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National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenge Scholars Program at Clemson University

Purpose | Program administration | Preliminary plan of study, template and example

Current Participants and Plans of Study

  • Madison Andrews - Make solar energy economical
  • Juan Avila - Make solar energy economical
  • William Bagnal - Advanced health informatics
  • Maggie Boyd - Make solar energy economical
  • Sarah Donaher - Provide access to clean water
  • Amanda Farthing - Make solar energy economical
  • Aaron Gordon - Provide access to clean water
  • Zachary Hawks - Advanced health informatics
  • Andrew McCartney - Managing the nitrogen cycle, Provide access to clean water
  • Justin Olshavsky - Provide energy from fusion
  • Jacqueline Rohde - Engineer better medicines
  • Bryce Safrit - Increase global access to healthcare


Engineers and those who work with them will need to change the world if we expect to meet our obligation to continue advancing the quality and quantity of human life now and in the future. Threats to our home planet require reversal of environmental degradation and development of new energy sources. Threats to our personal and societal health require more effective and more readily available treatments. Threats from manmade and natural disasters require new methods of protection and prevention. Defusing threats like these will certainly require engineers trained to solve technical problems, but it will also require engineers who can shape public policy, move innovation to the market place, and draw from and contribute to social science and the humanities. The Grand Challenge Scholar Program at Clemson University is designed to help students prepare themselves to become these world changing engineers.

Grand Challenge Scholars will work with other Scholars and with faculty mentors to develop and execute a plan tailored to pursuing a Grand Challenge for engineering in the 21st century1. Scholars will satisfy learning outcomes in each of the following five areas: research experience, interdisciplinary curriculum, entrepreneurship, global dimension, and service learning.

Research experience

Learning outcome: Scholars will make significant progress on inquiry related to their Grand Challenge; and present their findings in a professional and engaging manner.

To achieve this learning outcome, Scholars will:

  1. Complete the equivalent of at least 1 credit hour of coursework in research principles2
  2. Complete the equivalent of 3 credit hours of inquiry related to their Grand Challenge.
  3. Produce a written report describing their inquiry. This report should be written in the format appropriate for a selected journal or conference publication, or the equivalent. An initial draft report must be revised based on feedback from the mentor and from another Scholar. The improved report must be submitted to at least one external peer reviewer and revised based on her feedback. External peer review may occur as part of a journal article or conference paper review process.
  4. Prepare and deliver a 20-minute TED-style presentation describing Scholars’ work to a general audience.

Example research experience activities

  • Creative Inquiry3
  • Honors thesis4
  • Approved external research and inquiry experiences such as internships and co-ops through which participants satisfy all 4 tasks listed above

Interdisciplinary curriculum

Learning outcome: Scholars will complete coursework outside of engineering that is related to their Grand Challenge.

To achieve this learning outcome, Scholars will:

  1. Complete 6 credits of non-engineering coursework related to their Grand Challenge. The intent of this requirement is for engineers to expand their intellectual horizon and expose themselves to wider range of worldviews. In this spirit, 3 credits of this requirement may be satisfied through Creative Inquiry or through independent study credit earned through participation in non-engineering activities, such as writing for the student newspaper about a Grand Challenge.
  2. Show connections between this coursework and their research in the presentation described in #4 of the research experience section.

Example interdisciplinary curriculum activities

  • Courses related to Grand Challenges (outside of the College of Engineering and Science)
  • Creative Inquiry related to Grand Challenges (if engineering majors are a minority)
  • Independent study credit for participation in non-engineering activities related to Grand Challenges


Learning outcome: Scholars will practice translating invention to innovation.

To achieve this learning outcome, Scholars will either:

  1. Complete at least 3 credits of coursework designed to develop market ventures that scale to global solutions in the public interest; or
  2. Incorporate a significant (equivalent to at least 3 credits of effort) entrepreneurship component in their Grand Challenge research experience.

Example entrepreneurship activities

  • Courses such as those offered through the Entrepreneurship Minor5 (e.g., Social Science of Entrepreneurship; Technology Innovation; New Venture Creation; Executive Leadership and Entrepreneurship).
  • Creating a business model for a product of their Grand Challenge research experience.
  • Developing a product prototype as part of their Grand Challenge research experience.
  • Completing a market analysis related to their Grand Challenge research experience.
  • Applying for a patent related to their Grand Challenge research experience.
  • Soliciting funding to support their Grand Challenge research experience through grant proposals and presentations to donors, for example.

Global dimension

Learning outcome: Scholars will develop their global perspective and demonstrate application of this perspective.

To achieve this learning outcome, Scholars will either:

  1. Study abroad and show connections between this experience and their Grand Challenge in the presentation described in #4 of the research experience section; or
  2. Complete at least 3 credits of coursework selected to develop their global perspective related to their Grand Challenge; and incorporate a significant (equivalent to at least 3 credits of effort) global dimension in their Grand Challenge research experience.

Example global dimension activities

  • Courses such as those in International Studies6.
  • Study abroad7.
  • Other approved travel experiences such as the Dixon Global Policy Scholars Program8.
  • Significant participation in international service organizations such as Engineers without Borders, Engineering World Health, and Clemson Engineers for Developing Countries.

Service learning

Learning outcome: Scholars will apply their unique skills to societal problems at the local scale.

To achieve this learning outcome, Scholars will:

  1. Participate in at least 30 hours of local service where they apply their unique skills. The Scholar should strive to maximize the benefit of the time they will spend. Picking up trash, for example, may be useful, but not as much as starting a program to reduce litter in the first place. This service may occur on campus, in the community surrounding Clemson, or in the Scholars’ hometown.
  2. Relate their service experience to a Grand Challenge as part of their presentation described in #4 of the research experience section.

Example service learning activities

  • Incorporating a local service component in their Grand Challenge research experience.
  • Tutoring and mentoring other students.
  • Participation in community engineering projects such as Habitat for Humanity.

Program administration

Scholar selection

  1. Clemson students who have completed at least one semester of study and have at least a 3.2 GPA are eligible to apply for the program.
  2. Interested students should submit (1) their preliminary plan of study in the format below, (2) a statement (250 words maximum) explaining why they want to be a Scholar, and (3) a current resume.
  3. Scholars will eventually select a mentor faculty member, but this is not a requirement for initial acceptance into the program.
  4. A panel of mentors and Scholars will review applications and select new Scholars. We anticipate selecting around 20 Scholars each year.

Scholar responsibilities and assessment

  1. Scholars are expected to make a good-faith effort to contribute to the program through activities such as providing feedback to their peers, attending peer presentations and serving on application review panels.
  2. Scholars must maintain a 3.0 GPA and continue to make acceptable progress in the program.
  3. Scholar progress will be assessed based on the preliminary plan and the learning outcomes for each program area. Measures for this assessment will include deliverables such as the research report, completion of coursework and other activities, and annual mentor feedback.

Program logistics (for Scholars)

  1. Coursework may not be double counted for more than one area of the program. For example, a 3-credit course in Innovation Abroad could satisfy either the Entrepreneurship or Global dimension areas, but not both.
  2. Scholars may work on similar topics as long as each completes the program components independently.

Program logistics (for mentors)

  1. This program is designed to use existing resources at Clemson. Courses and activities are existing and faculty participation will be considered in workload reporting as a contribution to teaching, research, and service responsibilities (whichever is most relevant for that involvement).

Preliminary plan of study, template and example

Student: Paul Farmer

Grand Challenge: Improving Access to Clean Water

Program area Planned activities
1 Research experience - Transportation in Developing Countries
- EES 4020
- Implementation of water system in Haitian village through CEDC
- Documented results shared in a peer-reviewed journal
2 Interdisciplinary curriculum - CH 2230 and CH 2240 (Organic Chemistry)
- HLTH 4310 (Public and Environmental Health)
- Dixon GPS Political Science classes
3 Entrepreneurship - Formal grant submitted and received from EDUSC
- Market analysis of how communities can better afford water treatment systems
4 Global dimension - Study Abroad in South Africa
- Total of 8 months in Cange, Haiti as project manager
- HLTH 4700 (International Health)
5 Service learning - Volunteer at the Rosa Clark Medical Clinic
- Work with EWB and CEDC
Approvals Mentor:
Peer Scholar:
Peer Scholar Mentor:

1 As outline by the National Academy of Engineering at:
2 A few example courses that can satisfy this requirement are listed here
3 Creative Inquiry is a Clemson program where small groups of students undertake team-based investigations led by a faculty mentor. For more information, see:
4 For more information, see:
5 For more information see:
6 Example courses are listed here:
7 For opportunities see:
8 For more information see: