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ASU Grand Challenges Scholars gain transformative engineering experiences

Above: Henrique Mello (left) works with his peers at the Grand Challenges Scholars Program 2017 Summer Institute, a program for newly admitted GCSP students to receive an introduction to the program. Photographer: Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU. This photo is an archival image taken before the current pandemic social distancing and face covering requirements went into effect.

In a rapidly changing and increasingly interconnected world, it is imperative that engineers entering the workforce are able to collaborate across disciplines and cultures to address global challenges. 

Endorsed by the National Academy of Engineering and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, the Grand Challenges Scholars Program provides unique experiences for students to gain a variety of competencies and learn about the 14 NAE Grand Challenges facing society in the 21st century.

Graduates of GCSP enter the world ready to tackle its four major themes: health, security, sustainability and the joy of living.

“This fall, we were proud to see GCSP graduates coming from three related disciplines—electrical engineering, computer systems engineering and computer science,” says Amy Trowbridge, the director of the Grand Challenges Scholars Program at ASU. “Each of these students developed individualized portfolios of experiences through GCSP, but all of them included deep involvement in engineering service projects with ASU organizations including Engineering Projects in Community Service and Global Resolve.”

To become a Grand Challenges Scholar, program participants must demonstrate five core competencies through a talent or research project, interdisciplinary work, entrepreneurship, multicultural experiences and a service-learning project.

“Graduates from GCSP are truly exceptional students who have devoted their time and passion to gaining a broad interdisciplinary global understanding of complex challenges, and experience in applying their engineering and leadership skills to solve real-world problems that benefit society,” Trowbridge says. “I am always inspired by the passion, involvement, amazing achievements and positive impact that our GCSP students and graduates have on ASU, Arizona and the world at large.”

Gaining multicultural experience through study abroad

Grand Challenges Scholar Henrique Mello, a computer science major who graduated in Fall 2020 and focused on the GCSP theme of security, gained multicultural competencies through a study abroad program as well as an intercultural communications course.

“One of the things I wanted to do when I came to ASU was study abroad in order to gain a better understanding of at least one different culture,” Mello says. “I got a chance to do so during the summer of 2018, when I spent a couple weeks in Israel studying national security and counterterrorism with 18 fellow ASU students.”

While the primary goal of the trip was to learn more about Israel’s national security, Mello also had the opportunity to learn about the country’s culture and history.

“It is difficult to put into words the sheer value of this experience. Our world is more connected than ever, and I believe that one of the pillars of a ‘well-rounded’ engineer is cultural awareness,” he says. “Understanding how other people might view, affect and be affected by my ideas and the technologies I develop is the only way to ensure I design solutions that will scale globally.”

Mello toured several government facilities as well as historically significant sites to study counterterrorism measures in Israel and learn about how the government ensures public safety.

“GCSP made it possible for me to take advantage of the various opportunities available at ASU, outside of my major’s required courses, through research and studying abroad,” Mello says. “It also provided a framework for me to explore areas beyond engineering such as entrepreneurship, intercultural communication, service learning and more.”

Learning consumer-focused design through entrepreneurship

Danielle Rivera, a Grand Challenges Scholar who graduated in Fall 2020 with a degree in electrical engineering and a certificate in applied business data analytics, completed GCSP’s entrepreneurship competency through FSE 301: Entrepreneurship and Value Creation, a class that allows students to gain hands-on experience with innovation through a project.

“I worked on the Soda Crushers team to develop the Smash Can, an automatic soda can crusher that is aesthetically pleasing, quick to use and encourages recycling,” Rivera says.  “Aluminum cans take up a significant amount of space in recycling bins, resulting in people throwing away their excess cans, and manual can crushers typically do not have an appealing design.”

Over the course of the Summer 2020 term, Rivera and her team worked together to brainstorm ideas, identify customer needs, conduct market research and financial analyses, and gain sales for the business.

“I learned the steps many entrepreneurs take to start a new venture and the pitfalls people could face if they do not take the necessary precautions to fully think through the venture, their customers and their goals,” Rivera says. “This class has been valuable to me because I now have the tools to take ideas I have in the future to market.”

Applying research skills to the tools of scientific discovery

“GCSP is a door to explore and learn new skills and make an impact on society and the world,” says Kartik Gupta, a computer science major whose GCSP themes were education and engineering the tools for scientific discovery.

As part of his talent competency, Gupta, who graduated in Fall 2020, participated in two research projects through the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative, or FURI.

His first project, which he completed in Summer 2018 and presented during the Fall 2018 FURI symposium, focused on developing integrated testbeds to evaluate the coordination capabilities of multi-robot systems. The second project, which he worked on during the Fall 2019 semester, was focused on developing algorithms for compact similarity joins, which are fundamental operations in data integration and cleaning.

“The research project related to my GCSP theme because the effective diversity in similarity join operators could be used for improving the current recommendation systems used by big companies like Amazon, Walmart and Netflix,” Gupta says. “The findings of this research could act as a tool for scientific discovery and improve the recommendation systems that can bring in revenue for these companies and help solve people’s needs in a better way.”

The Fall 2020 graduates of the Grand Challenges Scholars Program include Ethan Berglund, an aerospace engineering major with the GCSP theme of security; Henrique Mello, a computer science major with the GCSP theme of security; Danielle Rivera, an electrical engineering major with the GCSP theme of engineering the tools for scientific discovery; Sean Keller, an electrical engineering major with the GCSP theme of security; and Kartik Gupta, a computer science major with the GCSP theme of engineering the tools for scientific discovery.

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