Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Tackling the World's Grand Challenges

UC San Diego's Jacobs School of Engineering is proud to be one of the 122 programs who pledged to respond to the White House's call to fuel America's future technological breakthroughs. This week at the White House Science Fair, President Obama announced over $240 million in new private-sector commitments to inspire and prepare youth to excel in STEM fields. As part of this pledge, a letter of commitment to train 20,000 engineers to tackle the "Grand Challenges" of the 21st century was signed by deans from over 120 colleges and universities.

In 2008, the National Academy of Engineering determined 14 of the most pressing engineering challenges – making solar energy more economical, providing greater access to clean water, engineering btaetter medicines, and restoring and improving urban infrastructure, to name just a few. In Fall 2014, the Jacobs School joined an exclusive group of engineering schools that are approved by the NAE to offer a Grand Challenge Scholars Program. The new program will offer select undergraduates the educational and professional opportunities to develop the broad portfolio of skills necessary to address these challenges.

“Sustainable supplies of food, water, and energy; protection from human violence, natural disaster, and disease; full access to the joys of learning, exploration, communication, and entertainment — these are goals for all of the world’s people,” reads the Grand Challenge Scholars Program website. “Perhaps the most difficult challenge of all will be to disperse the fruits of engineering widely around the globe, to rich and poor alike.”
The opportunities offered by the Grand Challenge Scholars Program both complement and transcend the student’s major and include experience in five crucial areas: 1) project-based or research activity focused on one or more of the Grand Challenges; 2) interdisciplinary curriculum; 3) entrepreneurship; 4) global dimension; and 5) service-learning. Scholars also create prototype solutions and engage in capstone activities such as design challenges and professional presentations and posters. The Jacobs School has leveraged the success of several of its undergraduate initiatives – particularly Global TIES, the Gordon Center for Engineering Leadership, and the Moxie Center for Undergraduate Entrepreneurship – to create the program.  
The Grand Challenge Scholars Program provides a valuable framework for enacting both the Jacobs School’s mission of driving innovation for the direct benefit of society and one of its core values: engineering for the global good. Given this focus on social innovation, Dr. Mandy Bratton, Executive Director of the Global TIES program, is leading the new initiative. For more than ten years, Global TIES, the Jacobs School’s innovative humanitarian engineering program, has had interdisciplinary teams of undergraduates working to address many of the problems identified in the Grand Challenges. Current projects include designing and installing a solar water pump for an orphanage in Tijuana, creating software to help monitor violations of marine protected areas off the coast of San Diego, and transforming a salvage shipping container into a kindergarten for a remote village in Fiji.

Dr. Bratton is enthusiastic about the new program: “The Grand Challenges Scholars Program is a fantastic opportunity for students to engage in “real world” engineering with the most vexing and socially urgent problems of our time. It will encourage them to focus their undergraduate experience on designing solutions that are effective, affordable, sustainable, and perhaps most importantly, accessible to those for whom many technological advances remain beyond their reach.”
The Jacobs School plans to welcome the inaugural class of Grand Challenge Scholars in Fall 2015. If you would like to sponsor a scholar, invest in the program, or learn more about this exciting new initiative, please contact Dr. Bratton at or 858.822.7987.

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