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ASU grads ready to take on grand challenges

Fall 2021 GCSP poster session

Above: Students in Arizona State University's Grand Challenges Scholars Program prepare to address global concerns through competencies that impart an ability to see the big picture, consider all aspects of a problem and create value for society. In Fall 2021, three ASU Grand Challenges Scholars graduated to begin tackling global challenges in health, sustainability, education and more. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

The world is filled with a never-ending list of challenges that make it vital to build a community of doers who are ready and willing to take them on. Students in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University are taking on ambitious global problem-solving as part of the Grand Challenges Scholars Program, known as GCSP. A trio of these scholars are prepared to tackle many of these complex problems after graduating from the Fulton Schools this fall.

Recognized by the National Academy of Engineering and ASU, the program provides the tools and unrivaled experiences required to become agents of change by taking on one of the 14 NAE Grand Challenges.

Students in the program must demonstrate five competencies through research or a creative project, multidisciplinary learning, entrepreneurship, multicultural experience and a service-learning project to become a Grand Challenges Scholar, recognized by the NAE.

Upon completion of the program, ASU Grand Challenges Scholars earn national recognition from the National Academy of Engineering and join an international community of scholars dedicated to solving global health and development problems for those most in need.

Ground-improving research

Rayanna Pearson

Figuring out how nature and infrastructure are integrated led civil engineering graduate Rayanna Pearson to participate in GCSP. She first learned about the program through a pamphlet she received before arriving at ASU and decided it would be a good opportunity.

“I’ve come to have a different understanding of nature and sustainability,” Pearson says. “Most of what I think of as nature has been engineered by humans in some way. Infrastructure tends to shape nature.”

The Johnson City, Tennessee, native says she finds soils and the ground particularly fascinating.

Pearson’s biggest project in GCSP has been working on enzyme-induced carbonate precipitation research, or EICP. EICP is a soil improvement method that uses an enzyme to create carbonate precipitate in soil, which cements it in place.

“I started working on EICP at the Center for Bio-inspired and Bio-mediated Geotechnics during my freshman year,” Pearson says. “I was introduced to it via a center tour at the GCSP Summer Institute program before school started. I got involved with their vertically integrated projects class and kept going from there.”

Pearson will continue her education at ASU this spring as she pursues graduate studies through the 4+1 accelerated master’s degree program. She’ll also continue her research with the Center for Bio-inspired and Bio-mediated Geotechnics before working in industry.

Making therapy personal

Connor Phillips​Mechanical engineering graduate Connor Phillips entered the world of engineering with the goal of improving the quality of life for people with disabilities.

“GCSP was a way for me to focus my curriculum on the theme of ‘health’ and make meaningful progress toward my goal,” Phillips says.

Like Pearson, Phillips began his connection with GCSP during the summer before his freshman year when he attended the GCSP Summer Institute. He completed several research projects throughout his time in GCSP, but the most meaningful one to him was a robotic balance rehabilitation study for children with cerebral palsy.

“This is a very personal study to me because I have a minor case of diplegic cerebral palsy,” Phillips says. “As a child, I went through frequent physical and occupational therapy to reduce the impact of the symptoms on my daily life.”

Phillips says he was very grateful to have access to the therapy programs and medical devices that made a permanent improvement to his quality of life, and he now wants to help others benefit from therapy.

“There are many children with more severe cerebral palsy who may benefit from the highly effective, patient-specific therapy that robotics can provide,” Phillips says. “My hope is that robotics therapies may provide a wide range of cerebral palsy patients with the same improvement in quality of life that I was fortunate enough to receive.”

Phillips created a five-week training program under the mentorship of Hyunglae Lee, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of the seven Fulton Schools. The program aims to improve balance and walking in children with cerebral palsy by having them train their dynamic balancing ability on a set of robotic platforms in the lab. The program adapts to their existing balance ability and modulates its difficulty over the course of the training as they improve.

Following graduation, Phillips will be working as a postbaccalaureate researcher in the Functional and Applied Biomechanics Section of the National Institutes of Health before moving on to earn a doctoral degree.

Reaching for the stars with additive manufacturing

Daniel Bruce

Daniel Bruce, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering systems, joined GCSP just before starting at ASU and was involved in the program for eight semesters.

Many of the projects he completed throughout the GCSP process involved working with Dhruv Bhate, an associate professor of engineering and mechanical systems in The Polytechnic School, one of the seven Fulton Schools.

“I was most interested in Dr. Bhate’s lab because he was doing some cool 3D-printing work,” Bruce says. “So, I joined his lab and started on an Archimedes method capability analysis for metal additively manufactured parts to determine the suitability of the Archimedes method for measuring the density of those parts.”

The world of additive manufacturing and 3D printing that Bruce was immersed in throughout his GCSP research is an area of personal interest.

“I first used a 3D printer during my freshman year at the Innovation Hub, which offers free trainings for 3D printing, laser cutting and other machines,” Bruce says. “After my freshman year, I interned at an additive manufacturing shop in my hometown, Albuquerque, New Mexico. At my internship, I 3D-printed a telescope, combining my interests of 3D printing and astronomy.”

Bruce, who also participated in Aerospace Scholarships to Challenge and Educate New Discoverers, or ASCEND, for a semester, is looking to apply that pair of interests through a career in the space industry or the additive manufacturing industry after graduation.

When asked, Bruce says the Grand Challenges theme that best fits his research is “joy of living.”

“My entire GCSP portfolio includes elements of [the] sustainability and health [themes] as well, and my original Grand Challenges theme was engineering the tools for scientific discovery,” Bruce says. “After completing a couple semesters of research, I realized that joy of living was the best fit for my research.”

Bruce was also recognized as a Fulton Schools Outstanding Graduate for his exemplary academic performance and participation in extracurricular activities to enhance his engineering skills.

About The Author

Erik Wirtanen

Erik Wirtanen graduated from Arizona State in 2001 with a BS in Recreation Management and Tourism. He got his start in the communications field as an undergrad with the ASU Athletics Media Relations office. He worked at UC Irvine from 2002 until 2014 in the Department of Athletics and then The Henry Samueli School of Engineering. In August of 2014, Wirtanen joined the communications office at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Media Contact: [email protected] | 480-727-1957 | Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Communications

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