Scholars program promotes student involvement in major issues

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The need for technologies to prevent and respond to a nuclear attack is growing, according to the National Academy of Engineering website. This global challenge, along with others, is a focus of a new program at the University that engages students in directly working towards solutions to major issues.

The Longhorn Grand Challenges Scholars Program makes its debut at UT this semester and joins a number of similar programs at other prestigious universities. The program was originally founded collectively at the engineering colleges of Duke University, Franklin W. Olin College and the University of Southern California.

“We started doing research in 2008 on how active students here were in humanitarian engineering,” said UT program director Christina White. “We found that students were incredibly interested yet felt they hadn’t participated enough in it.”

White said UT faculty searched for a way to implement a program that was complimentary, not additive, to students’ current curriculum. She also said that students can apply as early as their freshman year and do not have to be engineering majors.

“We know we have a really diverse and talented pool of students at UT,” White said.

The program is named after the National Academy of Engineering’s list of Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century, said White.

Program coordinator Sheila Reynolds said the opportunities it provides for students will greatly benefit them during their undergraduate years as well as after graduation as they dive into the real-world engineering pool.

The highly prestigious program is accepting applications through Oct. 7, and Reynolds said there isn’t a cap number on how many students will be chosen.

“We’re choosing the students based on the high-quality talent we’re looking for,” Reynolds said. “If it’s 10, it’s 10. If it’s 50, it’s 50.”

She also said that the five-question application allows students room to be creative with their answers. Once accepted, students will choose one of the 14 grand challenges and will have to address five components based on that challenge, she said.

“I like this program because it obviously has an emphasis on engineering, but it tries to go outside the realm of engineering to try and solve problems,” said civil engineering junior Ali Barton. “I think it’s really applicable and necessary if we want to solve large challenges.”

Reynolds said students that participate in GCSP gain additional skills that might not be acquired without taking part in the program. She said the students will have better skills interviewing, applying to graduate school and applying for jobs. These skills will help them grow professionally, scholarly and personally, she said.

“GCSP has the potential to change the very fabric of engineering education at UT,” said mechanical engineering professor Kristin Wood. “It has the potential to create a ground swell of design-based learning, of interdisciplinary learning whilst removing, through a natural and student-centric process, the barriers caused by our college, department and discipline structure, of diversifying engineering in every form as students actively engage in changing the world.”

Wood said the program provides exciting opportunities for students to further develop after graduating from the University.

“The students will be partners in the endeavor and become the next generation of entrepreneurs to make our world the essence of our dreams,” Wood said. “It is exciting. It is contagious. It is real.”

Printed on October 4, 2011, as: Program encourages student involvement in worldly issues