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The National Academy of Engineering's (NAE's) list of 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st century is a call to action and a means of focusing society's attention on opportunities and challenges affecting our quality of life.

The NAE Grand Challenge Scholars Program is a combined curricular and extra-curricular program with five components that are designed to prepare students to solve these grand challenges facing society. These are challenges to “change the world.”

Energy and Environment

  • Make solar energy economical
  • Provide energy from fusion
  • Develop methods for carbon sequestration
  • Manage the nitrogen cycle
  • Provide access to clean water


Advance health informatics
Engineer better medicines


Prevent nuclear terror
Secure cyberspace
Restore urban infrastructure

Learning and Computation

Reverse engineer the brain
Enhance virtual reality
Advance personalized learning
Engineer the tools of scientific discovery

Nearly all 14 challenges address complex social issues that require innovative technology and a systems approach to solving them, but they cannot be solved in a vacuum. They also will require engineers to shape public policy, transfer technical innovation to the market place and to inform and be informed by social science and the humanities.

These are ambitious tasks that will require a new generation of engineers that will collectively:

  • Create new capabilities
  • Provide pragmatic solutions for basic human needs
  • Develop new entrepreneurial opportunities
  • Reinvent human interactions
  • Transform systems thinking
  • Be the architects of a sustainable society
  • Be mindful of unintended consequences
  • Connect technology with society

Preparing the next generation of engineers

Each Grand Challenge (GC) Scholar must select a GC Mentor who will help guide him/her through the entire GC Scholars Program.

In addition, a GC Capstone experience must be completed, as well as the following five GC Components — commonly referred to as a GC Portfolio:

Each GC Scholar must prepare to help solve the engineering grand challenges that this nation and world faces, and each GC Scholar MUST complete a GC Capstone and any of the following research experiences.

  • Undergraduate Research Symposium
  • Approved team (or individual) research or design project
  • Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU)
  • Work experience for a summer or semester (e.g., research assistant)
  • Course(s) or independent study relating to a Grand Challenge theme


Each GC Scholar must prepare to work at the overlap with public policy, business, law, ethics, human behavior and risk, as well as medicine and the sciences. For example:

  • University Scholars Program
  • Approved interdisciplinary programs
  • Internship with an interdisciplinary focus
  • Research experience with an interdisciplinary focus
  • Course(s) relating to a Grand Challenge theme (non-engineering)


Each GC Scholar must prepare to translate invention and innovation that can develop into market ventures and possibly global solutions in the public interest. For example:

  • Engineering Entrepreneurs Program
  • Approved entrepreneurial experiences
  • Internship with an entrepreneurial focus
  • Research experience with an entrepreneurial focus
  • Courses which focus on entrepreneurship


Each GC Scholar must develop the perspective necessary to address challenges that are inherently global as well as to lead innovation in a global economy. For example:

  • NC State Study Abroad Programs
  • Approved international experiences
  • Co-op or internship with a significant global focus
  • Research experience with a significant global focus
  • Courses which focus on global issues

Service Learning

Each GC Scholar must develop and deepen a social awareness and heighten motivation to bring his/her technical expertise to bear on societal problems. For example:

  • Center for Student Leadership, Ethics, and Public Service
  • Approved service learning programs
  • Volunteer experience with a significant service-learning focus
  • Research experience with a significant community focus
  • Courses which focus on service issues