The world we live in is not perfect. Lasting stability for our global society seems impossible because new obstacles to it appear every day. However, some people believe that if we tackle these obstacles bit by bit, we can create a better world in which to live.
In 2008, the NAE identified 14 such looming obstacles and issued a set of challenges, addressing four key themes (Sustainability, Security, Global Health, and Joy of LIving), to engineers worldwide, saying “Hey, help us out here! Solve these!”
Upon hearing this call, Rick Miller (President of Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering), Tom Katsouleas (former Dean of Pratt School of Engineering at Duke and current Provost at the University of Virginia), and Yannis Yortsos (Dean of USC Viterbi School of Engineering), realized that engineering students needed to be specifically trained to start addressing these challenges, as well as any others which might fall under the four themes.
In 2009, a conference was held at Duke to announce the birth of the Grand Challenge Scholars Program - a national initiative focused on encouraging colleges and universities to provide training to their engineering students. The schools behind this initial push agreed that the training needs to provide students with interdisciplinary experiences, opportunities for entrepreneurship, engagement in service learning, a heightened sense of global awareness, and a project or research assignment focused on at least one of the aforementioned four themes. These five tenets of training became known as the 5 Grand Challenge pillars, which every participating student must address.