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Engineering summit aims to tackle world challenges


March 23, 2010

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article, written by Deirdre Meldrum, dean of ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, appeared as an op-ed piece in the Arizona Republic.

In science fiction, civilization is often saved from catastrophe in a race against time.

As the clock ticks toward doomsday, the stories’ heroes find an antidote to a rampaging virus, a way to survive a global-scale natural disaster, avert a violent attack or rescue millions from other lethal threats.

We know it doesn’t happen that way in real life. The most effective ways to ensure our health, safety, freedom and prosperity for the future are a lot less dramatic.

Solving societal problems or protecting ourselves from potential dangers takes years of committed, coordinated and sustained effort.

Unlike in the movies, it’s rarely the work of a lone hero or a small cadre of brave soldiers or brainy scientists.

A bit of that fiction still persists in our thinking. Many believe we can rely solely on small numbers of experts – technologists, political leaders, medical researchers – to solve our biggest problems for us.

The leadership of the National Academy of Engineering consulted many experts in devising its “Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century,” which focus on the progress we need to maintain and improve our quality of life in a growing and increasingly complex world.

Because of our similar efforts in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU, the academy has selected us to organize a summit in Phoenix on April 8 and 9 to help issue a public call to action on these Grand Challenges.

Like the academy, we have been going through a painstaking process to determine how to stay at the leading edge of innovative education and engineering discovery, how to best prepare our students to prosper in the 21st century, and conduct research in ways that will have truly positive local and global impacts.

Like the academy, we understand a commitment to achieving such progress must go beyond inspiring experts to take on these challenges. We know it takes not only public awareness, but a real decision-making role for the community.

So the Grand Challenges Summit is not about academics and officials gathering to talk shop. It is about you, if you care about the world in which you, your children and grandchildren will be living.

Engineers want to make solar energy and other sources of clean and renewable energy more economical, and make health care and medicines more effective. We want to find better ways to manage and recycle the increasing amount of waste materials our growing populations are creating.

We want better ways to protect ourselves from global terrorism and the threat of attacks. We want cleaner air, abundant safe water, and more effective ways to educate our children and young adults.

We know we cannot do any of it alone.

At the summit you will hear experts’ perspectives on these challenges, but the event is designed to spark an open and public dialogue.

Consider joining us. We need your voice to build and sustain this critical effort to respond intelligently and responsibly to issues that are going to shape our lives as individuals, families and as a nation for generations to come.

To learn more, visit www.grandchallengesummit.org/phoenix-summit or call 480-965-2147.

 

Written by Deirdre Meldrum
Dean of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering