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Rose-Hulman Joins National Effort to Address Global Challenges

Thursday, April 09, 2015
Grand Challenge students pose for photo.

Meeting The Challenge: Students enrolled in a grand challenges summer course produced a prototype of a solar oven that melts plastic trash to form materials to help rebuild structures in Haiti damaged by natural disasters. Aspects of the projects will be expanded for this summer's course. (Photo by Terry Miller)

Rose-Hulman has joined a national initiative aimed at training future engineers to address several of the world's toughest problems, which have been identified as "grand challenges" that can be addressed through engineering.

Our top-rated undergraduate engineering school is among 122 colleges and universities promising to establish a program to graduate 20 engineers annually who are specifically prepared to tackle these large-scale, global challenges.

"Students motivated by humanitarian engineering are worthwhile and critically important to the future," says Sean Moseley, PhD, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and organizer of Rose-Hulman's Grand Challenges Group. The challenges are "amazingly complex and require training in technical, political, and cultural approaches," he adds. Meanwhile, Moseley believes the potential for the grand challenges to provide a broader, global context for all Rose-Hulman students is exciting.

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE), a federally-chartered, Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to serving the national interest through engineering, identified 14 global grand challenges in 2008. These topics include:

  • Making solar energy economical
  • Providing access to clean water
  • Preventing nuclear terror
  • Engineering better medicines

Grand Challenges scholars are charged with addressing these problems using research, an interdisciplinary approach, entrepreneurship, global awareness, and learning through service, according to the NAE's criteria.

Rose-Hulman faculty members took the initiative and launched an informal Grand Challenges Group in 2011, according to Bill Kline, PhD, dean of innovation and engagement. Since then, the institute's engineering students have completed two summer projects-both using solar energy to create useful products. The first, in 2013, produced a prototype system that would provide clean drinking water for residents of remote villages in Kenya, while the second, in 2014, melts plastic trash to form materials to help rebuild structures in Haiti damaged by natural disasters.

This summer, students will likely continue the Haiti project, says Ashley Bernal, PhD, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and another faculty mentor for the program. Working with students from Clemson University already in Haiti, Rose-Hulman students hope to refine their techniques to take further of solar energy opportunities, abundant across the island, to create lighter, stronger construction materials.

Rose-Hulman also will host nearly 50 middle-school students this June as they participate in activities and projects guided by the NAE's Grand Challenges. The 2015 ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp is a two-week camp serving historically under-represented or under-served sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders, and taught by Rose-Hulman professors at no charge to the students' families. The camp is directed by Christine Buckley, PhD, associate professor of biology and biomedical engineering, and Harrison Campbell, associate director of pre-college outreach for the Office of Admissions.

Moseley says several Rose-Hulman students have taken a strong interest in humanitarian engineering, an approach that builds a close relationship between engineers and the individuals being served.