GCC 5501 FAQ

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I don't really understand what this class is about, can you give me more details?

This is a student driven course that that focuses on solving real world problems. Students will work on teams to develop project ideas into an actual plan to take action. That could be a plan for a new business, a new non-profit, something an existing business or nonprofit can take on, a media campaign, a new student group,  a policy intervention, etc. This course is designed to be taken after taking another GCC course but students who have not previously taken a GCC course can apply.

Who should take this class?

Any student looking to dive deeper into what it takes to actually have an impact on a Grand Challenge. If you are looking for a class where you can sit in the back of the room and take notes, this is not the class for you.

What material is covered in the class?

The Knowledge to Impact curriculum has been developed by a group of people who teach GCC courses and by the Acara program at the Institute on the Environment. This curriculum forms the core of this class. It includes a set of skills (design thinking, theory of change, value proposition design, presentation literacy), personal attributes (like leadership, empathy, and intercultural competency) and knowledge required to implement solutions.

The syllabus lists a long list of collaborating faculty. What is their involvement in the class?

The collaborating faculty come from across the university and will be available to consult with students and cover specific topics as needed. Students will be coming into the class from a wide range of majors and Grand Challenge interests, and the projects will also be widely distributed across topics.

What Grand Challenge topics are covered?

This is not a class about a specific Grand Challenge. The purpose instead is to provide students an opportunity to respond with more focus to a grand challenge of their choice. Student solutions will address a problem that is about a broadly defined Grand Challenge; examples of applicable areas include water, immigration and refugees, energy, housing, educational opportunity gap, public health, food and sustainable agriculture. Topics outside this range are also acceptable.

Is this about challenges here in Minnesota or elsewhere in the world?

Anywhere in the world. The instructional team has contacts and resources in a number of countries, in addition to contacts here in Minnesota, that students can use. The location of the proposed project is a factor in the final project selection. If students choose to work in a country where the instructional team has no resources, the students need to show they have their own contacts.

Is it required that I have taken another GCC class before this?

You must have either taken at least one GCC course before or a similar course where you developed a project idea. Students who have taken a previous GCC course can register without a permission number but students who haven’t must contact an instructor for a permission number.

I tried to register and the system said I needed a permission number. What does that mean?

It means that either you haven’t taken a GCC course previously or you are not yet a junior in terms of credits. In either case contact the course instructor(s) to make your case to get permission. There are many other classes that can fulfill the previous course requirement.

What are the prerequisites?

You must have either taken at least one GCC course before (up to and including Fall 2017 semester courses) or a similar course where you developed a project idea. Students who have taken a previous GCC course can register without a permission number but students who haven’t must contact an instructor for a permission number.

Is it open to graduate and undergraduate students?

Yes. But undergraduates must have junior standing or above (61 credits or more).

Do I have to have a project idea to get into the course?

No. But this is an advanced project-based class and the preference is that students have experience in project teams and know some of the basic material we will cover. The assumption is that every GCC course has done some of this but other courses do as well.

I did a project in a course but I didn’t really like the topic (or my team), can I take the class and do a different project?


I have a project I developed with students in another class, but I am the only one that can take this class. Is that ok?


Does this class satisfy any Liberal Education requirements?


What happens if I have a project idea but no one else in the class wants to work on this topic?

Based on their initial topical interest, students will be placed into Community of Practice (COP) working groups. Over the first part of the course, students may form a team with other students in the COP or may continue alone on their idea, but still will remain part of the COP.. Teams will continue throughout the semester in the COP and share and review work. 

What happens with my project after the class is over?

That depends on you. If you want to continue on the project the instructional staff will be available to you to advise on next steps. There are opportunities through competitions, scholarships and internships to find some funding and spend time on taking action on your idea. How to find get started on funding is a topic of the class. If you don’t want to continue on your project, that’s fine too, it won’t affect your grade.

Has this class been taught before?

Spring 2018 is the first offering of this class. However, the core idea of this class, (working with students to take project ideas to an actionable plan), has been done before in courses offered by Acara.

Have previous students actually done anything with their ideas?

Yes! There are many examples of students continuing projects designed in GCC courses and other similar Acara courses. If any of the student team members are still students at UMN the following term, they would be eligible to enter the Acara Challenge in March 2019 and possibly win up to $5,000 to pursue your idea. There may also be funding available at the end of the course but those details are tentative.

Examples of recent projects include:

  • Kaloli Energy was an impact venture designed in GCC 5005 Fall 2016 by a team of undergraduate and graduate students to address deforestation in Uganda. Two students spent the summer in Uganda and now have a pilot venture to deliver clean-burning briquettes that are made of organic waste to households in Kampala.
  • Vetiver Solutions was started by a team of undergraduates in GCC 5003 Fall 2016 to increase the income of rural Haitians by sustainably improving agricultural soil through living plant barriers while simultaneously creating jobs for local women. They are currently researching the viability of their idea in Haiti in partnership with a Haitian NGO.
  • Minnesota Freedom Fund was developed in Acara’s PA 5743 course in January 2016 to help low-income people in Minnesota post bail.  View an article from the Star Tribune about Freedom Fund’s efforts.

View examples of other projects that alumni have piloted.