Ramakrishna tapped to lead Grand Challenge Scholars Program's growth

February 21, 2017

An Arizona State University faculty member has taken on a recently created leadership position within the National Academy of Engineering.

Emeritus professor B.L. Ramakrishna was named director of the Academy’s Grand Challenges Scholars Program Network. B.L. Ramakrishna working on a chair design activity with GCSP students B.L. Ramakrishna (left) served as director of the Grand Challenge Scholars Program at ASU from 2009 to 2013. Now, he's overseeing the program on a national level. Photo by: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU Download Full Image

Proctor Reid, NAE’s director of programs, said this position was designed to “facilitate the development and expansion” of the Grand Challenge Scholars Program, which he describes as a “powerful educational movement.”

The undergraduate education program was established in 2009 with a focus on preparing students to contribute to solving some of the biggest challenges of the 21st century.

The program is now active in 38 universities across the United States, and in four universities abroad. As director, Ramakrishna will focus on the continued growth of the Grand Challenge Scholars Program, as well as improving the programs nationwide through data collection, research, community building efforts, outreach and partner development.

ASU program opens doors

Ramakrishna brought the program to ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering in 2009. Serving as the director until 2013, he established the program as the Fulton Schools’ Scholar Academy, a unique, application-based program for highly qualified engineering students.

In 2013, the Fulton Schools’ program produced its first graduate from among 60 students and has since grown to 480 students, 31 percent of which are female.

Ramakrishna was driven to support and expand the program because it reflected his commitment to creating future engineers who have an interdisciplinary education, an entrepreneurial mindset, a global perspective and a deep sense of social consciousness.

He said ASU’s program offered a pivotal insight into the growth potential of the program on a national level. Prior to founding the program at ASU, Grand Challenge Scholar Programs were in place at only a handful of private universities.

“When we established a successful program at a university like ASU, it proved that this program can be grown across public and private universities — both large and small,” Ramakrishna said.

In 2013, Ramakrishna stepped down as director to accept a prestigious Jefferson Science Fellowship, which brought together a team of four doctors, four scientists and four engineers to advise the U.S. State Department in foreign relations through the lens of science, engineering and health.

“This experience really helped me to understand the big picture impacts of a program like this,” Ramakrishna said.

“I saw how science and technology and innovation can come together to transform global development and inform foreign policy,” he said.

In his role in the Jefferson Science Fellowship, Ramakrishna traveled to several countries, including Tanzania, Ghana, Armenia and India. He made connections on his diplomatic visits that should help him advance the National Academy of Engineering’s goal to scale the Grand Challenge Scholars Program globally.

Prior to this fellowship, Ramakrishna was a faculty member at ASU for more than 30 years.

Leading a movement

After seven years of organic growth, Ramakrishna has a five-year goal to swiftly expand the program to 150 universities across the United States, and to 75 universities abroad.

Throughout the growth process he will continue to champion the locally-driven nature of the program.

“We leave the implementation of the program to the specific institution and encourage individual approaches to suit each university and their community,” he said.

The National Academy of Engineering supports this program because it “promotes what engineering is really all about,” Ramakrishna said.

“The program captures the vision that engineering is a mechanism for creating solutions to problems our people and planet face and as a result makes the world more sustainable, healthy, secure and joyful,” he said.

Ramakrishna said playing a role in communicating that vision to students across the country and around the world is what really excites him.

In addition to capturing the hearts and minds of young engineers, Ramakrishna’s aims to increase support for this program’s movement across industry, universities, governments, NGOs and professional engineering societies.

Currently, the program primarily depends on mentors in academia, but Ramakrishna has a vision that includes attracting more professional engineers to the effort.

“I believe engineering professionals recognize there’s a demand for the type of engineers that this program produces in their companies,” Ramakrishna said.

“Industry demands engineers that have technical depth, but also interdisciplinary breadth. Companies want employees who know how to think economically, ethically, culturally and globally,” he said.

“For the National Academy of Engineering, the Grand Challenge Scholars Program is really more of a movement than a project,” he said.

And he expects the vision of the program to continue to grow and transform the world, saying, “I’m not afraid to think big and really long-term. Even into how this program will grow to someday propel engineers to meet the challenges of not only the 21st century, but into the 22nd century and beyond.”

Rose Gochnour Serago

Communications Program Coordinator, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

ASU Innovation Open finalists announced; groups will compete for $100,000 top prize

Wearable tech, autonomous vehicles and nanoparticle coatings mark ASU’s inaugural inter-collegiate innovation competition

February 21, 2017

ASU’s blueprint for building change makers includes generous measures of innovation and entrepreneurship — likely part of the reason it tops the U.S. News & World Report list of “most innovative schools.”

That innovative spirit is expanding beyond the university’s laboratories, maker spaces and residence halls with the ASU Innovation Open, a new technology venture acceleration competition designed to fuel multidisciplinary teams of collegiate founders. The grand prize, sponsored by Avnet, is $100,000 to move the winning enterprise forward. Ryan Leeper (left) and Kory Chinn Ryan Leeper (left) and Kory Chinn, entrepreneurs from University of Arizona, present their pitch for Nunami Labs during the ASU Innovation Open semifinals. The team earned a spot as one of four finalists and will compete for a $100,000 grand prize April 2. Photo by Pete Zrioka/Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Download Full Image

Nearly three dozen teams — including groups from California, Hawaii and India — submitted video pitches and fielded tough questions from a panel of evaluators. The field was narrowed to 15 semifinalists this month. They're eligible to compete for four, $9,500 scholarships to Draper University, one of ASU’s key entrepreneurship education collaborators in Silicon Valley. 

Meanwhile, four finalists announced last week each will receive a $5,000 award from Zero Mass Water to prepare for the finals:

  • Nunami Labs, from the University of Arizona and recipient of the ZMW Sensors Award, is developing cutting-edge sensor technology that enables autonomous vehicles to understand their surroundings and make roads safer.
  • Somatic Labs, from both the U of A and ASU, and recipient of the ZMW Haptics Award, builds wearable haptic devices that augment human perception for uses including GPS navigation, caller ID and alerts.
  • Swift Coat, from ASU and recipient of the ZMW Materials Award, has developed coatings that range from less than 1 nanoparticle-monolayer thick to more than 1 mm thick, offering solutions for solar, glazing, filtration, display and sensor markets.
  • Rep Watch, from California Lutheran University and recipient of the ZMW Wearables Award, provides wearable technology that tracks physical therapy and fitness activities and a mobile app that helps users stay on track during injury rehabilitation and workouts.

Zero Mass Water CEO and ASU materials engineer Cody Friesen laid the groundwork for the Innovation Open.  

The core technology for Zero Mass Water — a solar panel that makes water out of air — was developed in Friesen’s ASU lab. An established entrepreneur whose work includes providing cost-efficient, sustainable power to remote areas around the world, Friesen’s long-term partnership with Avnet, a business-to-business technology distributor, enabled him to secure the company’s sponsorship for the open.

“The Innovation Open represents ASU’s commitment to valuing entrepreneurship in all of its forms,” said Fulton Schools of Engineering Dean Kyle Squires. “In this case, Fulton Schools has been honored to collaborate with Avnet, along with many other dedicated sponsors and ASU colleagues, to make this inaugural competition a success. Collectively, we are thrilled to have provided an impactful experience for all of the participating student founders who have come to compete from all over the Southwest and beyond.”

Final Four Demo Day

The ASU Innovation Open, hosted by Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, will take place on Sunday, April 2 from 1 – 4 p.m. in the Beus Center for Law and Society

Adam Goulburn, Partner at Lux Capital, will be the keynote speaker, with more than 200 entrepreneurial community leaders from Arizona, California and Colorado expected to attend.

The event is free and open to the public. Reservations are requested. 

Terry Grant

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications