At the 2015 White House Science Fair yesterday, President Obama hosted outstanding young scholars from across the country to celebrate their achievements in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). One of the scholars he met was Michaela Rikard, a biomedical engineering student at North Carolina State University.
Michaela is one of a growing number of undergraduates participating in Grand Challenge Scholars Programs at colleges and universities nationwide. These programs empower students to tackle some of the most important challenges of the 21st century, such as making solar energy cost-competitive with coal and providing clean water for the nearly 1 billion people who lack access. As a Grand Challenge Scfholar, Michaela wants to develop new medical therapies that are personalized, affordable, and readily available worldwide. She’s conducted research to improve the use of nanotechnology to detect and treat cancer, and has worked with the military to help soldiers with amputations that are suffering from complications.
Thanks to a new initiative launched by over 120 Deans of Engineering at campuses nationwide, over the next decade at least 20,000 undergraduate students will have the opportunity to tackle Grand Challenges: ambitious but achievable goals that will require advances in science and technology to achieve. Students will combine interdisciplinary coursework, research, hands-on design projects, service learning, a semester abroad, and an entrepreneurial experience to ensure that they have the skills and the mindset needed to meet Grand Challenges.
This commitment was unveiled at yesterday’s White House Science Fair. Dan Mote, President of the National Academy of Engineering, and Tom Katsouleas, Dean of Engineering at Duke University, presented President Obama with a letter signed by all of the participating Deans. This is just one example of the important role that Grand Challenges play in the President’s Strategy for American Innovation. The President has previously called attention to Grand Challenges through actions like his April 2013 launch of the BRAIN Initiative, a Grand Challenge to dramatically increase our understanding of how the human brain encodes and processes information.
Today, we met with dozens of Engineering Deans to learn more about their current activities and plans for the future related to Grand Challenges. For example:
We want to thank all of the Deans that have committed to participate in this initiative, and the National Academy of Engineering for their hard work to encourage more colleges and universities to participate.
We also encourage more colleges and universities to get involved in this important effort: an effort that has the potential to inspire and empower the next generation of fearless problem-solvers to address the Grand Challenges of the present and future.
Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Kumar Garg is Assistant Director for Learning and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.