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ODU among U.S. Engineering Schools to Educate 20,000 Students to Meet Grand Challenges

Old Dominion University's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology is one of more than 120 engineering schools nationwide leading a movement to transform engineering education to meet the country's "Grand Challenges" - a series of complex yet achievable goals to improve national and international health, security, sustainability and quality of life in the 21st century.

Batten College Dean Oktay Baysal wrote a letter to President Barack Obama as part of a national movement by college and university engineering programs to make engineering education part of the solution to the nation's complex issues going forward.

Baysal attended a March 24 meeting in Washington, D.C., where he and other engineering deans briefed White House officials on next steps for advancing the national movement.

"Through innovative project-based coursework, a collaborative and engaging research environment and cooperative programs with nonprofit, government and industry entities, our college affirms the importance of aims outlined by the Grand Challenges," Baysal wrote, in his letter to President Obama.

The "Grand Challenges," identified through initiatives such as the White House Strategy for American Innovation, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenges for Engineering, and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, include complex yet critical goals such as developing better medicines, making solar energy cost-competitive with coal, securing cyberspace and advancing personalized learning tools to deliver better education to more individuals.

Each of the 122 signing schools has pledged to graduate a minimum of 20 students per year who have been specially prepared to lead the way in solving such large-scale problems, with the goal of training more than 20,000 formally recognized "Grand Challenge Engineers" over the next decade.

Tuesday's meeting was held at the White House's Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Afterwards, a working session between the engineering deans and White House staff will be held at the Keck Center of the National Academies in Washington, D.C.

Grand Challenge engineers will be trained through special programs at each institution that integrate five educational elements:

  • a hands-on research or design project connected to the Grand Challenges;
  • real-world, interdisciplinary experiential learning with clients and mentors;
  • entrepreneurship and innovation experience;
  • global and cross-cultural perspectives; and
  • service-learning.

Baysal said Old Dominion is uniquely positioned to provide engineering education that meets the Grand Challenges needs because of the school's ongoing, multidisciplinary research, and because the University's research portfolio already comprises themes that make up a large percentage of the Grand Challenge tasks - from cybersecurity and health informatics to solar energy.

Baysal added the College's new Engineering Systems Building was designed with some of the same principles in mind, encouraging the creation of a hands-on, project-based learning environment.

"The NAE's Grand Challenges for Engineering are already inspiring more and more of our brightest young people to pursue careers that will have direct impacts on improving the quality of life for people across the globe," said NAE President C.D. Mote Jr. "Imagine the impact of tens of thousands of additional creative minds focused on tackling society's most vexing challenges. 'Changing the world' is not hyperbole in this case. With the right encouragement, they will do it and inspire others as well."

More information on this initiative, including a copy of the letter of commitment, is available at www.nae.edu. The initiative grew out of a 2014 workshop organized by the American Association of Engineering Societies, Epicenter, Engineers Without Borders USA and the NAE Grand Challenge Scholars Program.

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