ASU Celebrates Largest Cohort of Grand Challenges Scholars
the Grand Challenges Scholarship Program encourages students to diversify their academic path beyond engineering to include studies in culture, ethics, politics, human behavior, entrepreneurship, and other disciplines. This may require students to complete several majors or minors, in addition to their engineering degrees.
Known as GCSP, the program is offered by the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University and equips students to respond to global concerns through skills that impart the ability to consider all sides of a problem and generate solutions for the benefit of society.
“The results and future paths of our graduates are diverse this year,” says Amy Trowbridge, faculty director of ASU’s Grand Challenges Scholars Program and senior lecturer at Fulton Schools. “Some of our graduates go on to study economics, politics and law, while others will go on to graduate studies in engineering fields or begin their professional careers in industry. Their engineering degrees and experiences in the Grand Challenges Scholars program have prepared them to succeed in any field they choose.
A cohort of 21 Grand Challenges Scholars graduated from Fulton Schools this spring. The group is the largest to date in the program, which continues to grow and strengthen the ASU community.
“This group of students is ambitious, hard-working, intelligent and extremely resilient,” says Trowbridge. “Despite changes in study abroad and other plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these students have persisted in their GCSP journeys and are now graduating as the best of the best.”
To be part of the Grand Challenges Scholars community, students must demonstrate five skills through research or creative project, multidisciplinary learning, entrepreneurship, multicultural experience, and project service learning.
Seeking educational equality
Alexia Roberts, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from ASU College of Liberal Arts and Sciencessays she thinks more students should attend programs like the GCSP.
“It allowed me to see engineering for more than what I learned in class,” Roberts says. “I gained practical knowledge and a broader understanding of ideas, not just words on paper. I’m excited to graduate, but sad to say goodbye to my undergraduate years.
Roberts had never heard of GCSP until he received an email from the program before starting his first semester at ASU.
“The email really intrigued me,” Roberts says. “The idea I had of using my classes to have systemic impacts on big world issues was exactly what I wanted to do.”
Through GCSP, Roberts became interested in government and how policies created 50 years ago still impact us today.
“The GCSP gave me direction because it exposed me to a way of thinking and a degree program that I might not otherwise have found,” she says. “Joining GCSP was one of the best things I did for myself when I started college. I know a lot of the programs and extracurricular activities I joined in college were due to the GCSP.”
Roberts, who will be attending Harvard Law School in the fall, says she has always had a passion for inequalities in education and that the GCSP has allowed her to use engineering to address these issues.
“My main GCSP project focused on retention factors for black women in engineering,” says Roberts. “I’m a black woman and there aren’t many others in engineering programs, so I wanted to see why that was and how we can get more black women into engineering programs and cross the stage in four years. Equality is very important to me and that includes equal opportunity, which is not currently the case in (many) engineering courses across America.
Recharge after the onslaught of nature
Jairo Ramirez Torres, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and a Bachelor of Science in Economics from ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, selected sustainability projects while at GCSP after a hurricane left his native Puerto Rico without power.
He says he is very interested in expanding energy access and has had the opportunity to research electrical devices, learn about cultural differences in communication styles and work with a team of Australian engineering students as part of their GCSP experiments.
“My interests in the field began when I learned firsthand about the access disparities that exist today,” says Ramirez Torres. “It was solidified by the natural disasters I experienced in Puerto Rico that destroyed our electrical system and I felt responsible to help build more resilient and sustainable energy infrastructure.”
The majority of projects Ramirez Torres worked on fell under the energy category.
“It’s one of the areas that interests me a lot,” says Ramirez Torres. “I hope to pursue a career that allows me to use both sides of my expertise, technical and non-technical.”
Although her goal is to work in the area of energy and environmental policy, the next step in her academic journey will see her take part in the European Union’s Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters Program in economy of globalization and european integration.
technology in the shade
Maya Muir, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, first became involved with the GCSP at during his second year.
“I was interested in working on one of the Grand Challenges because I wanted to use the knowledge from my degree to make a difference in people’s lives,” says Muir. “GCSP encouraged me to become a more complete engineer through the completion of the five skills.”
“I created a web-based tool that would allow urban planners to assess the effectiveness of a shade structure at a given location,” says Muir. “It would allow them to choose the best shade type for where they want shade.”
Muir, who is also a Fulton Schools Outstanding Graduate this semester, chose her research project because climate change is an important issue for her.
“This project will help protect humans from the rising temperatures we are experiencing and the consequences thereof,” Muir said. “It also allowed me to explore data visualization, which is an area that interests me.”
Sustainability in the face of climate change
Smith Pittman, who earned a bachelor of science degree in environmental engineering with a minor in Spanish from ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, says when she looks back at where she started as a freshman year and where she is now, she is grateful to have had the experiences she had at GCSP.
Pittman says she was particularly interested in being a socially conscious engineer and wanted to influence the effects of environmental issues on marginalized communities versus wealthy areas.
“Joining GCSP was an easy choice because I’m really interested in sustainability,” says Pittman. “I think climate change is one of the most worrying issues facing humanity and I’ve always wanted to study it.”
Pittman, which is also a spring 2022 Fulton Schools Outstanding Graduatecontacted Professor ASU Regents Bruce Rittman and asked to join his research group. He gave her a project that would become her main research project and a project that she would share in her honors thesis for Barrett, The Honors College and FURI.
“The project is evaluating improved recovery of valuable products in anaerobic digestion by pretreating lignocellulose with rabbit feces,” Pittman said. “I’m glad I was assigned to this project because I’m interested in anaerobic digestion because of its ability to produce biofuels.”
Next, Pittman will continue her research on full life-cycle analysis of anaerobic digestion as a doctoral student in mechanical engineering at Colorado State University.
“The connectivity between my experiences is sustainability, but not just of earth systems, of human systems as well,” says Pittman. “That’s because humans are an integral part of the Earth system and the sustainability of both must be achieved for either to be achieved.”
A bright future ahead of us
This cohort of graduates has made a significant impact on the ASU community and beyond through the creation of new student organizations, the mentoring of students, and the development of solutions to improve local and global communities.