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If you are interested in becoming a part of the Grand Challenge Scholars Program, you should start with writing a bio that introduces yourself to the other members of the GCSP community of students, alumni, faculty, and staff. Please email your answer to the prompt below to Or feel free to contact if you have any questions!

The prompt:

Tell us about a way in which your life has related to the Grand Challenge Scholars Program. This could be a particular experience, an overarching theme in your life, or whatever else you deem appropriate. Your narrative does not need to be limited to your academic experiences, and it could involve any of the five pillars (service learning, global dimension, project/research, interdisciplinary experience, or entrepreneurship), the fourteen challenges, or the four themes. Please be sure to include why you feel your experience relates to GCSP.

Past Bios:

Celina Bekins - I realized in middle school that I wanted to be an engineer. I was attending a project-based STEM school and loving the fact that I felt like I was actively learning and applying that learning to help my community. At some point during my first year there, I had an epiphany: the way to combine my desire to be creative and artsy with my enthusiasm for science and math as well as my passion for helping people was to go into engineering. I have worked from that point on to become an engineer with the knowledge and confidence necessary to make a difference in the world.

When I arrived at Olin, I knew I had found the perfect place for me. This dream I had – to use engineering to creatively build a better world – seemed to be reflected in everything the college was founded upon. The first time I heard about GCSP I thought, “This is the epitome of what I want to do with my life and what we often refer to as a main goal of Olin. Why am I just hearing about this now?” I soon found a way to join the steering committee, and have been working to make GCSP a more defined piece of our culture. And through that journey, I have learned what the grand challenges I want to tackle are. That knowledge gives me a chance to begin that work while I’m at Olin; something I am incredibly excited about. 

Ellen Chisa Ellen Chisa is the VP of Product at Lola. Lola is a new company that helps travelers plan, book, and manage their travel by chatting with a team of travel consultants. Lola recently raised a Series A round of $19.7M from General Catalyst and Accel Venture Partners. Previously, she was a Product Manager at Kickstarter and Program Manager at Microsoft. She is currently on leave from the MBA Program at Harvard Business School.

The Grand Challenges program directly impacted Ellen's choice to join Lola. While Ellen was a lifelong personal traveler, she didn't realize the significance of her personal travel until she wrote an essay about the trips for the Globalism piece of her Grand Challenge Scholars Portfolio. The program helped her to realize how significantly travel had shaped her worldview and perspective on products. Since then she has strived to work on products that help people have more meaningful real-world lives.

Ellen joined Lola to help others have the same types of experiences. Since Lola allows an individual to connect with a team to help them plan, book, and manage their travel, they can worry less about logistical details. Instead of thinking about those details, they can focus on truly immersive experiences during travel.

Michael CostelloMichael Costello, from Newton, MA, is a mechanical engineering student with an interest in urban systems. He is expecting to graduate in 2018. In his time at Olin so far, his projects have included creating urban planning proposals for underused land in his hometown, organizing events within the young adult Unitarian-Universalist community, and helping to design affordable devices for treating glaucoma in the developing world.

Growing up, Michael always loved spending time in nature, and became concerned from an early age about environmental issues of climate change and habitat destruction. In high school, his work with his close-knit church youth group gave him insight into the power of communities to be a source of personal growth and collective action. Creating human communities that satisfy the needs of all -- from physical needs like food and shelter to emotional needs like curiosity, love, growth, and achievement -- is a challenge that too often disrupts the environment. In his academic and social action pursuits, Michael focuses on the intersection of these issues, studying how communities can address all the needs of their members in ways that align with the workings of the natural world.

Andrew Holmes - Andrew is from Winchester, Massachusetts and is currently a sophomore at Olin. Several projects he worked on during his first year at Olin include Olin’s Baja racing vehicle, a stage ramp for a dancer in a wheelchair, and a math-based exhibit for the Boston Children’s Museum. He has a growing interest in the startup scene, Maker Movement, and 3D printing, and has continued to spend his time at Olin trying new things and stepping out of his comfort zone!

Andrew’s aforementioned project with the Boston Children’s Museum required an appreciation for and understanding of the five core aspects of GCSP (service learning, global dimension, project/research, interdisciplinary experience, and entrepreneurial thinking). His team’s goal was to create a tabletop game for the Boston Children’s Museum that teaches kids about triangles and geometry. Kids could grab a handle at each of the vertices of a triangle and adjust its size. Working with the Boston Children’s Museum, an internationally recognized museum, was daunting at first, but ultimately rewarding. It required an understanding of how to communicate the project to adults and how to work with kids in order to convey relevant topics and make sure they walked away happy. Success required the use of knowledge and experience from a number of disciplines. Mathematics, design, construction, and physics came together to create a successful and functional product. The project also required that the team be entrepreneurial, constantly keeping the user experience in mind and creating a story to entice visitors into playing the game.

Linnea Laux - I discovered that I wanted to be an engineer during my junior year of high school. At the time, I was taking AP Chemistry, AP Environmental Science, and Biotechnical Engineering. Although the difficulty level varied vastly between the classes, the combination of subject matter made something click in my head. I wanted to be an engineer, and I wanted to help humanity transition to a more sustainable way of living. My passion for sustainability will always be the motivation for my technical education.

Once I came to Olin, I was excited to find that many classes had flexible projects, but not as excited to see that many students weren’t taking full advantage of this flexibility. I wanted to help ensure that there would be a GCSP program at Olin because I thought it could provide an amazing opportunity for students to start achieving their broader goals in life while still in college. Personally, the program provides me with a cohesive way of framing my educational focus and presenting it to potential employers. GCSP is a convenient framework for something I would have done anyway, and I’m excited to see how it will shape my journey at Olin. 


Brett Rowley - I think the most obvious way GCSP shaped my life was helping me reflect on and make sense of events in my life. Throughout high school I had followed a "buffet-style" of learning and doing. There were themes to my actions , but no obvious thread through them all. Traveling through the Middle East, working as a peer tutor, and building medical instruments didn't define an obvious pattern!

GCSP helped me look at these events through new lenses and think about their relationships in new ways. Ideas like "service learning" had great appeal, even if I had never heard the term before. Most importantly, I was able to work with Olin alum who were asked sharp, nuanced questions about my Portfolio draft. Even after years of debate experience from high school, these were some of the best conversations I ever had defending my writing.

My drafts obviously improved as a result, but more importantly I learned a lot about critical reflection and introspection. It was a tremendous way to finish 4 years of Olin education. I don't think GCSP altered where or what I would end up doing as a graduate 2 years later. The confidence with which I pursue that work, though, stems from my ability to articulate how I got here. The Olin curriculum already promotes confidence and communicability already, but working in GCSP and with GCSP alumni took it to the next level.

Kevin Simon - Kevin has a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Olin college, and a MS in Engineering Systems from MIT. Currently, he is a Mechanical Engineering PhD student at MIT and a co-founder of Khethworks - an impact-oriented, for-profit startup that is creating affordable solar irrigation solutions for marginal-holding farmers in East India. Previously, he has worked on robotic sailboats, microscope accessories, intestine-like natural gas tanks, and actuators for concentrated solar power. Outside of work, Kevin likes to run, bike, and cook.

The GCSP flavor of my Olin experience helped set me on the path towards making solar energy more affordable. This was very clear to me in the spring of 2015, when I was boarding a plane to India to take a new solar irrigation pump to Jharkhand, a rural state in East India. Even though I had been working on optimization and pump design for the previous 2 years, I was working to make solar energy more affordable by creating systems that enabled farmers to affordably use solar power to irrigate year-round.

Unlike my work at Sunfolding, after Olin and before MIT which was focused on making cheaper solar trackers, my work was at MIT has been about creating a system of creating value out of solar power. Solar power is only affordable if it is properly financed, managed, and producing value to the key stakeholders: the goal of my work at the Tata Center for Technology and Design at MIT. This was also the exact sort of work that I had come to write about in my GCSP reflections at Olin. Producing technologies that made economic sense for off-grid communities in India fit the Olin GCSP model shockingly well. The work was right at the intersection between making solar more affordable, service learning, interdisciplinary work, an entrepreneurial mindset, and service learning.