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Grand Challenges

The Grand Challenges Scholars Program (GCSP) is a combined curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular targeted experiential program with five competencies that are designed to prepare the next generation of students for addressing the grand challenges facing society. The GCSP is an international initiative that takes place at universities across the globe. Each institution creates their own specific realization of how the competencies are implemented, which are approved by the GCSP steering committee.

In the Fall of 2019, McMaster University joined and implemented the GCSP as the first Canadian institution and a key component of The Pivot.


What is Grand Challenges?

The McMaster Grand Challenges Scholars Program (GCSP) is the first of its kind in Canada and supports the commitment to educate engaged citizen scholars who will transform our world. The GCSP is an experiential-learning initiative that spans across students' entire undergraduate careers. The program strives to prepare students, not only for the challenges that the world currently faces, but also for the challenges that our planet will face in the coming years. The McMaster GCSP is a Canadian exemplar for educating future leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs who are imbued with global perspectives and social awareness.

Over their degree, students will engage in enriching courses, deep reflection, and related experiences outside of the classroom in order to develop their exceptional skills in five key competencies:

  • Discover+Create
  • Integrate+Solve

  • Business+Innovate

  • Global+Diverse

  • Citizen+Community

At the end of their degree, students will have developed a portfolio that documents their journey through the program. Students will also be awarded with certification, and their status as Grand Challenges Scholars will be recognized globally.

The Grand Challenges Scholars Program is open to students from all faculties and has no cost for enrollment. This program is supported by the Faculty of Engineering.


Become a Grand Challenges Scholar and develop these skills:

  • Realize your potential 
  • Work with students from different disciplinary backgrounds 
  • Solve multi-faceted problems
  • Embrace ambiguity as you move beyond the classroom into the real world
  • Create real and sustainable change in your own community
  • Develop solutions to grand challenges that contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

In September 2015, Canada along with 192 other UN member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The agenda envisions a secure world free of poverty and hunger, with full and productive employment, access to quality education and universal health coverage, the achievement of gender equality of opportunity and the empowerment of all women and girls, and an end to environmental degradation. By enrolling in the GCSP, students will be taking on the grand challenges posed by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Other Institutions Involved

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Duke University
  • Auburn University 
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • National University of Singapore

The Five GCSP Competencies

Students who complete the McMaster GCSP with have successfully demonstrated competencies in the following areas:


Mentored research or project experience. (Click for more)


Understand and bridge multiple and diverse ways of defining problems and posing solutions. (Click for more)


Understand importance of viable business models in engineering. (Click for more)


Understanding that considering cultural issues is mandatory in engineering solutions. (Click for more)


Deepen social consciousness to address societal problems. (Click for more)

Program Requirements

In order to complete the GCSP program, students must achieve a combination of the following credentials that demonstrates engagement across all competencies, with scholarly level engagement in at least two competencies.

Foundational (1 point)

This credential is awarded to a student that has demonstrated an essential understanding of a GCSP competency.

Visionary (2 points)

This credential is awarded to a student that has demonstrated a deep understanding of a GCSP competency.

Scholarly (3 points)

This credential is awarded to a student that has demonstrated excellent achievement of a GCSP competency

To successfully complete the GCSP, students must earn at least two Scholarly credits and must possess no more than two Foundational credits. Each level of engagement stacks upon the previous iteration, demonstrating increasing achievement of a competency

Students may earn GCSP points by the following means:

McMaster University offers hundreds of courses that provide enriching experiences rooted in the five competencies, as represented in the MGCSP Course Catalogue. Completion of a course offered in the catalogue will reward students with up to the number of points indicated by the catalogue, pending the submission and approval of the students' reflections on those courses.

McMaster University provides many valuable learning opportunities outside of the classroom. Some of these experiences may be counted as points towards a competency. Experiences will be considered on a case-by-case basis, and may include the following examples:

  • Studying/working abroad: 1 point towards Global+Diverse per academic term.
  • Service (volunteering, tutoring, etc.) with local organizations: 1 point towards Citizen+Community per academic term.
  • Laboratory/research position: 1 point towards Discover+Create per academic term (2 points per academic term if full-time).
  • Obtaining a provisional patent: 1 point towards Business+Innovate.


ACTIVE projects Students who complete the GCSP will have successfully completed an ACTIVE project. While the specifics of an ACTIVE project may change from student to student, a project must meet several requirements:

A project is completed in consultation with a mentor that guides the student towards a feasible implementation in the real world. 

A project exhibits a thorough consideration of the culture in which it is to be implemented.

A project leads to a proposal/prototype that is mechanical, physical, or scientific in nature.

A project leads to a proposal/prototype that clearly contributes towards one of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

A project leads to a proposal/prototype with a sustainable financial plan.

A project must take place in an experiential learning environment, with a substantial time commitment of at least 60 hours over the course of the project. McMaster’s criteria for experiential learning are as follows:

  • The student is in a workplace or simulated workplace
  • The student is exposed to authentic demands that improve their employability, interpersonal skills, and transition to the workforce
  • The experience is structured with purposeful and meaningful activities
  • The student applies the university program knowledge and/or essential employability skills
  • The experience includes self-assessment and evaluation of the student’s performance and learning outcomes by the employer and/or university
  • The experience counts towards course credit or credential completionOR is formally recognized by the university as meeting the above 5 criteria


NOTE: MacChangers is the primary option for the ACTIVE Project requirement of the GCSP (and will be applied retroactively to those who have already completed MacChangers). Other ways to satisfy this requirement will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. 


Stage 1

Complete courses and experiences listed in the GCSP Catalogue, and/or an ACTIVE project


In your penultimate year, apply for entry into the program by demonstrating partial achievement of the competencies and/or completion of an ACTIVE project

Stage 2

Continue completion of courses and experiences and/or ACTIVE project, build your portfolio by submitting reflections after each completed item

The Grand Challenges Scholars Program spans an undergraduate student's degree (3- 5 year program). During the first stage of the program, students complete courses from the Course Catalogue that contribute towards the five GCSP competencies. While there is no requirement to report these experiences at this stage, GCSP staff members are available to guide and assist students. 

Students apply for entry into the program in their penultimate year, including deep reflections of the experiences that they have completed and how those experiences have helped them in acquiring the five GCSP competencies. Once enrolled in the program, students actively participate in the program by continuing to develop their competencies and submitting reflections at least once per academic term.

Following enrollment, students spend the final two years of their degrees solidifying their expertise in the GCSP competencies, building a portfolio of their journey by submitting reflections along the way. Once scholars have met or surpassed the requirements of the program, they will be issued certification around the time of their graduation.

Note: an ACTIVE project may be completed at either Stage of the program. 

About Us

Contact Us

Kyle Ansilio

Kyle Ansilio

Program Developer - Experiential Learning


Ext. 24635

Cameron Churchill

Cameron Churchill



Ext. 23179


John Hodgins Engineering Building 216
McMaster University 
1280 Main St W, Unit 38
Hamilton ON L8S 4M4


Phone: 905 525 9140 ext. 24635