Grand Challenges Scholars Program

A student working with a pipette in a lab.

In 2008, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) established a set of fourteen Grand Challenges that engineers face to make progress toward a sustainable world - one that provides all people with more than just their basic needs and aspires to a higher level of living. The fourteen Grand Challenges range across disciplines and incorporate aspects of life ranging from the developing world to the developed world. It is crucial that future engineers acknowledge these challenges as pressing issues that need to be addressed.

The Grand Challenges Scholar Program (GCSP) is inspired by 14 broad problems facing society in sustainability, health, security, and knowledge. Solutions to these problems will require interdisciplinary teams and years of sustained effort.

Students must choose one of the 14 grand challenge problems to focus on for their participation in the Hajim School GCSP. The grand challenge you select must be at the heart of how you complete each of the individual components of the GCSP.

At the end of the experience, you will have a thorough understanding of the problem and insight into solutions for your selected grand challenge. Therefore, before graduation, you will need to compile a reflection on your participation in the Hajim School GCSP that addresses how:

  • Your participation on the GCSP shaped your understanding of your selected grand challenge and the potential solutions
  • The GCSP experiences have shaped your education and career trajectories

This reflection piece can be in the form of a 10‑15 page written reflection, or as a poster presented at the College’s annual spring Undergraduate Research Exposition.

Students who successfully complete the GCSP will be presented with a GCSP medal at the Senior Awards Ceremony during graduation week, which may be worn during commencement ceremonies.

The Challenges

Students will choose one of these grand challenges to act as a unifying focus for all the individual components they complete. These challenges are broken up into four overall categories: sustainability, health, security, and joy of living.


Make Solar Energy Affordable: Today, solar energy is used to power less than one percent of the world's overall energy but has the potential to do so much more.

Provide Energy from Fusion: Human-engineered fusion has been demonstrated on a small scale. The challenge now is to scale up the process to commercial proportions in an efficient, economical, and environmentally benign way.

Develop Carbon Sequestration Methods: Capturing and storing excess carbon dioxide has the potential to prevent further global warming.

Manage the Nitrogen Cycle: Engineers can help restore balance to the nitrogen cycle with better fertilization technologies and by capturing and recycling waste.

Provide Access to Clean Water: The world's water supplies are facing new threats; affordable, advanced technologies could make a difference for millions of people around the world.


Advance Health Informatics: As computers have become available for all aspects of human endeavors, there is now a consensus that a systematic approach to health informatics - the acquisition, management, and use of information in health—can greatly enhance the quality and efficiently of medical care, and the responses to local, national, international, and global public health emergencies.

Engineer Better Medicines: Advances in engineering further the development of new technologies to improve our ability to assess genetic information, sense small changes in the body, create medicine, and tailor healthcare needs at to each person.

Reverse-Engineer the Brain: A lot of research has been focused on creating "thinking machines”—computers capable of emulating human intelligence—however reverse-engineering the brain could have multiple impacts that go far beyond artificial intelligence, and will promise great advances in health care, manufacturing, and communication.


Restore and Improve Urban Infrastructure: Infrastructure is the combination of fundamental systems that support a community, region or country. Society faces the formidable challenge of modernizing the fundamental structures that will support our civilization in the centuries ahead.

Prevent Nuclear Terror: The need for technologies to prevent and to respond to a nuclear attack is growing.

Secure Cyberspace: Computer systems are involved in the management of almost all areas of our lives, from electronic communications and data systems, to controlling traffic lights, to routing airplanes. Engineers need to develop innovations for addressing a long list of cybersecurity priorities.

Joy of Living

Enhance Virtual Reality: Within many specialized fields from psychology to education, virtual reality is becoming a powerful new tool for training practitioners and treating patients, in addition to its growing use in various forms of entertainment.

Advance Personalized Learning: A growing appreciation of individual preferences and aptitudes has led to more “personalized learning” in which instruction is tailored to a student’s individual needs. Given the diversity of individual preferences and the complexity of each human brain, developing teaching methods that optimize learning will require engineering solutions.

Engineer the Tools for Scientific Discovery: In the century ahead, engineers will continue to be partners with scientists in the great quest for understanding the many unanswered questions of nature.

Individual Components

Grand Challenges Scholars are required to complete five sets of broadening and high-engagement activities relating to one or more of the Grand Challenges.

You can only use one activity per component. If an activity meets the goals of more than one component, then you'll need to choose which component that activity will fulfill. For example, if you participate in a project through the iZone, you can use this to fulfill either the entrepreneurship or service component but not both.

Students can apply all relevant experiences that occurred after they arrived at the University of Rochester, even if they completed them before they were accepted into the GCSP.


Students can fulfill the research component of the GSCP by:

Students can fulfill the interdisciplinary component of the GCSP by:

  • Completing a cluster related to your selected challenge
  • Participating in a related Humanities Center program
  • Completing one of the following courses along with a three to five page written reflection of the connection between the course material and the student’s Grand Challenge problem:
    • PHL 120: Engineering Ethics
    • Other courses as identified by the GCSP Steering Committee each year
  • Completing other related experiences, with approval of the GCSP Steering Committee

Students can fulfill this component of the GCSP by:

  • Participating in Certificate of Achievement in Community-Engaged Learning
  • Participating in a Charles and Janet Forbes Entrepreneurial Competition
  • Completing a Barbara J. Burger iZone or Ain Center for Entrepreneurship project
  • Participating in the e5 Program
  • Completing one of the following courses along with a three to five page written reflection of the connection between the course material and the student’s Grand Challenge problem:
    • ENT 101: Introduction to Entrepreneurship
    • ENT 223: Planning and Growing a Business Venture
    • ENT 225K: Technical Entrepreneurship
    • ENT 227K Entrepreneurship in the Not-For-Profit Environment
    • ENY 227K: Fundamentals of Social Entrepreneurship
    • LAW 205: Business Law
    • MKT 203: Principles of Marketing
    • CAS 360: Leadership in a Diverse World
    • CAS 125: Creating an Inclusive Campus Community: Disability, Mentorship and Inclusive Higher Education
    • CAS 358: The Leadership Experience
  • Participating in an external entrepreneurship program competition
  • Participating in the Hult Prize competition
  • Completing other related experiences, with approval of the GCSP Steering Committee

Students can fulfill this component of the GCSP by:

  • Studying abroad through a Hajim School or Center for Education Abroad Program
  • Participating in a faculty-led field experience
  • Creating a global senior design experience
  • Volunteering with Engineers Without Borders
  • Developing an on-campus program focused on engaging our growing international population; this would need to be approved by the GCSP Steering Committee.
  • Completing one of the following courses, along with a three-to-five-page written reflection of the connection between the course material and the student’s Grand Challenge problem:
    • CAS 170: US Life: Customs and Practices
    • ANT 101: Cultural Anthropology
    • ANT 266: Anthropology of Globalization
    • ANT 268: Science, Culture and Expertise
    • ANT 299: Malawi Immersion Seminar
    • ASL 113: French Sign Language and Deaf Culture
    • CLA 299: Field Methods in Archeology
    • POL 157: Polish in Poland
    • SP 205: Spain: Past Present and Future
    • FR 157: French in France
    • GER 157: German in Germany
    • HIS 110: The Making of Modern Africa New Perspectives in Global History
    • HIS 299: Archaeological Field and Research Methods
    • TBD Digital Archaeology of Heritage Buildings of West Africa
  • Participating in other related experiences, with approval of the GCSP Steering Committee

Students have several options to meet this component of the GCSP, including:

  • Completing the Citation in Community-Engaged Scholarship program
  • Developing a Barbara J. Burger iZone project to obtain the skills needed to understand the importance of working to help others and developing a deepened awareness of the impact of their work on society through the development and implementation of the project
  • Volunteering for Engineers Without Borders or Sustainability through Engineering
  • Completing one of the following courses along with a three-to-five-page written reflection of the connection between the course material and the student’s Grand Challenge problem:
    • CAS 202: Introduction to Community-Engaged Scholarship
    • CAS xxx: Advanced Topics in Community-Engaged Scholarship
    • PH 397: Community Engaged Internship
  • Participating in other related experiences, with approval of the GCSP Steering Committee


We welcome students from all majors, not just engineering, and are actively trying to build a community of scholars that spans a range of disciplines. Solving the grand challenges will need the input of professionals in a wide range of areas, and our aim is to build skills that will allow students from different perspectives to work together towards solutions.

Admittance to the program is based on the following criteria:

  • Good academic standing (there is no minimum GPA to participate)
  • A clear demonstrated interest in participating in the program, as evidenced through the application letter
  • A well thought‑out plan for how to meet the components of the GCSP

We anticipate being able to admit into the program all students who meet these criteria.

Students are encouraged to discuss their desire to become a Hajim School Grand Challenge Scholar with Emma Derisi as early as possible in order to allow enough time to complete a plan of action for documenting progress toward, and completing each of the GCSP's five components for the grand challenge of their choice.

How to Apply

Students interested in becoming a Hajim School Grand Challenges Scholar should:

  • Write a letter of application which includes (two pages maximum):
    • Your name, phone number, email address, expected major, and expected class year
    • A description of what you hope to gain from GCSP
    • Describe which Grand Challenge interests you the most and why
    • List any activities or courses have you already completed that satisfy one or more of the five GCSP components
    • Describe your initial plan for fulfilling the GCSP requirements and with whom you’ve discussed your ideas
  • Create or update your resume

Submit these documents as a single pdf file with the filename "GCSP Application – Your Name.pdf". Attach that file to an email and send to Emma Derisi. In the subject line, write "GCSP Application.”


For more information, contact the Hajim School GCSP director, Emma Derisi, at or (585) 275-2354.