Chapman’s Grand Challenges Initiative program is unique in the fact that students are taught how to utilize the skills they learn in the classroom to tackle real-world problems. Recently, Chapman and GCI Alum Slade Laszewski and former Chapman professor, Dr. Shenyue Jia, published a paper that started as a GCI project. Recently, we were able to sit down with them to ask about their research and their time working with GCI. 

Not only was Dr. Shenyue Jia a post-doctoral fellow at Chapman University, but she also taught the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) course at Schmid College. Laszewski was a student in the GIS course at the same time as GCI, which allowed him to use his newly learned mapping skills for his GCI project. His GCI project and subsequent publication focused on the relationship between population data at the census tract level and how prone the distinct zones of California are to fires. Their research proved that the higher-growth tracts were found to be more prone to wildfire, and the opposite was true for low-growth tracts. With more land in higher-growth tracts, the wide spaces would be extremely vulnerable, especially with fire prone wildland vegetation that is native to so many areas of Southern California.  


After we were notified about the publication of their research, we were eager to learn about how GCI helped form this project and contributed to bringing their work to the point it is at today. They both agreed that having a great group made a very strong foundation for a successful GCI project. “Having a group you can trust will allow for more open communication and ultimately lead to a successful end result.” Laszewski and Jia also mentioned the benefits of having 3 full semesters to work on their project, emphasizing that the longer timeline allowed for students to take their time and truly understand what they were trying to accomplish. While having a good group is important, they also recognized the importance of taking advantage of the resources that GCI provides. GCI has an amazing faculty of postdoctoral fellows who are always eager to help. Laszewski said that the professors helped give his group direction when they were feeling stuck. It was also mentioned that Laszewski and Jia turned to Chapman SGA (Student Government Association) to help with funding for their project. We asked Laszewski and Jia what advice they would give to students going through GCI currently; Laszewski, from a student’s perspective, said to “get connected with your professors early to decide what research you want to do, know your teammates’ strengths so you can all work on your project effectively, and most importantly ask questions!” Jia from a professor’s perspective, advised that the projects that find the most success are ones that have concrete goals that are achievable and not overly ambitious.


Before we said goodbye, we asked Laszewski and Jia one last question, “what was your favorite memory from your time working with GCI?” Laszewski said that his favorite memory was the friends he made along the way (with a hearty laugh) and Jia said that she loved seeing how a team can come together to achieve a common goal! 

Interview conducted by: Sylvie Bastardo and Micah Kim