Inaugural cohort of Penn State Grand Challenge Scholars recognized

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The College of Engineering honored its first cohort of Penn State Grand Challenge Scholars, comprised of 24 students, in a ceremony on Friday, April 22. Anthony Atchley, senior associate dean in the College of Engineering, presented a certificate of achievement to each student in attendance.

Penn State is one of 122 engineering schools answering President Obama’s call for the U.S. to lead efforts in addressing 21st century grand challenges – through the education of a new generation of engineering students. These students will be prepared to engage the grand challenges identified by the White House, the United Nations and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). These grand challenges include improving the human condition globally by increasing access to clean water, adequate nutrition and health care, as well as increasing use of renewable energy.    

In response to the call from President Obama, each institution developed its own realization of the five components of a Grand Challenges Scholars Program (GCSP), which include: hands-on projects or research experiences, interdisciplinary curriculum, entrepreneurship, global dimension and service learning. To be recognized as a scholar, students must demonstrate substantial achievement in each of the five components of the program.

The primary sources of GCSP engineering students at Penn State are the Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship (HESE) and Engineering Leadership Development (ELD) programs. Both HESE and ELD are housed within the School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs (SEDTAPP). However, the GCSP is open to all engineering students at Penn State.

“The GCSP is a great way to validate the students’ accomplishments and provide a nationally-recognized credential to propel them into their careers,” Khanjan Mehta, director of HESE and assistant professor of engineering design, said.

Through the scholars program, the College of Engineering is preparing and educating students to address challenging global problems.

“As more students become aware of this program, we hope that it will encourage more to look into service, leadership and entrepreneurship, international engagement and working on key challenges facing our world,” Mike Erdman, Walter L. Robb Director of Engineering Leadership Development and instructor of engineering science and mechanics, said.

According to Mehta, the philosophy of the GCSP aligns perfectly with the World-Class Engineer framework of the College of Engineering, while adding another level of rigor and legitimacy to the education offered by the college. 

Erdman agrees, saying the GCSP provides students with additional opportunities to commit to making a difference.

“By taking on the tenets of the GCSP, you prepare yourself, in a visible and recognizable way, to be a future global engineer,” he said.

Recent chemical engineering graduate and Schreyer Scholar Nicole Bernstein said undertaking the tenets of the GCSP provided her with a greater appreciation for the impact engineering has on the health and welfare of human society.

“My research, both on water purification and carbon dioxide electro-reduction, has taught me how small advancements contribute to a wider pool of knowledge that can make new technologies possible,” she said.

Mehta said the GCSP’s challenges and tenets help students like Bernstein recognize that we live in an interconnected world with shared problems and scarce resources. He encourages students to participate in GCSP as a way to start their journey towards understanding, engaging and solving some of the largest challenges facing humanity today.

“As you chart your career, every step of the way, think about how you can leverage your passion and education, your skillset and mindset, to champion rigorous evidence-based approaches that create a better world for everyone. Three words – get stuff done,” he said.

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Last Updated May 31, 2016