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Tackling the grand challenges

Eva and Emma

Eva Hansen, in blue shirt at left with other members of Engineers Without Borders, helped install a system to provide potable water to a school in Don Juan, Dominican Republic. Emma Luke, at center in photo at right, helped dig trenches for a new water system in El Censo, Honduras, with a Global Brigade volunteer team. Both are applying their overseas service projects towards qualifying as Grand Challenges Scholars.

Eight students ‘take ownership’ of their education by joining NAE scholars program

For Eva Hansen and Raymond Chin, the quest is nearly finished.

For Andrew Balogh, Shannon Lue Chee Lip, Emma Luke, Madhavan Murali, Warish Orko, and Sang Pak, the quest has just begun.

The eight students – seven from the Hajim School -- are the first to seek recognition as Grand Challenges Scholars at the University of Rochester, which joined the National Academy of Engineering program last summer.

The initiative is aimed at educating a new generation of engineers to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing society in the 21st century. Students are asked to come up with their own combinations of research, interdisciplinary scholarship, entrepreneurship, global experiences, and community-engaged learning to explore one of 14 grand challenges identified by the NAE. Students who meet the requirements are listed at the Grand Challenges web site and receive a medal at graduation.

“This is a great way for Hajim School students to take ownership of their education here, and gain an edge when applying for graduate school or jobs,” says Dean Wendi Heinzelman.

“We have a number of faculty across the University with interests in virtually every one of the NAE Grand Challenges,” she adds, “from biomedical research in our Department of Biomedical Engineering and at our School of Medicine and Dentistry, to fusion research at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, to novel educational models developed at the Warner School, to the research that occurs within our Goergen Institute for Data Science, our Augmented and Virtual Reality initiative, and our Center for Energy and the Environment.

“This makes it possible for students to obtain rich experiences in any of the Grand Challenges in which they are interested.”

Lisa Norwood, assistant dean of undergraduate studies, is in charge of the program here. “One of the reasons NAE started this is because all of the people in NAE are my age or older,” she told students at an introductory meeting. “We’re not going to be solving these problems. It’s going to be those of you in the next generation.”

Even before they knew about the program, Hansen and Chin, both seniors in biomedical engineering, were engaged in experiential learning that could be applied toward the requirements of the grand challenges program.

 “I see participation as a ‘capstone’ to my experiences in Engineers Without Borders,” says Hansen, who explored the challenge of providing access to clean water while serving with EWB all four years as an undergraduate.

The chapter designed and installed a system to provide potable water to a school in Don Juan, Dominican Republic.

For Hansen, this included participating in two trips to Don Juan, conducting on-site bacterial and chemical analysis of the water, taking a cluster of classes in public health, and serving in several leadership roles in EWB.

Chin says the grand challenges program “allows me to reflect and appreciate the accomplishments I have achieved as an undergraduate.” He has explored the challenge of “engineering better medicines” through:

  • A DAAD Rise internship in Leipzig, Germany in 2016, engineering 3-D micro-environments to control cancer cells.
  • A research internship at Pfizer Pharmaceutical in 2017, studying drugs related to cardiovascular ad metabolic disease.
  • A graduate level course on the FDA and intellectual property.  
  • Participation in a University/FDA regulatory science competition.
  • Additional courses in neurological disease and the drugs engineered to treat them.

Balogh, a freshman in chemical engineering, is also a member of EWB and hoping to participate in its next project, which may involve providing clean water to a community in Bolivia. Luke, a junior in biomedical engineering, spent a winter break in Honduras last year, installing water lines for a village, and will also pursue the clean water challenge.

Orko, a first year biomedical engineering major, and Pak, a first-year psychology major, are both interested in reverse-engineering of the brain. Lue Chee Lip, a first year computer science student, is weighing three challenges: cyberspace security, personalized learning, and health informatics.

And Murali, a freshman in mechanical engineering, is hoping to qualify as a grand challenges scholar by “engineering the tools for scientific discovery.”

“Engineers lead their communities – and the world – forward into the future,” Murali wrote in his application to the program. “The NAE’s Grand Challenges are a compilation of some of society’s most pressing questions, and it’s about time that I participate in the journey towards a better future.”

To learn more, go to:

grand challenges