In 2008, the National Academy of Engineering presented its “Grand Challenges,” an aspirational vision of what engineering needs to deliver in the 21st century. Its vision—to be achieved through 14 corresponding goals—is “continuation of life on the planet, making our world more sustainable, secure, healthy and joyful.” Through the Grand Challenges Scholars Program, engineering schools around the world have adopted an engineering education supplement that “adds global awareness and social skills with a focus on the Grand Challenges to broaden the reach of undergraduate study in engineering.” In fall 2019, Villanova’s College of Engineering will join more than 125 universities in the United States with a Grand Challenges Scholars Program.
As stated on the NAE’s Grand Challenges website, “Addressing any of the Grand Challenges prepares students to think in international terms, and to develop globally relevant perspectives and skills. It attracts students because it prepares them for real and urgent problems that need solutions; it is a basis for realistic experiments and problem challenges in the field during their undergraduate years; and it offers a clear view to future jobs that matter and the opportunities in engineering that await them.”
Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Dr. Andrea Welker explains that—much like the new Engineering Honors degree—the GCSP will help the College continue to attract high achieving students. “It is a compelling, interesting and holistic program that will challenge the best and brightest to go beyond the traditional curriculum to create a unique plan of study.”
Leveraging Villanova Engineering’s strengths in sustainability, service learning, engineering entrepreneurship, study abroad, undergraduate research and interdisciplinary learning, Dr. Welker is excited to create a GCSP that is unique to Villanova. She says, “At least initially, our program will focus on challenges that build upon our research expertise.” From the NAE’s 14 Grand Challenges, the College has selected these five:
- Make solar energy economical
- Provide access to clean water
- Engineer better medicines
- Secure cyberspace
- Restore urban infrastructure
Launching the program with the class of 2023, the goal is to have approximately 20 students per class enrolled. Students will apply, stating why they are interested in the GCSP and which grand challenge forms the unifying theme for their plan. Applications will be judged on the student’s current grade point average and their passion for exploring their selected theme.
Each department will have a faculty mentor for students accepted into the program. That mentor will ensure that the student is making progress on their plan of study, specifically around five competencies that the NAE requires: talent (research), multidisciplinary, business/ entrepreneurship, multicultural and social consciousness (service).
In addition to receiving a letter from the president of the National Academy of Engineers and inclusion on the scholars list on the GCSP website, Dr. Welker is working on meaningful ways for the College to recognize students who complete the program. “This accomplishment will go beyond being a badge of distinction for these students; their work literally has the potential to change lives.”