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Oklahoma State University

Oklahoma State University joins national initiative to train engineers to address major global challenges; only Oklahoma university involved

Thu, March 26, 2015
Oklahoma State University has joined with other universities across the nation to educate a new generation of engineers expressly equipped to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing society in the 21st century.
 
In a letter of commitment presented to President Barack Obama at the White House Science Fair on Monday, March 23, 122 U.S. engineering schools pledged to graduate a minimum of 20 students per year who have been specially prepared to lead the way in solving "Grand Challenges," with the goal of training more than 20,000 formally recognized “Grand Challenge Engineers” over the next decade. Oklahoma State is the only Oklahoma university participating in the effort.
 
These "Grand Challenges," identified through initiatives such as the White House Strategy for American Innovation, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenges for Engineering, and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, include complex yet critical goals such as engineering better medicines, making solar energy cost-competitive with coal, securing cyberspace, and advancing personalized learning tools to deliver better education to more individuals.
 
OSU College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology Dean Paul Tikalsky said Grand Challenge Scholars will work on innovating throughout their four years as they take on an engineering challenge of the next generation.  
 
"They will experience the global context of these challenges through study abroad and international teams," Tikalsky said. "They will work in OSU's New Product Development Center with our world class faculty and industry partners to develop methodologies and prototypes." 
 
Many will complete capstone projects and Honor's College thesis to deliver on the challenges. "These students will receive scholarships and support as part of our program. They will bring the best of OSU engineering to the world," Tikalsky said.
 
More than a quarter of the nation’s engineering schools are now committed to establishing programs to educate engineers to take on the Grand Challenges. 
 
“We’re poised to transform the landscape of engineering higher education,” said Tom Katsouleas, dean of Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering and a co-leader of the initiative. “The tremendous response suggests we’ve tapped into something powerful—the very human element connecting engineering with students who want to make a real difference.”
 
Tikalsky said the Grand Challenges are initiatives for improving the human condition by addressing safe and clean water, developing alternative and clean energy resources; providing for human health, nutrition and security; rebuilding long life and sustainable infrastructure for urban habitation; advancing computing power and capabilities; and developing new tools for teaching, learning and scientific discovery.
 
Grand Challenge Engineers will be trained through special programs at each institution that integrate five educational elements: (1) a hands-on research or design project connected to the Grand Challenges; (2) real-world, interdisciplinary experiential learning with clients and mentors; (3) entrepreneurship and innovation experience; (4) global and cross-cultural perspectives; and (5) service-learning.
 
“Teaching engineering fundamentals in the classroom is important, but it’s not enough,” said Richard Miller of Olin College. “Solving our planet’s Grand Challenges requires engineering expertise, but they won’t be solved by engineers alone. Doubling down on even more hard sciences and math will not help. Instead, we need to incorporate new elements into engineering students’ education to give them both the skillset and the mindset needed to become leaders in addressing societal challenges.”
 
The training model was inspired by the National Academy of Engineering-endorsed Grand Challenge Scholars Program (GCSP), established in 2009 by Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, Olin College, and the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering in response to the NAE’s 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st century. There are currently 20 active GCSPs and more than 160 NAE-designated Grand Challenge Scholars have graduated to date. Half of the graduates are women—compared with just 19 percent of U.S. undergraduate engineering students—demonstrating the program’s appeal to groups typically underrepresented in engineering.
 
“The idea of giving back is so important, and we’re actually learning how to do that,” said Lyssa Aruda, a Grand Challenge Scholar at the University of Southern California, who is working on making solar energy economical. “I think that’s probably the reason most of us choose engineering in the first place—to have the opportunity to give back to people.” 
 
Other examples of GCSP participants working on Grand Challenges include: Alex Caven at the State University of New York (SUNY), who is involved in efforts to provide access to clean water in Haiti; Michaela Rikard, who is working on engineering better medicines at North Carolina State University; Allison Kindig at Iowa State, who is creating sustainable engineering projects in developing countries; and Olin College’s Luke Metz, who is engineering computerized writing aids to advance personalized learning.
 
“The NAE’s Grand Challenges for Engineering are already inspiring more and more of our brightest young people to pursue careers that will have direct impacts on improving the quality of life for people across the globe,” said NAE President C.D. Mote Jr. “Imagine the impact of tens of thousands of additional creative minds focused on tackling society’s most vexing challenges. ‘Changing the world’ is not hyperbole in this case. With the right encouragement, they will do it and inspire others as well.”
 
More information on this initiative, including a copy of the letter of commitment, is available here. The initiative grew out of a 2014 workshop organized by the American Association of Engineering Societies, Epicenter, Engineers Without Borders USA, EPICS, and the NAE Grand Challenge Scholars Program.