Last year's First Step health grand prize went to the Nutrition and Dietetics Learning Lab food truck, which aims to inspire small changes in the eating habits of college students. The interdisciplinary team included students from behavioral health and nutrition, agriculture and hotel, restaurant and institutional management. 

First Step

Undergrads tackle societal challenges in First Step Grand Challenges Program


9:07 a.m., Sept. 16, 2015--Sustainable energy. Economic development. Health disparities. When facing the most important societal challenges of our time, youth can often envision innovative solutions that promise to change the world. That’s exactly who the First Step Grand Challenges Program aims to engage, offering interdisciplinary teams of University of Delaware undergraduate students $25,000 in prize, seed and grant money. 

The program invites students from disciplines across the University to team up, identify a societal challenge and propose novel solutions. 

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“Students can take on these ‘grand challenges’ through a combination of practice, policy, technology, business and research,” says Kathy Matt, dean of the College of Health Sciences. “We are looking for true interdisciplinary ideas from all across campus.” 

Teams participating in the year-long competition whose projects demonstrate the greatest potential for positive societal impact will receive a $500 grant, which can be applied toward purchasing resource information, travel, prototyping costs and other product-related expenses. 

Additionally, the most promising teams will receive “follow-on opportunities,” including connections with relevant experts, direction into research training programs and participation in other offerings aimed at supporting nascent startups. 

Last year’s competition resulted in submissions for social ventures, biomedical research and community-based research, to name a few. This year’s competition hopes to expand even further. 

Originally developed by the College of Health Sciences, the 2015-16 installment of the First Step Program is co-sponsored by the Horn Program in Entrepreneurship.

“Our goal is to help students to put their great ideas into action,” says Dan Freeman, director of the Horn Program. “Faculty play a vital role in the success of First Step Grand Challenges projects by serving as team mentors who ask challenging questions and provide insightful feedback and guidance.”

Applications are due by Monday, Oct. 12, at 11 p.m. All undergraduate students who are enrolled (at least one-half time) during the 2015-16 academic year are eligible to participate. 

For general questions, email Sarah LaFave at and specify First Step in the subject line. For application and further details, visit the First Step website

The full timeline is as follows:

  • Oct. 12 — Applications due
  • Oct. 21, 4-9 p.m. — Incubator event for finalists
  • Oct. 26 — Selected teams notified
  • October through April 2016 — Monthly meetings with mentor
  • Feb. 18, 2016, 4-7 p.m. — Workshopping event
  • March 24, 2016 — Written project reports and presentations due
  • April 6, 2016, 6-8 p.m. — Presentations and awards dinner
  • April 25, 2016, 4-9 p.m. — Hen Hatch and Innovation Showcase 

Photos by Doug Baker

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