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What is Grand Challenge Scholars Program?

The Grand Challenges are a call to action and serve as a focal point for society's attention to opportunities and challenges affecting our world in the 21st Century. In 2008, National Academy of Engineering identified fourteen "Grand Challenges that engineers face in order to make progress toward a sustainable world — one that provides all people with more than just their basic needs and aspires to a higher quality of life. In an attempt to create grand solutions to grand problems, The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) has developed the Grand Challenge Scholars Program (GCSP) to attract fresh thinking around these challenges.

The NAE GCSP is a combined curricular and extracurricular 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 Grand Challenges are a call to action and serve as a focal point for society's attention to opportunities and challenges affecting our quality of life. The engineering program at JMU is the newest institutional member to create a GCSP for its students and joins 34 other great engineering schools in pursuit of Grand Challenge solutions.

Grand Challenge Scholars at JMU will address the most vexing issues of today with innovative ideas and designs that will help people around the world achieve a higher standard of living and quality of life.  Grand Challenge Scholars will have the chance to build innovation and entrepreneurial thinking skills, shifting their habits from simple problem solving to opportunity finding, framing, solving and value creation.  A critical aspect of the program is that Grand Challenge engineers understand their role in a global environment and that their work has an important service component. Finally, our GCSP engineers will connect across JMU, with Grand Challenge Scholars at other schools, and with professionals involved in solving the Grand Challenges in research and industry.

GC Scholars are motivated students who care about the social implications of their future work, strive to play a vital role in improving conditions in their communities or on this earth, and are intellectually curious and committed to learning in a variety of contexts. JMU’s scholars will join a growing community across the country.

What are benefits of participating?

Madison Engineering students who complete the program will achieve the distinction of Grand Challenge Scholar, endorsed by both JMU and the NAE, and will be uniquely prepared to collaborate and succeed in a transdisciplinary and global environment. GC Scholars are part of a selective group recognized by faculty, classmates, graduate schools and especially employers for engaging in a transformative set of engineering, educational, and leadership experiences.

Additionally, JMU Grand Challenge Scholars will be eligible for special funding and training opportunities, be recognized with a cord at graduation, and collaborate with GC Scholars from across the world at national and international meetings.

Who is eligible?

Applications are open to engineering majors only, with preference given to first- and second-year students. Applicants further along in the curriculum are also welcome to apply and encouraged to demonstrate that they have already fulfilled some of the program requirements and can complete the rest before graduation.

What will be required for successful completion?

All GC Scholars are required by NAE to complete curricular and extra-curricular work in five program areas:

  1. Research or Hands-on Project related to a Grand Challenge
  2. Interdisciplinary Curriculum
  3. Entrepreneurship
  4. Multicultural Experience, and
  5. Social consciousness

Sounds daunting? Check out our "Personal Pathway Plan" below to see the many possibilities in Madison Engineering to fulfill these requirements with some smart planning.

Specific requirements for the Madison Engineering GCSP program include:

  • One-credit Grand Challenges Seminars in first and last semesters in the program
  • Work with faculty and non-faculty mentors
  • Approved plan of study indicating course and project plans that meet graduation and GCSP goals
  • Portfolio of GCSP work that connects to one or more NAE Grand Challenge

For more information, please contact Dr. Kurt Paterson at

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