the NAE's Grand Challenges report. Olin's program will maintain its connection with the larger nationwide GCSP under the auspices of the National Academy of Engineering. In particular, the five competencies defined by the National Academy of Engineering will continue to apply to Olin’s program: 

  1. Research/creative: Mentored research or project experience related to a Grand Challenge to enhance technical competence 
  2. Multidisciplinary: Understanding gained through experience of the multidisciplinary character of implementable and viable Grand Challenge solutions 
  3. Business/entrepreneurship: Understanding gained through experience that viable business models are necessary for successful implementation of Grand Challenge solutions 
  4. Multicultural: Understanding gained through experience that serious consideration of cultural issues is mandatory for all viable Grand Challenge solutions 
  5. Social consciousness: Deepen social consciousness and motivation to address societal problems, often gained through service learning, because serving people is the vision served by the Grand Challenges

Find more information about the national program here...

GCSP Courses and Olin Connections

GCSP Seminar: The GCSP seminar course will help students establish mindsets and habits that will help them make intentional choices and engage with self-reflection throughout their time at Olin. In addition to other learning activities, each student will keep a GCSP journal that includes their own evolving plan for pursuing GCSP goals and personal development. This course will be offered for 1 credit in the ISR model, starting fall 2019.

Change the World: The GCSP culminating course provides mentorship and support as students synthesize their educational and developmental experiences, draw connections, and grapple with big questions. The final deliverable for the semester (and for the GCSP experience overall) is the Personal Vision and Mission project. 

Olin’s GCSP is one of many activities aligned with ‘doing good in the world.’ It provides opportunities for students to opt into a range of engagements with personal reflection, exploration of ethics and values, and development of relevant competencies. While the program is not and should not be the only venue through which students can engage in such activities, it does provide an established and flexible umbrella under which a variety of opportunities can be offered. We will continue to look for ways that GCSP, with its activities and resources, can connect with and support other efforts throughout the curriculum to provide students with these learning and growth experiences.

Student Steering Committee

The student steering committee will continue to be integral in refining and running the program. Key tasks for the steering committee will include:

  • Communicating with current and incoming students about the program
  • Recruiting members for the steering committee
  • Organizing events to benefit the general Olin community, under the umbrella of GCSP, such as:
    • “Interesting Conversations” with faculty and staff
    • The Senior Soiree in April 
  • Helping to refine, assess, and monitor the program

For more information, contact Alison Wood, Director of Olin's GCSP:

To receive event updates and other relevant messages, subscribe to Olin's GCSP mailing list.