The University of Iowa College of Engineering’s vision is to be recognized internationally for engineering education and research, and for leadership to the profession.  Our profession must rise to meet the challenges facing society this century. In particular, the National Academy of Engineering has identified fourteen “Grand Challenges” which will require innovative engineering solutions, developed in conjunction with professionals from a broad range of disciplines.

Engineering has accomplished a great deal in the last century. A few of these accomplishments include the widespread distribution of electricity and clean water for public health, the advent of automobiles and airplanes for transportation, and the development of radio and television for communication. The accomplishments also include widespread adoption of antibiotics and medical imaging for human health, and the advent of computers and the Internet to transform the ways people interact. Click here for more on the Great Engineering Achievements of the 20th Century.

Through the engineering accomplishments of the past, the world has become smaller, more inclusive, and more connected. With input from people around the word, an international group of technological leaders through The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) identified a new set of challenges, the 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century.  The challenges facing engineering today are not those of isolated locales, but of the planet as a whole and all the planet’s people. Meeting all those challenges must make the world not only a more technologically advanced and connected place, but also a more sustainable, safe, healthy, and joyous — in other words, better — place.

The University of Iowa College of Engineering was the one of the first ten institutions in the country to have an approved Engineering Grand Challenge Scholars Program and the first in the Big Ten.

There are two tiers of participation in the Engineering Grand Challenges Program:  Fellows and Scholars.  

Admission to the Fellows tier of the program is open to all undergraduate students in the UI College of Engineering. Promotion to the Scholars tier of the program requires continued good standing in the College, a minimum 3.5 GPA, and a commitment to completing all five components described in the Program Description, each focused on training the Scholar to become a leader in their chosen Grand Challenge.  Applicants at each level must identify a Grand Challenge to study, explain their motivation for pursuing the Grand Challenge, and describe their plan for completing the program components.  Scholars must also submit a letter of support from a College of Engineering faculty research mentor whom they must recruit.  Benefits of being a Grand Challenges Scholar are the same as a Fellow in addition to being recognized by the National Academy of Engineering.
Many of the activities which would best train a Grand Challenges Fellow or Scholar (i.e., a study abroad experience, a service learning project, an entrepreneurial endeavor, a set of research experiments, etc.) incur significant financial costs.  One key component of the Engineering Grand Challenges Program is financial support of these activities, through the James R. Whiteley Grand Challeges Scholars Fund.  Fellows and Scholars may apply for financial support to help cover the costs of activities which fulfill the program requirements.  Scholars are also eligible for renewable scholarships supported by the fund on top of other College of Engineering support the student may receive. 

There are two tiers of participation in the Engineering Grand Challenges Program:  Fellows and Scholars.

Any student in good standing in the College of Engineering is eligible to be a Grand Challenges Fellow; application during the first year of study is encouraged so that students can benefit from all of the opportunities available from the Grand Challenges Program.  Benefits of being a Grand Challenges Fellow include recognition by the College through websites, announcements, transcript notation, and at graduation, as well as eligibility to apply for Grand Challenges programmatic support.  

Grand Challenges Fellows agree to pursue at least three of the five components described in the Program Description, each focused on training the Fellow to become a leader in their chosen Grand Challenge.  The Fellow’s level of engagement in each curricular area (low, medium, or high, as discussed in the program document) should be at least medium level in two of the three areas.  Applicants at each level must identify their Grand Challenge to study, explain their motivation for pursuing the Grand Challenge, and describe their plan for completing the program components. 

Many of the activities which would best train a Grand Challenges Fellow or Scholar (i.e., a study abroad experience, a service learning project, an entrepreneurial endeavor, a set of research experiments, etc.) incur significant financial costs.  One key component of the Engineering Grand Challenges Program is financial support of these activities, through the James R. Whiteley Grand Challeges Scholars Fund.  Fellows and Scholars may apply for financial support to help cover the costs of activities which fulfill the program requirements.

Fellows seeking an even more ambitious level of challenge-focused professional development are encouraged to apply for the Scholars tier of the program, which operates in conjunction with the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges Scholars Program.

The 14 Grand Challenges

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Undergraduate Programs

Related College Research

Current Scholars

Grand Challenges in the News

The Engineering Grand Challenge Scholars Program is a combined curricular and extra-curricular program with five components that are designed to prepare students to be the generation that solves the grand challenges facing society in this century. The program at The University of Iowa is based on the National Academy of Engineering's Grand Challenge Scholars Program.

The five required elements of the Grand Challenge Scholars program are:

1.  Research Experience. Project or independent research related to one of the 14 Grand Challenges.

2.  Interdisciplinary Curriculum. Preparing engineering students to work at the overlap with public policy, business, law, ethics, human behavior, risk as well as medicine and the sciences. Examples that span these disciplines with a coherent theme are Energy and the Environment, Sustainability, Uncertainty and Optimization, etc.

3.  Entrepreneurship. Preparing students to translate invention to innovation; to develop market ventures that scale to global solutions in the public interest.

4.  Global Dimension. Developing the students’ global perspective necessary to address challenges that are inherently global as well as to lead innovation in a global economy.

5.  Service Learning. Developing and deepening students’ social consciousness and their motivation to bring their technical expertise to bear on societal problems. Programs such as Engineers Without Borders or Engineering World Health may be adapted to satisfy this component and/or component 3.

The program specifies how Grand Challenge Scholars will meet each of the required elements; how Grand Challenge Scholars will be selected; how each of the five Grand Challenge curricular components will be met at The University of Iowa; how Grand Challenge Scholars will be assessed and tracked; how the program will promote early student engagement in Grand Challenge-related activities; and how we will foster intramural and extramural networking among Grand Challenge Scholars.

A special thank you to a major donor of the program:
James R. Whiteley, BSE 1962 Mechanical Engineering, MS 1964 Industrial Engineering
Chief Executive Officer, Vail Systems, Deerfield, IL

For more information about the program, contact:
Kelli Delfosse
Director, Engineering Professional Development
The University of Iowa, College of Engineering
3124 Seamans Center for the Engineering Arts & Sciences
Iowa City, IA 52242
319-335-6280