The program was first proposed by Duke, Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering and the University of Southern California four years ago, after the National Academy of Engineering released a list of 14 "grand challenges" in 2008. Students in the program complete a five-component portfolio and a senior thesis to demonstrate solutions to one or more of these challenges. The program now has 14 schools but is planning an ambitious expansion effort, aiming to have more than 50 partner schools by the end of next year, said Tom Katsouleas, Vinik Dean of Engineering.
"We are planning a major initiative to expand the program nationally," Katsouleas wrote in an email Thursday. "We are in conversations with several other consortia of schools... about having a joint meeting in the Spring that would bring together our consortia on the topic of preparing students to tackle grand challenges. Plus, we have great support from the NAE and the White House."
Since its installment at Duke, GCSP has been quite successful, said Lauren Stulgis, a Pratt undergraduate program coordinator. In particular, she noted that it has received considerable media attention, including a feature article in USA Today.
“The program is focused on preparing students to address complex societal challenges over the course of their careers,” Katsouleas wrote.
He said that he believes GCSP exemplifies how engineering education in the 21st century has changed from the past.
“In addition to engineering fundamentals, this means learning aspects of policy and behavior, global cultural, as well as infrastructure differences, entrepreneurship and funding models,” he wrote.
Stulgis said that in addition to relevant course work, students in GCSP also receive enriching co-curricular experience through engaging in hands-on projects, such as traveling to a developing country to build bridges, water storage and treatment infrastructure.
“The Grand Challenge Scholars Program gives students the opportunity to pursue some of their interests in a targeted and somewhat cohesive way, and get recognition for their efforts and accomplishments,” Stulgis wrote in an email Thursday.
There are 15 Pratt seniors currently enrolled in GCSP. These students began their portfolios this past January.
Many of them believe the resources and skills they have developed from this program are beneficial.
“This program had a major impact on my engineering education here at Duke and enabled me to take things out of the classroom into a challenging world of engineering,” said senior Albert Hu, one of the current scholars focusing on how to engineer new medicines.
Some of these students also said that GCSP has given them opportunities to explore their fields of interest.
“I have been interested in sustainable development since freshman year, and through this program I have been able to really explore what it takes to truly be a catalyst for change,” said senior Taylor Phillips, who is using his project to investigate groundwater harvesting in East Africa.