Challenge Accepted

July 24, 2019

By Rob Humphreys ’16MBA

Rollins joins the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges for Engineering Scholars Program, a new educational model that prepares engineering students to face the world’s toughest challenges.

Rollins recently joined the prestigious NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering Scholars Program, a global effort by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) to help students address challenges and opportunities facing humanity in the 21st century. Rollins is the first four-year institution selected to participate in the prestigious program that doesn’t grant an engineering degree.

Chris Fuse, associate professor of physics, will lead the program, and this fall’s incoming class of pre-engineering students will compose the first cohort.

“All the competencies the NAE put together map seamlessly into our curriculum and beyond,” says Fuse, pointing to the program’s emphasis on mentored research, multidisciplinary studies, entrepreneurship, multicultural experiences, and social consciousness. “That perfectly mirrors how we want our students to look at the world and try to solve things. The NAE is really talking our language.”

The Scholars Program—founded in 2009 by Duke, Olin College of Engineering, and the University of Southern California—now includes more than 150 colleges and universities across the globe. It grew out of the NAE Grand Challenges report, published in 2008, which calls for the “continuation of life on the planet, making our world more sustainable, secure, healthy, and joyful.”

Working toward that vision, the NAE Grand Challenges established 14 goals, which include everything from making solar energy economical and engineering better medicines to providing access to clean water and preventing nuclear terror. The Scholars Program does not dictate any specific engineering curriculum with regard to tackling these goals. Instead, each member institution defines its supplemental approach to educating students about the five competencies outlined above, evaluating and recognizing students on their achievements in these areas.

From installing water filters in the Dominican Republic to building a microscope from scratch for earlier disease detection, Rollins students have been hard at work helping create solutions to some of the 21st century’s biggest challenges.

Photos by Scott Cook.

Fuse says the first cohort will include about 10 students, with half in the newly declared 3/2 pre-engineering major and half in the sciences and computer sciences.

Every student will write an annual reflection, take a capstone course, and have the opportunity to engage in student-faculty collaborative research, community-based projects, field studies, real-world business applications, and career networking. In addition, Rod Adkins ’81, a NAE member who serves on the boards of five Fortune 500 companies, has volunteered to serve as a mentor.

“Our students are our research collaborators,” says Susan Singer, vice president for academic affairs and provost. “We integrate them into the whole process of science and engineering. Add that to the NAE component and we’re really educating the whole student. We’re attentive to what it takes to be a liberally educated scientist, and that’s pretty powerful. It’s a whole different approach to science education.”

B.L. Ramakrishna, director of the Grand Challenges Scholars Program Network, agrees. The NAE, he says, “recognizes the value of liberal arts and a well-rounded education” in preparing future engineers.

Ramakrishna credits Singer for her “vision and leadership” in bringing the program to campus, making Rollins the only participating school that offers pre-engineering instead of a traditional four-year engineering degree.

“When I was an engineering student in the late ’70s,” says Singer, “I couldn’t see how I would add value to the world. If I had been given an opportunity like this, it would have felt so different. That’s why I think I’ve been so passionate about pursuing the Grand Challenges Scholars Program, and why I’m thrilled that Chris has been so generous in stepping into this leadership role.”

Will you accept the challenge?
Photo by Scott Cook.

Will You Accept the Challenge?

As a Grand Challenges Scholar, you’ll partner with Rollins’ expert faculty to craft solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues.
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