October 28, 2010

Students Will Tackle Grand Challenges Facing Society

The people who will solve the challenges currently facing our society are most likely sitting in classrooms right now. And the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) wants to hear their ideas.

Lafayette College is one of a handful of schools nationwide that is participating in the NAE’s Grand Challenges Scholars Program, in which students are invited to put together proposals for addressing one of 14 engineering challenges in the areas of energy and environmental sustainability, health, security, and “the joy of living.” Examples of the challenges include providing access to clean drinking water, engineering better medicines, securing cyberspace, and enhancing virtual reality.

Five Lafayette students and/or groups will be chosen to receive $3,000 summer research stipends, plus a budget of up to $3,000 for project expenses, and housing during the summer of their junior year to work on the project.

The application process is open to all Lafayette juniors, regardless of major. Applicants must submit a research proposal (including a budget) and resume by Nov. 24. For details of the application process, go to the Grand Challenges website. The program’s steering committee will review proposals immediately following the Thanksgiving break, and the participants will be selected by the end of the fall semester.

“In the process of completing original research, students will come to appreciate the multidisciplinary, global, and entrepreneurial aspects of resolving any of the 14 grand challenges established by the National Academy of Engineering,” says steering committee member Paul Cefalu, associate professor of English.

The premise of the Grand Challenges Scholars Program at Lafayette is the belief that solving complex challenges necessitates innovative solutions with joint contributions from engineering and the liberal arts. The program prepares students to take a multidisciplinary approach to solving problems, incorporating engineering and public policy, business, law, ethics, human behavior, risk, and medicine and the sciences.

The program has five components: research, an interdisciplinary curriculum, entrepreneurship, a global dimension, and service learning. Students in the program will initiate their research projects during the summer following their junior year and will complete them as a thesis or independent research during their senior year, with the goal of producing a presentable end result.

They are also expected to complete an interdisciplinary cluster of three courses of their choosing, learn about entrepreneurship through an internship or externship, study abroad, and participate in a service learning project.

Participants will also attend the annual Grand Challenges National Summit.

“The successful completion of a Grand Challenges project will undoubtedly prepare students for post-graduate study,” Cefalu says. “Not only will such students have creatively researched and ‘resolved’ a challenge of their own devising—whether that be an approach to providing access to clean water or engineering better medicine—but they also will have had an opportunity to appreciate the multidisciplinary nature of such real-world and timely problems.  A Grand Challenges Scholar will be well-prepared to undertake sustained, individualized, and original work in graduate school and beyond.”

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