UD has committed to training the next generation of engineers to solve "Grand Challenges" of national and international health, security, sustainability and quality of life in the 21st century.

Tackling society's 'Grand Challenges'

UD part of National Engineering Education Initiative announced by White House


2:48 p.m., March 23, 2015--The University of Delaware is among more than 120 U.S. engineering schools leading a transformative movement in engineering education announced at the White House today. 

In a letter presented to President Barack Obama, UD and peer institutions committed to establish special educational programs designed to prepare undergraduates to solve “Grand Challenges” of national and international health, security, sustainability and quality of life in the 21st century. 

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The Grand Challenges, identified through initiatives such as the White House Strategy for American Innovation, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenges for Engineering and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, include complex yet critical goals such as engineering better medicines, making solar energy cost-competitive with coal, securing cyberspace and advancing personalized learning tools to deliver better education to more individuals.

Each of the 122 signing schools has pledged to graduate a minimum of 20 students per year who have been specially prepared to lead the way in solving such large-scale problems, with the goal of training more than 20,000 formally recognized “Grand Challenge Engineers” over the next decade. 

Babatunde Ogunnaike, dean of UD’s College of Engineering, William L. Friend Chair of Chemical Engineering and professor in the Delaware Biotechnology Institute’s Center for Systems Biology, says he is proud of the University’s commitment to developing the next generation of engineers. 

“Many students enter college already thinking about the world’s most pressing problems in health care, security and sustainability,” he says. “It is our job to help them develop the necessary tools to tackle the Grand Challenges. Our goal is to provide frequent and meaningful opportunities to engage with these issues during their training.”

Training well-rounded engineers

According to Ogunnaike, interdisciplinary collaboration is the key to providing UD’s engineering students with ongoing and meaningful engagement with the Grand Challenges during their academic and professional development. 

UD’s Introduction to Engineering course, required for all engineering students, will re-launch in the fall as an interdisciplinary, project-based course that is centered on the Grand Challenges. 

Students will tackle three pressing issues — one each in health care, security and sustainability — that will require them to interact with faculty, industry experts, community members and students from other engineering disciplines.

In addition, the capstone design experiences are rapidly integrating into a single interdisciplinary design course in which students from different engineering majors work in teams to tackle a real-world challenge posed by industry or institutional partners. 

Presently, an arm of this course is devoted to health care with students from mechanical, electrical and biomedical engineering. The program will expand in fall of 2015 to address both community and global sustainability issues by integrating the civil and environmental engineering program into the interdisciplinary design course.

Collaboration is taking place with other colleges in the university as well. Engineering partnered with UD’s art program to begin a technical specialization in integrated design this semester, and a master’s program in entrepreneurship and design, developed in conjunction with the University’s business program, will launch in the fall. 

“Our engineering students continue to benefit from opportunities in areas of faculty expertise, such as advanced materials, cyber security and fuel cell research and development,” says Ogunnaike. “Our collaborations with other colleges provide us with exciting new ways to develop highly skilled and well-rounded engineers who are prepared to take on the challenges of the 21st century.”

For additional details about the Grand Challenges initiative, visit the NAE website.

Article by Ann Lewandowski

Photo by Evan Krape

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