May 09, 2013

Associate Dean of Engineering Mike Toole '83 works with a student. Toole developed the Bucknell Grand Challenge Scholars Program in collaboration with others in the College of Engineering.

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By Molly O'Brien-Foelsch

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Bucknell University has been accepted to the Grand Challenge Scholars Program, an initiative of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). In 2008, the NAE released a list of 14 Grand Challenges that leading technical thinkers identified as the greatest engineering problems and opportunities for the 21st century. Those challenges include making solar energy economical, providing access to clean water, and restoring and improving urban infrastructure. || View all 14 Grand Challenges

Of the 13 colleges and universities that offer Grand Challenge Scholars programs, only two including Bucknell are liberal arts institutions.

Associate Dean of Engineering Mike Toole '83 developed the Bucknell Grand Challenge Scholars Program in collaboration with several colleagues in the College of Engineering. "The Grand Challenges program will be yet another resource in helping us produce engineers who are engaged with the world," said the professor of civil and environmental engineering, who will serve as director of the new program. "Scholars will create innovative ideas to solve the most pressing issues of today to meet the basic needs of all people and work for a higher standard of living."

As an initial step in launching the program, Toole will pilot a Grand Challenges foundation seminar for first-year students in the Society and Technology Residential College this fall. The University expects to begin recruiting Grand Scholars next year. Scholars will propose, implement and report on a substantial research project related to a Grand Challenge, with faculty mentors guiding them throughout the process. The Scholars will also take courses in an "engineering plus" curriculum that includes social sciences and humanities electives. Complementary Grand Challenges experiences will include entrepreneurship, service-learning and global awareness activities.

Dean of Engineering Keith Buffinton said the program would enhance Bucknell's efforts to educate "T-shaped" engineers. "We want our students to gain deep knowledge of the technical side of engineering, but we also want them to develop broad insights about engineering's larger role in society," said Buffinton. "The Grand Challenges program will go a long way toward helping us achieve our purpose."

Bucknell's Grand Challenges Scholars Program will operate using existing University resources and infrastructure, with additional funding coming from donors. Alum Alan Bilanin '68 and Toole have made significant initial contributions.

The chair of the NAE Grand Challenge Scholars Program Steering Committee, Jenna Carpenter, said she is delighted to have Bucknell join the Grand Challenges family. "Bucknell has created a program that is well integrated into all four years of its engineering curriculum and enjoys both strong leadership and solid support from the University," she said. "We are confident that Bucknell students who participate in this Grand Challenge Scholars Program will be well-prepared to contribute to the development of innovative solutions to the grand challenges in engineering that face our country in the 21st century."