Mines students, faculty address grand engineering challenges
Chemical and biochemical engineering students Corey Brugh and Mallory Britz are leading 32 freshmen as part of new themed-learning community, Engineering Grand Challenges. Incorporating elements of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenges Scholars Programs at universities across the country, Brugh came up with the idea when he was brainstorming a living experience that would encourage students to be more innovative.
“This community gives students the unique opportunity to explore social justice and engineering in a creative way that inspires future engineers to use their expertise to help others,” said Brugh.
Teaching Associate Professor Stephanie Claussen, along with Brugh and Britz, attended the invite-only Global Grand Challenges Summit in Beijing in September. The summit, sponsored by the NAE, the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE), and the Royal Academy of Engineering, focused on themes from the NAE Grand Challenges, such as sustainability, energy, and infrastructure. There was also a business competition where student teams pitched ideas focused on the grand challenges.
“I think it was beneficial for our students to see the international momentum around these grand challenges,” Claussen said. “They also got to meet a lot of students from other universities who are doing this. That was a huge thing—creating this community and shared conversation around what’s important and what they’re working on.”
Currently, Dean of the College of Engineering and Computational Sciences Kevin Moore, is working with Claussen, Brugh and Britz to draft a proposal for a student-run Grand Challenges Scholar Program at Mines. The program will combine curricular and extra-curricular activities with five components designed to prepare students to be the generation that solves the grand challenges facing society in this century. If students achieve the five requirements to be such a scholar, they will receive a certificate from the NAE upon graduation.
Liberal Arts and International Studies (LAIS) Teaching Assistant Professor Olivia Burgess and Teaching Associate Professor Alina Handorean are co-teaching a pilot course that focuses on one of the Grand Challenges: “Providing Access to Clean Water.” Twenty-eight freshmen are currently enrolled in a LAIS 100-level course that integrates Nature and Human Values with EPICS I. Next spring, these students will advance to an integrated EPICS II with a Human Systems course.
Across Kafadar Commons, LAIS Adjunct Professor Mateo Munoz is teaching 18 upper-level students in a new course, “History of Innovation: Engineering Grand Challenges in Historical Perspective.”
“Throughout the course, we move back and forth between historical case studies and a critical engagement of the challenges and opportunities facing engineers of the future. The innovative process is explored and we learn how to identify opportunities for innovation along intellectual and technical lines,” Munoz said.
These two courses further Mines’ commitment in the spring to advance programs that support the grand challenges concepts. In March, Mines and more than 120 U.S. engineering universities committed to a White House initiative dedicated to educating a new generation of engineers equipped to meet the grand challenges of today and the future. Their commitment was unveiled at the 2015 White House Science Fair.
“Historically, back when I was younger, people became engineers and scientists because they liked math and science in school,” said Moore. “But we see lots of people today picking math and science fields as careers because they altruistically want to make a difference. These programs provide students the opportunity to be impactful and to make a difference in the workplace.”
The National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges identified 14 sets of opportunities for engineering in the 21st century—from making solar energy economical to reverse-engineering the brain and more. Many of the challenges overlap with areas of research already active at Mines.