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ASU’s Grand Challenge Scholars Program recognized nationally, continues to grow

Kaleigh Johnson, a chemical engineering senior and a student in Barrett, the Honors College, and Amy Trowbridge, lecturer and director of the Grand Challenge Scholars Program, represented ASU at a national meeting hosted by the National Academy of Engineering. It included a session at the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Photo courtesy of Kaleigh Johnson

October 25, 2016

A student and several faculty members from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering’s Grand Challenge Scholars Program represented Arizona State University at the 2016 National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges Scholars Program Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. on Oct. 6-7.

Held by the National Academy of Engineering, the event sought to lay the foundation for future improvements in the national engineering program.

At the event, Amy Trowbridge, lecturer and director of ASU’s GCSP program, was selected to share best practices from ASU’s program on a small panel.

Kaleigh Johnson, a chemical engineering senior and a student in Barrett, the Honors College, was also invited to represent ASU on a student and alumni panel where she shared how the program shaped her career goals and undergraduate experiences.

At the meeting, Trowbridge and Johnson attended sessions on topics including raising program visibility and retention, best practices of current GCSPs, K-12 integration and student and alumni success stories. They were also joined by Associate Professor Jimmy Abbas, a GCSP faculty advisor for biomedical engineering students at ASU, and Professor Emeritus, B.L. Ramakrishna, the previous director of ASU’s GCSP program.

Throughout all of the events, attendees were able to share, promote and develop ideas to further improve GCSP programs across the country.

Program’s expansion at ASU

Currently active in 35 universities across the country, the National Academy of Engineering expects the Grand Challenges Scholars Program — an undergraduate education program guided by the “Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century” as designated by the academy in 2008 — to expand significantly in the next few years.

In 2011, the Grand Challenge Scholars Program became the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering’s Scholar Academy — making it a unique, application-based program for highly qualified engineering students.

In 2013, the program produced its first graduate from among 60 students and has since grown to 480 students, 31 percent of which are female. To date, fourteen students have gone on to graduate as Grand Challenge Scholars — a unique designation from both ASU and the National Academy of Engineers — and are added to the official Grand Challenge Scholars Registry.

This designation is earned through the completion of innovative curriculum and highly involved research experiences as a way for students to go above and beyond the regular academic experience as they seek out entrepreneurial, global and service learning opportunities. Every student must complete the five components of the program, which include engaging in research related to their selected grand challenge, exploring interdisciplinary coursework, gaining an international perspective, engaging in entrepreneurship and giving back to the community through service learning.

“We are a strong example of a successful program nationally because of the increase in the number of students we have engaged in and graduated from the program, and the impact of the accomplishments of our students,” Trowbridge said.

Representing ASU’s program nationally

Representing one of the largest GCSPs in the country, Trowbridge and Johnson were important voices at the meeting.

At her panelist presentation, Trowbridge shared insights on how ASU’s GCSP program has built a community of scholars by facilitating connections between students, providing research funding and travel opportunities and ensuring students are oriented and growing within the program from their first day at ASU.

She described the week-long residential GCSP Summer Institute program for incoming freshmen students, the FSE 150: Perspectives on Grand Challenges for Engineering course open to all GCSP students, and the student-led Grand Challenge Scholars Alliance organization — all of which are unique to ASU’s program, and have been developed in the last five years.

She shared how ASU’s funding support has enabled more students to complete and present research at poster sessions, study abroad and travel to national and international professional development events such as this meeting and the Global Grand Challenges Summit held in Beijing, China, last year.

Friday afternoon featured deep-dive discussions with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House. They were joined by the President of the National Academy of Engineering, Dan Mote.

Trowbridge said a notable part of this session was the opportunity to discuss “the very important future step of providing an online community or network for GCSP students from all universities across the nation to connect with each other to share their experiences and perhaps find opportunities to collaborate on future work.”

As an attendee, Trowbridge was able to give input on what form this national network might take and what type of resources and opportunities it should provide.

Benefiting from a strong GCSP community

As a student panelist Johnson said she was “grateful for the chance to describe the impact the program has had on her career.”

She credits the program with helping her to discover her research interest in industrial biotechnology as a freshman.

“Since my freshman year I have sought every opportunity to become more involved in the program,” said Johnson, who will graduate in May.

She served as Trowbridge’s teaching assistant for the introductory GCSP course for two semesters. She’s also served as secretary and president of the Grand Challenge Scholars Alliance, helping to aid students in completing the program’s service learning hours, as well as boosting networking opportunities with industry and faculty.

At the panel discussion Johnson said she “shared all of the great things that ASU’s GCSP has done to provide opportunities for students.”

In particular she spoke about the student organization and the GCSP Summer Institute and the ways that ASU has made the program a collaborative and inclusive experience.

“Some programs miss out by not encouraging students to work together to complete the program components,” Johnson said.

She said that engaging with other GCSP students is integral for completing the components and graduating from the program.

Trowbridge also shares this view, saying, “Building a GCSP culture in which students join together as a community to help each other meet their goals has helped ASU to increase student engagement and retention in the program, and increased the number of students who graduate from our program.”

For Johnson, the meeting reinforced the strong community surrounding the Grand Challenge Scholars Program.

She was excited to learn of the National Academy of Engineering’s intent to create more support for programs across the nation by endeavoring to establish industry partnerships and acquire additional funding to expand the program.

As director, Trowbridge plans to continue to improve and grow ASU’s program using insights and ideas learned at the meeting.

“I am eager to find opportunities for ASU students to connect with GCSP students from other universities to share their experiences and learn from each other,” she said.

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