From making solar energy economical, to preventing nuclear terror, the engineers of the future have a number of difficult tasks to contend with.
While traditional engineering degrees equip students with technical knowledge and training, the Engineering Grand Challenges Program seeks to give students the specific mindset, experiences, and inspiration necessary to tackle the world’s most significant problems.
“In 2008, a group sponsored by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) got together to decide what the ‘grand challenges’ are that engineers should be focusing on in the 21st century,” explained Stephanie Claussen, the current Grand Challenges Program Director at Mines and an Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
The group came up with a list of 14 engineering challenges and soon created the Grand Challenges Scholars Program to be implemented at universities across the country.
“Mines made a commitment to President Obama in spring of 2015 to start one of these programs,” Claussen stated.
As part of the process, Mines sent an official application to the NAE and the school was officially approved in August of 2016. The idea was first implemented as a Theme Learning Community (TLC) for first year students, but is undergoing expansion to reach more students.
“It’s a program that is designed to be a combination of curricular and extracurricular,” said Claussen. “A lot of these grand challenges are inherently interdisciplinary. You have to work with not just engineers and scientists but policymakers or social scientists or members of the public.”
The Mines program follows the five pillars created by the NAE for students—Service Learning, Entrepreneurship, Global Awareness, Research/Project-Based Learning, and Interdisciplinary Curriculum.
Students have many options for fulfilling each requirement, including coursework in the Humanitarian Engineering (HE) program, study abroad experiences, and involvement with campus organizations such as Mines Without Borders or the Entrepreneurship Club.
“It is designed that if you are interested in the program, you will be welcomed,” expressed Claussen.
Students who complete all five pillars then compile a portfolio of their experiences to be presented to program leadership. Upon graduation, these students are officially designated as Grand Challenges Scholars by the NAE.
The Grand Challenges program also gives students the opportunity to learn from field experts and peers from around the globe.
For instance, Claussen and a group of students traveled to Beijing, China to attend the 2015 Grand Challenges Global Summit to learn more about the initiative.
In addition to hearing talks about the importance of these engineering issues, attendees also had the opportunity to learn from scientists around the world about current research on the challenges. The next Grand Challenges Global Summit will be held in DC and several students currently involved in the program are likely to attend.
“We are hoping to attract students who are excited about big, hard problems and who are ready to acquire the skills and the knowledge to tackle those,” Claussen explained.
For those interested, the first round of applications is open until Jan. 30.
Interested students can learn more about the full list of grand challenges and the program at Mines by visiting engineeringchallenges.org and grandchallenges.mines.edu.
Photo: Mallory Britz and Corey Brugh at the 2015 Grand Challenges Global Summit in Beijing, China. Photo courtesy Stephanie Claussen.