May 20, 2016, BY Matt Hughes

Grand Challenge Scholars
Six engineering students from the Class of 2016 are the first at Bucknell to complete the Grand Challenge Scholars Program, a National Academy of Engineering-sponsored effort to confront the big issues of the 21st century. Photo by Brett Simpson, Division of Communications

As members of Bucknell University's Class of 2016 leave the Malesardi Quad and go out into the world on May 22, among them will be six engineers who have organized their education with the express aim of making that world a better place.

They are the first class at Bucknell to complete the Grand Challenge Scholars Program (GCSP), a National Academy of Engineering endeavor to engage students in confronting 14 critical problems facing humanity that require engineering solutions, dubbed Grand Challenges.

In 2013, Bucknell became the 13th university to join the GCSP. Since then, more than 100 additional engineering programs have committed to taking on the challenges by signing letters to President Barack Obama. 

Each of the Class of 2016 Grand Challenge Scholars — Rahul Dhakal, civil engineering; Stephanie Houser, civil engineering and international relations; Chau Le, chemical engineering; Mona Mohammed, civil engineering and women's & gender studies; Dan Muccio, civil engineering; and Claire Rodgers, mechanical engineering — selected a challenge that was personally meaningful, and made it their focus in completing a series of activities to build the knowledge and perspective needed to help overcome their challenge.

Members of the Class of 2016 who completed the Grand Challenges Scholars Program (L to R) Stephanie Houser, Rahul Dhakal, Mona Mohammed, Chau Le, Claire Rodgers and Dan Muccio. Photo by Brett Simpson, Division of Communications

"Having lived most of my life in Nepal — one of the most gifted countries in water resources — rivers and lakes were a big part of my upbringing environmentally, culturally and even religiously," said Dhakal, who took on the challenge of providing access to clean water.

"I know personally how despite being blessed with abundance of free flowing water from the tallest glaciers with tremendous hydroelectric potential, a country can still suffer from the shortage of fresh water, and face blackouts for hours every day," he continued. "I want to be part of the solution and help countries like Nepal, cities like New Orleans and the many others who face water problems."

Houser, Le and Mohammed also made providing access to clean water the locus of their engineering education, while Rodgers sought methods to improve technology to make solar energy affordable and Muccio looked for ways to advance urban infrastructure.

"Our infrastructure impacts the planet and society," Muccio said. "A deteriorating infrastructure poses structural risks that are dangerous for human health and well-being. I am interested in being at the intersection of sustainable development and human health."

To complete the program, the graduating engineers were required to undertake a hands-on project or research experience, look beyond departmental boundaries through interdisciplinary coursework and an entrepreneurial activity, gain global experience and perspective, and deepen their social consciousness through service learning, all under the umbrella of their Grand Challenge.

Some of the requirements obliged the students to relate parts of their undergraduate curriculum to their Grand Challenge — the College of Engineering requires students to complete a capstone senior design project, for example, and Bucknell's curriculum strongly emphasizes interdisciplinary learning in a liberal arts context.

Professor Mike Toole '83, associate dean of engineering, is director of the Grand Challenge Scholars Program at Bucknell. Photo by Gordon Wenzel

"GCSP has the potential to grow into one of the best examples of effective multidisciplinary collaboration on campus," said Professor Mike Toole '83, associate dean of engineering and the program's director. "Engineering students are exposed to principles of economics, finance, public policy and management of technology that they may otherwise have missed. We have faculty and staff from the College of Engineering, the College of Arts & Sciences, the Office of Civic Engagement, Library & Information Technology and the Career Development Center all collaborating to provide students with special educational opportunities."

Others requirements, such as the global perspective and service-learning components, demand extracurricular effort. All six of the graduating scholars studied abroad, and, to achieve their service-learning goals, Le, Mohammed and Dhakal participated in the Katrina Recovery Team trip to New Orleans during Thanksgiving break, Muccio and Houser built homes during an Appalachia Service Project in Tennessee, and Houser took part in the Bucknell Brigade service trip to Nicaragua. Rodgers and Le also volunteered at the Lewisburg Community Garden, with Rodgers designing experimental cold frames to extend the garden's growing season and Le designing and building a drip-irrigation system at the garden as her senior design project.

Houser, who assisted Toole in bringing GCSP to Bucknell, also fulfilled part of her global perspectives requirement by attending the Global Grand Challenges Summit in Beijing, China, last fall.

"Being a delegate to this conference pushed me to think more broadly, interact across borders, and form connections that will be integral in achieving success in overcoming the Grand Challenges," Houser said.

As the engineers now leave the University headed for both graduate school and careers in industry, all six said they will continue working toward a solution to their challenge.

"It actually helped me get a job," said Dhakal, who will be water-resources engineer in Maryland. "Hiring committees are really interested in activities like this. My interview was mostly about what I did as a Grand Challenge Scholar. They really liked the idea of an interdisciplinary program."

Professor Keith Buffinton, dean of the College of Engineering, said he hopes the graduates will not only continue their efforts to confront the challenges of the future, but inspire future engineers to take up the mantle as well.

"The world will be a better place because of the experiences and opportunities these engineers have had as a result of this program at Bucknell," Buffinton said. "We hope that each of them will not only contribute throughout their careers to solving the Grand Challenges but also help to inspire future generations of students to study engineering and make their own contributions to impacting the world."

Commencement 2016
Bucknell University's 166th Commencement celebration will be held on the Malesardi Quadrangle on Sunday, May 22, beginning at 10 a.m. Bucknell alumnus and President and CEO of CBS Corp. Leslie Moonves will deliver the keynote address. For those unable to attend, the ceremony will be live streamed. The ceremony will also be shown in Trout Auditorium in the Vaughan Literature Building. For a complete schedule of commencement events, registration and general information, visit Commencement 2016.

Weather Updates
Barring heavy rain or severe weather, the Commencement ceremony will be held outdoors; guests should dress accordingly. In the event inclement weather prompts a decision to hold the ceremony indoors, an alert will be emailed to the campus community and posted to the University's homepage and social media channels.