Department of Social Sciences

Great Problems, Great Minds Seminar Series

The Great Problems, Great Minds seminar series explores the major problems facing humanity as we move into the heart of the 21st century. At a technical school, we often forget that humans play a major role in shaping the implementation of every technical solution that is developed and applied. Major problems faced by society include climate change, food security, energy security, education, poverty, and disease, all of which have partial solutions that have been opposed by segments of society. As we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, a simple solution like a mask doesn’t work if people don’t accept it.

In this series, we’re bringing in some of the world’s Great Minds to speak on the Great Problems facing society. We will discuss potential solutions, and especially the interaction of people with potential technical solutions.

For more information, contact Assistant Professor of Social Sciences Hao Huang.

Fall 2021 Events (More Information TBA)

Sept. 2— Nuclear Energy and Society, Today and Tomorrow 

Sept. 9 — NASA Health and Air Quality Applications

Sept. 16 — The Lonely Ideas: A History of Chinese Technology

Sept. 23 — U.S. Interstate Trade Will Mitigate the Negative Impact of Climate Change On Crop Profit

Sept. 30 —The Geography of Brains in the Sunbelt and Rustbelt

Oct. 7 — From Food Deserts to Supermarket Redlining: Reframing Discussions of Food Access

Oct. 14 — Guest Speaker Tanya Corbin

Oct. 21 — A Weapon or a Default Option? Nationalism, Weaponized Interdependence, and South Korea’s Strategies for Mutual Prosperity in East Asia

Nov. 4 — India’s Rural-Urban Transition


Spring 2021 Seminars

Cia Verschelden, M.S.W., Ed.D.

Cia Verschelden, M.S.W., Ed.D., discusses strategies and practices for creating learning environments that can help students in certain minoritized groups recover cognitive capacity.

Financial Foundations for Thriving Communities

Shayne Kavanagh, senior manager of research at the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada, discusses a new formula for how local governments can maintain their financial health and thereby contribute to a thriving community.

Inventing Future Cities

Michael Batty, Bartlett Professor of Planning at University College London (UCL), explores what we need to understand about cities in order to invent their future, focusing on many of the ideas concerning science, prediction, and complexity of the last 50 years.

Movement Analytics for Sustainable Mobility

Guest speaker Harvey Miller, a professor in the Department of Geography at The Ohio State University and Director of the Center for Urban and Regional Analysis, discusses the concept of sustainable mobility and how new, data-driven science helps to address essential transportation issues. 

Immigrant Entrepreneurship and Urban Development

Cathy Yang Liu, professor and chair of the Department of Public Management and Policy at Georgia State University, discusses theories and evidence around various dimensions of immigrant entrepreneurship including economic development, community building, transnational activities, high-technology, and urban policy.

Do EU Regions Benefit from Smart Specialization?

Guest speaker David Rigby, a professor of geography and statistics at UCLA, discusses smart specialization, a framework developed by EU policymakers to identify new growth paths connected to the existing knowledge cores of regions, and looks at GDP growth and employment growth in EU cities from 1981 to 2015.

Geospatial Analysis in Health Studies

Guest speaker Xun Shi, a professor of geography at Dartmouth College, discusses geospatial analyses used in epidemiology and public health studies, including discussion of some fundamental concepts, theories, methodologies, technologies, and case studies.

Urban Health Risk Mapping

Guest speaker Junfeng Jiao, an associate professor and director of the Urban Information Lab at the University of Texas at Austin, discusses his work with a machine learning system that can measure the health effects of neighborhood environments in ten major U.S. cities using public data.

AI in the Wild

Peter Dauvergne, a professor of international relations at the University of British Columbia, argues that although artificial intelligence is generating some environmental gains, powerful corporations and states are exaggerating the benefits, ignoring the risks, and deploying AI in ways antithetical to sustainability.

Breaking the Social Media Prism

Chris Bail, a professor of sociology and public policy at Duke University and the author of Breaking the Social Media Prism: How to Make Our Platforms Less Polarizing, discusses how stepping outside of our echo chambers can make us more polarized, not less.

Building Walkable Communities

Guest speaker Li Yin discusses her research using Geographical Information Systems (GIS), Remote Sensing (RS), Global Positioning System (GPS), and artificial intelligence (AI) to explore how people interact with places for better health and quality of life.

Fall 2020 Seminars

Jeff Terry Seminar Slide Thumbnail

What happens when people, the economy, and technology clash? Social Sciences Department Chair Jeff Terry provides the kickoff lecture for the seminar series.

Ken Caldeira Seminar Slide Thumbnail

Ken Caldeira is a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science and a professor at Stanford University’s Department of Earth System Science. In this lecture, he considers how people’s values and goals affect decision making around climate solutions.

Bonnie Jenkins

Bonnie Jenkins served from 2009 to 2017 as Special Envoy and Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, U.S. Department of State. She is the Founder and Executive Director of the Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation; a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution; and teaches at Georgetown University and George Washington University.

Great Problems, Great Minds: Infrastructure Resilience Under Climate Uncertainty Presentation Thumbnail

Costa Samaras, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, discusses stormwater infrastructure in the United States and how infrastructure managers, engineers, researchers, and policymakers can manage uncertainty and ensure climate-safe infrastructure systems for the 21st century and beyond.


Engineering Humanitarian Missions Slide Thumbnail

Shamsnaz Bhada discusses systems engineering, which pushes the domain boundary by not only supporting engineering missions but also humanitarian and social missions. Bhada is an assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Nuclear Weapons and Society and You! slide thumbnail

Martin Pfeiffer argues that our distorted official nuclear history hampers us from acknowledging and fixing past and ongoing harms from nuclear energy projects. He also argues that this distorted history threatens democratic governance by concealing past social movements and citizen governance around nuclear weapons. Pfieffer is a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at the University of New Mexico.

Rep. John Shimkus

Nuclear waste has no final disposition solution in the United States, even though Yucca Mountain, the proposed site of a deep geological nuclear waste storage facility in Nevada, is the law of the land. John Shimkus, a Member of the United States House of Representatives for the 15th District of Illinois, will discuss the prospects of developing a solution to this issue.

Protecting the Vote slide thumbnail

In an age of disinformation, and amidst growing questions about the legitimacy of American government, protecting the vote means building a participatory representative democracy suitable for the 21st century, and defending it against enemies foreign and domestic who would do it harm. Alexander Konetzki is a Chicago-based lawyer who served on the voter protection staff of President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign. 

Human Dynamics in Smart Cities Collage

Xinyue Ye is an associate professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning at Texas A&M University, where he also directs the Urban Data Science Lab. In this talk, he shares case studies illustrating human-centered urban informatics in the big and new data context.

Jesse Jenkins Decarbonizing Electricity Title Slide

Jesse Jenkins is an assistant professor at Princeton University’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Andlinger Center for Energy and Environment. In this webinar, he discusses the deep decarbonization of the electricity sector, the portfolio of solutions needed to reach this key goal at an affordable cost, and the potential role of commercial fusion power plants in future 100 percent carbon-free electricity systems.

David Kang

David Kang is the Crutcher Professor of International Relations and Director of the Korean Studies Institute at the University of Southern California. In this talk, he argues that if scholars and policymakers want a meaningful discussion of a way out of the U.S.-China conflict, they need a more careful analysis of the East Asian historical record itself.