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Grand Challenges Scholars Program trains students to address global concerns

Meet the three students graduating from the program this fall

Three people stand looking into a tray of items.

Grand Challenges Scholar Audrey Schlichting (right) pursued a multicultural experience by traveling to Honduras to learn how to serve communities according to their needs. Photo courtesy Audrey Schlichting

December 13, 2023

The Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University’s Grand Challenges Scholars Program, also known as GCSP, provides students with an advanced co-curriculum that offers entrepreneurial, global and service learning opportunities to solve the National Academy of Engineering’s 14 grand challenges facing society.

The program challenges participants to engage with global issues throughout their education to shape them as engineering leaders. GCSP aims to train students to address global concerns by enhancing their ability to consider all aspects of a dilemma and generate solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems in the 21st century.

GCSP emphasizes multidisciplinary work, entrepreneurship, diverse perspectives and social consciousness. It also provides students with opportunities to learn about culture, ethics, policy, human behavior, entrepreneurship and related disciplines. Three students are graduating from the program for the fall 2023 semester — Sudhanva Moudgalya, Audrey Schichting and Sarthak Agarwal. 

Haolin Zhu, an engineering associate teaching professor and co-director of the program, says it helps students broaden their perspectives.

“These three graduates’ experiences through the GCSP have been driven by their passion, are solutions-oriented, and are deeply embedded within the communities around them and beyond,” Zhu says. “Each of them has served and positively impacted communities within the Fulton Schools, locally, and/or globally by enthusiastically sharing their passion and expertise and creating value-adding solutions.”

Graduates of the program receive the distinction of being recognized as National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges Scholars in honor of their work, global perspective and commitment to bettering the world.

Sudhanva Moudgalya

Headshot of Sudhanva Moudgalya with a graphic-quote.

Hailing from a family of computer scientists in Bangalore — known as India’s Silicon Valley — Moudgalya, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the Fulton Schools and with honors from Barrett, The Honors College, has always been fascinated by the range of possibilities that the field of computer science offers.

“Computer science is powerful because any individual can create an impact if they have access to a computer,” Moudgalya says. “I never thought of any other major.”

Moudgalya joined GCSP because he believed the emphasis on multidisciplinary work, diversity, entrepreneurship and social consciousness set up a valuable framework for his college experience.

“GCSP made me a well-rounded engineer,” he says.

During his time at ASU, he served as a Barrett peer mentor, teaching assistant and community assistant. He participated in Engineering Projects in Community Service, or EPICS, a community service engineering program, where he built and deployed systems to solve problems for charities, schools and other nonprofit organizations.

Moudgalya worked on two notable EPICS projects: DocYou, which enhanced communications between physicians and the families of pediatric patients at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and EleFit, an effort to improve the quality of life for elephants at the Phoenix Zoo.

He looks back fondly on his time in GCSP and how classroom lessons have shaped his perception of teamwork as well as what it means to be an engineer.

“To be a better engineer, one needs to understand both the business and people sides of the system to create ways to solve grand challenges,” Moudgalya says. “It is all about teamwork. Together we can create a lot of impact.”

His philosophies influenced his belief that everyone has the ability and responsibility to maintain their individual space to build a better world, ultimately solidifying his decision to focus on the GSCP theme of sustainability throughout the program.

Moudgalya is continuing his education with ASU through the computer science Accelerated Master’s degree program and plans to work in research or industry in the future.

“I want to contribute to sustainability and joy of living efforts, harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning,” he says. “My passion is to contribute to affordable health care and access to clean drinking water in underdeveloped countries.”

Moudgalya’s journey at ASU and his involvement in GCSP have not only shaped him into a proficient computer scientist but also a socially conscious and globally aware engineer driven by a passion for sustainability and societal well-being.

Audrey Schlichting

Headshot of Audrey Schlichting with attached quote graphic.

Schlichting is graduating with dual bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering systems and aeronautical management technology with an emphasis on professional flight through Barrett, The Honors College.

Her aviation journey was sparked by her involvement with the Civil Air Patrol, while her father inspired her passion for engineering.

“I have always wanted to help and serve people with my time, talents and treasure, so providing structure for how I could do that was a challenge I was really excited about,” Schlichting says. “I want to change the world, and this program allowed me to do that.”

Throughout her time as an undergraduate student, Schlichting was deeply involved in the ASU community. She served as a Fulton Ambassador and co-founded the Poly-On-Wheels club and PolymetricMusicClub.

She interned as a quality engineer with Able Aerospace Services and a flight test engineer with Textron Aviation. For her senior capstone project, she worked with Boeing on the Apache helicopter’s weapon control grip design.

In GCSP, Schlichting played a pivotal role in projects addressing global issues in sustainability and social consciousness. She contributed to the development of photosynthetic paint, which sequesters carbon dioxide similar to how plants convert the compound into oxygen, and Manna, an autonomously guided parachute delivery system to deliver food, water, medical supplies and general equipment in areas lacking the necessary infrastructure.

“Some organizations use an aircraft to drop supplies in places with limited infrastructure, hoping the supplies don’t hit people or get caught in trees because there aren’t places to land,” Schlichting says. “Our project included more than 30 flight tests to ensure the technology works properly.”

As a Bible study and worship leader with the Campus Ambassadors Christian student organization, Schlichting traveled to Mexico and Honduras for service trips to make a positive impact beyond academics.

After graduation, Schlichting is set to work for Boeing as a flight deck crew operations engineer in Everett, Washington, with long-term aspirations to become an astronaut.

“I love the sky and want to continue working in either aeronautics or astronautics for my career,” Schlichting says. “When I retire, I’d love to be a humanitarian pilot for the Mission Aviation Fellowship.”

Reflecting on her GCSP experience, she emphasizes the importance of serving people and understanding their needs.

“Being an engineer is not just about loving a solution, it’s about loving people enough to listen to their needs and not the engineers’ wants,” Schlichting says. “Solving problems is always for someone else, so learning how to serve well was a huge part of this program for me.”

Sarthak Agarwal

Headshot of Sarthak Agarwal with attached quote graphic.

Agarwal has always had a passion for creating solutions to contemporary societal challenges. He strongly connects to the GCSP curriculum’s emphasis on the joy of living, and he expressed this through his project on how social media has elevated global connectivity but diminished interpersonal connections.

Agarwal, a student in Barrett, The Honors College, is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in computer science with a minor in project management from the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence. He credits his family as his inspiration during his degree program.

“My mother Shalini Agarwal, father Ravi Agarwal, grandfather Rajendra Prasad Agarwal, and my grandmother Asha Agarwal are the sources of my everyday motivation,” he says. “They supported me through everything.”

Agarwal completed internships at Meta, Lenovo, Honeywell and Kore Power, where he worked on augmented reality, semiconductor chips and the energy industry. Agarwal was honored with the Internship Award from Barrett Honors College Dean Tara Williams for outstanding internship experiences. After graduation, he is planning to work as a project manager at Kore Power, where he hopes his contributions will help revolutionize the semiconductor industry. 

“My participation in GCSP has been invaluable in preparing me as an engineer and shaping my future career plans,” Agarwal says. “It has provided me with a holistic education that extends beyond traditional coursework. The hands-on experiences in research and entrepreneurship have honed my problem-solving and critical thinking skills, which are essential for a successful career in engineering.”

Agarwal used his time in GCSP to develop Mindfree, an app that allows users to enjoy social media without succumbing to the pitfalls of constant comparison by removing the dislike or like count feature, making it hard for people to compare with each other. The number of followers is also hidden to avoid constant comparison and help promote a feeling of togetherness.

“These activities and experiences profoundly impacted my perspective,” he says. “I discovered the importance of diverse viewpoints and the value of innovative thinking.”

He looks back fondly on his time in the program, especially his study abroad experience in Iceland, where he explored the country’s culture and innovations in sustainable engineering.

He served the ASU community as a counselor for the Fulton Schools’ E2 experience for incoming first-year students, where he welcomed participants and conducted training sessions; as a Fulton Ambassador, guiding tours and mentoring new students; and as a Global Outreach Officer for Google Developers Club, where he reached out to recruiters to organize resume reviews and mentoring sessions. The experiences helped him cultivate skills in team management and effective communication.

“My unwavering commitment to making a positive impact and my resolution never to give up on building transformative products drives me forward,” Agarwal says. “I aspire to transform my startup into a thriving company that contributes to the well-being and joy of individuals worldwide.”

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