Logo: University of Southern California

NAE Grand Challenges Summit Co-Hosts Announce the Grand Challenge Scholars Program

"A pool of graduates prepared and motivated to address the most challenging problems facing the world and the nation"
Eric Mankin
June 15, 2009 —

Three engineering schools have announced the establishment of a new program, the Grand Challenge Scholars, designed to prepare groups of exceptional engineering students to solve a set of problems designated by the National Academy of Engineering as the most urgent and critical issues facing the world today.

NAE Grand Challenges Summit co-hosts: Tom Katsouleas (Pratt-Duke), Richard K. Miller (Olin), Yannis C. Yortsos (USC Viterbi).

The NAE posed 14 "grand challenges" in 2008. They include clean energy alternatives, making solar energy economical, preventing nuclear terror, advancing health informatics, ensuring clean water for all people and reverse-engineering the brain.

The NAE call led to the highly successful Summit on the Grand Challenges held at Duke University March 1-3, co-sponsored by Duke's Pratt School of Engineering, the Olin College of Engineering, and the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering. These three schools have followed up on the summit by initiating the Grand Challenge Scholars Program.

The program will be both curricular and extra-curricular, emphasizing five key areas in which students will be evaluated, according to the program's website, http://www.grandchallengescholars.org/

Those areas include:

  1. Research: A project or independent research relating to a “Grand Challenge.”
    NAE President Charles Vest addressed Grand Challenges Summit. [photo by Les Todd]
  2. Interdisciplinary curriculum that we call Engineering + : preparing engineering students to work at the overlap with public policy, business, law, ethics, human behavior, risk management,  as well as medicine and the sciences.  Examples that span these disciplines with a coherent theme are: Energy and the Environment, Sustainability, Uncertainty and Optimization, etc. 
  3. Entrepreneurship:  Preparing students to translate invention to innovation by developing market ventures that scale to global solutions in the public interest.
  4. Global dimension:   Developing the students’ global perspective and ability to lead innovation in a global economy. 
  5. Service learning:  Develop and deepen students’ social consciousness and their motivation to bring their technical expertise to bear on societal problems. Programs such as Engineers Without Borders, or Engineering World Health may be adapted to satisfy this component and/or component four.

The Grand Challenge Scholars Program was envisioned to initially attract and incent a select cadre of 20-30 students at each school, and it is hoped that it will be replicated at many other outstanding engineering programs across the country to yield a pool of graduates per year uniquely prepared and motivated to address the most challenging problems facing the world and the nation. Moreover, the program will serve to pilot innovative educational approaches that will eventually become the mainstream educational paradigm for all engineering students.

Each participating institution is expected to develop its own specific realization of the five components; and students receiving the Grand Challenges Scholar distinction will be endorsed by their own institution, as well as by the National Academy of Engineering.