Students Take the Grand Challenge at Tech

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Kari White
Assistant Director for Grand Challenges Living Learning Community
kari.white@gatech.edu 

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A truly collaborative program on campus that draws expertise from many departments in Student Affairs, Academic Affairs and Housing, the Grand Challenges Program combines the essential ingredients to help Tech students learn to tackle these grand challenges in a whole different way.

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  • Georgia Tech students participating in the new Grand Challenges program are led in exercises of rhythm and dance technique by Office of the Arts resident artist Sean Curran. Georgia Tech students participating in the new Grand Challenges program are led in exercises of rhythm and dance technique by Office of the Arts resident artist Sean Curran.
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Preventing nuclear terror. Providing worldwide access to clean water. Engineering better medicines. These are just a few of the many grand challenges that face the world today. The scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and policymakers of the future – our students – will develop the solutions to these pressing issues.

A truly collaborative program on campus that draws expertise from many departments in Student Affairs, Academic Affairs and Housing, the Grand Challenges Program combines the essential ingredients to help Tech students learn to tackle these grand challenges in a whole different way.

According to Kari White, Assistant Director for the Grand Challenges Living Learning Community (LLC), one of the most important components of this program is the ability to bring these first –year students together under one roof – to give them a home where they can live, eat, share ideas, and essentially build their own student led community. “Howell has given these students a base-camp on Tech’s campus and this is extremely helpful for new students trying to establish roots here at Tech.”

Students are given the freedom as well as the responsibility to plan functions for their fellow residents. They must go through a formal process of planning each event which includes submitting a proposal that details a budget, timeframe, and supplies needed. If the advisors approve the proposal, students are granted funding to execute their plans. To date, students have formed the following functioning committees:

  • The tailgate committee plans and cooks for tailgating before each home football game,
  • The CRC group works out together and plans physical and fitness activities for the community,
  • The culture committee finds events around town for students to attend, and
  • The in-house fun committee sets up movie nights and scavenger hunts to provide bonding activities within the residence hall.

These activities take the community to a new level by allowing students to create committees and plan their own events. Through these experiences, students develop a sense of family and connectedness amongst each other. When the students feel like the Grand Challenges Community is their home, they become involved, responsive, and work very well together.

It is this very sense of connectedness that helps these students learn how to identify and propose solutions, as a team, to the grand challenges in today’s world- the ultimate goal of the program. Although these grand challenges span across all disciplines ranging from healthcare to infrastructure, they are connected at their core to the issues of food, water, health, and energy. As a Grand Challenges class, students study how these concepts are interrelated and discover new ways to change what’s currently being done. In the fall semester, Dr. Wes Wynens, director of Leadership Education and Development, guides students through simulations in the Grand Challenges class that aids in learning the process of “decision thinking.” Questions such as how to make Howell healthier and how to create a more sustainable city are posed, and students must then propose viable solutions to these issues. Every assignment is turned in as a group and students learn teamwork skills that will be critical to helping them succeed before and after graduation.

And as a true test of their ability to work as a team, the final fall semester project for the Grand Challenges course is an 8-10 page paper on designing the perfect team. Students are required to articulate what constitutes a good team, as a team.

In their second semester, these same teams of students will take their second Grand Challenges course. Led by Dr. Robert Butera, this course will begin with applying students’ growing understanding of collaboration to real life challenges. As the semester progresses, students will identify a problem that their team would like to tackle and write a proposal for funding. Grand Challenges will award teams funding from a “Challenge Fund” to continue their ideas and solutions through a variety of mediums. While students won’t be expected to solve the world’s problems in a year, the hope is that the tools and skills learned will provide students with a base of intellectual resources to take on grand challenges throughout their lives.

Another exciting and enriching aspect of this program is the level of involvement by the sponsoring faculty associates and their willingness to participate in informal co-curricular activities. Their flexibility and adaptability has been unwavering as the ins and outs of this new LLC become apparent. White states, “We’d expect it to be challenging with such a large group of faculty, but they definitely surprised us in their flexibility, working around their own schedules and ours.”

Every Tuesday after the Grand Challenges class, students and faculty associates meet in the North Avenue Dining Hall for an informal lunch. Between five and ten faculty attend this lunch each week, with most attending on a regular basis. About 75 percent of the students in Grand Challenges attend the weekly lunches and have the opportunity to really get to know the faculty, none of whom even teach the students in class. And the interaction has been very positive. After only a few weeks of the program, faculty were asking students how they’re doing, how tests went, what their holiday plans are - really connecting on a more personal level.

Grand Challenges also hosts weekly Monday morning breakfasts with special guests from campus to enjoy breakfast and answer questions from the students. Dr. Rafael Bras, Provost; Dr. Colin Potts, Vice Provost; Dr. Bill Schafer, Vice President for Student Affairs; John Stein, Dean of Students; Dr. Gary May, Dean of College of Engineering; and Eran Mordel, the current SGA President; have all attended these breakfasts. This one-on-one exposure to high profile administrators and student leaders enables students to learn about Tech, courses, and career paths that they wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

Grand Challenges will be offered again next year for the incoming freshman class of 2013. Though a second year offering of this LLC has not yet been formalized, plans are being developed for the continuation of the program throughout the sophomore year.

For more information on the Grand Challenges program including how your department can participate in this program, contact Kari White kari.white@gatech.edu.

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Keywords
grand challenges, living learning communities
Status
  • Created By: Rachael Pocklington
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Nov 26, 2012 - 8:59am
  • Last Updated: Oct 7, 2016 - 11:13pm