This week on the (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer we are introduced to UC Berkeley’s NAE Grand Challenges Scholars Program (GCSP). Faculty adviser for the program, Lisa Pruitt and Grand Challenges Scholars executive director, Kedrick Perry, tell us about the scope of the program, why it was brought to Berkeley Engineering, how to apply and so much more.
The application opens on Friday, August 1, so you have time find out how GSCP will bring together your engineering education and the four challenge areas that include sustainability, health, security and joy of living.
LAURA VOGT: Hello and welcome to The Not So Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer. I’m Laura Vogt, the associate director of marketing and communications in the College of Engineering. This week we are talking about a new program in the College of Engineering, the Grand Challenges Scholars Program, which I’ll be abbreviating to GCSP. To tell us more about the program are GCSP’s faculty ambassador, Lisa Pruitt, and executive director, Kedrick Perry. Hello and welcome to the podcast!
KEDRICK PERRY: Thank you. We’re excited to be here.
LISA PRUITT: Yes. Thanks for having us.
LV: Lisa, you were actually on earlier this summer, can you please remind everyone who you are and what your role is in the College?
LP: Absolutely. My name is Lisa Pruitt and I’m the associate dean for students and I am also a professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering and the ambassador for this new program that we’re going to launch this summer.
LV: Thank you again for being here. Kedrick, your turn, please tell us a little more about yourself and your role in Berkeley Engineering?
KP: Of course! I started at Berkeley Engineering four years ago as director of diversity and outreach in the Center for Energy Efficient Electronic Science and I’m transitioning, kind of over now into the college, as director of strategic initiatives and very excited to be the inaugural executive director of Grand Challenges. So very excited.
LV: Thank you so much for joining us today. And I’m excited about this program. Kedrick, let’s start with you. Can you give us the nuts and bolts overview of GCSP?
KP: Of course! Basically in 2008 the National Academy of Engineering identified 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st century. The challenges address opportunities and challenges affecting quality of life. This cross disciplinary initiative has a really great vision about the continuation of life on the planet, making our world more sustainable, making our world more healthy and secure, and of course more joyful. I should also say, what are these 14 grand challenges? They are making solar energy economical, provide energy from fusion, develop carbon sequestration methods, managing the nitrogen cycle, provide access to clean water, advanced health informatics, engineer better medicines, reverse engineer the brain, prevent nuclear terror, secure Cyberspace, restore and improve urban infrastructure, enhance virtual reality, advanced personalized learning, and engineering the tools of scientific discovery. Those are our 14 amazing grand challenges. And the program was inspired by the NAE Grand Challenges of Engineering, of course, and is directly involved in the nature of education and engineering. It is an outcome based program that offers relevant experiences to prepare students to address our global challenges. It basically provides the blueprint for the future of engineering education. That’s basically the grand overview of Grand Challenges.
LV: Lisa, why was this program from the NAE something that you wanted to bring to campus and our engineering students?
LP: Great question, Laura. When I first stepped into this role the idea came from our dean, Tsu-Jae Liu, and essentially she asked would you look into this program? And so, when I looked into the program, that Kedrick just so elegantly described for us, I thought – gosh this is in complete alignment with the mission of the campus, to bring light to the world, and also to our college: to educate, to serve society, to create leaders. And so, I looked at all the things that we offer as far as majors and institutes and really what many of our students see, which is to take engineering practice and bring it into the world, to better serve society and improve life for humankind and nature. I thought this is completely inline with what our students want and I think we can create really terrific engineers that will make a difference in the world.
LV: Excellent. Kedrick, how can students apply for this program?
KP: Oh, it is so simple. Our application will be open on August the 1st. And to apply you have to be a student in the College of Engineering. You can be a freshman, a sophomore, a junior, or a senior, which is unique for scholars programs. Complete our simple, easy, breezy online application by October 1st. We are doing rolling admissions, so we will be accepting students as we get applications. And the online application has a section in which you propose how you would complete each of our core competencies. Our core competencies are our talent competency, a multicultural competency, multidisciplinary entrepreneurship competency, and a social conscious competency. Once you go to our website you will see a little bit more information about each one of these and also ways in which you can complete each one of them.
LV: Our website is engineering.berkeley.edu/gcsp. Lisa, what is it that you’re looking for in students that apply for this program?
LP: I look for the same things in this program that I look for when students join my lab, which is really a passion to make a difference, a desire to learn and engage, and bring out their best selves in not only their education here at Berkeley but also in looking forward to their own personal development.
LV: Kedrick, do you have an idea of the time commitment that students are going to need to be a Grand Challenges Scholar?
KP: As with most things, the more you put in, the more you will get out. This program is not meant to take away time from your other studies but instead meant to enhance all the wonderful things you’re already learning throughout the academic year. Yes, we will have webinars, workshops, and general meetings, but it is so that our scholars can continue to learn diverse things. We can announce opportunities they may be interested in and want to participate in and also of course to build community, which is really important for us. And once they build community, not only with our Berkeley Grand Challenges Scholars, but also with Grand Challenges Scholars at other institutions because this program is at many other institutions around the country. We want our Grand Challenges to really be able to network with other amazing undergraduates as well.
LV: When you talk about having workshops and events and things along those lines, are you going to be able to do them with other students from other campuses? Is that kind of part of the goal?
KP: That is the goal! That is the goal because Grand Challenges is really a community of amazing scholars and we want our Berkeley engineers – since we’re just launching – we want them to really be part and feel this great community out there that expands beyond Berkeley Engineering and really does expand across the world.
LV: Excellent. And I know another one of the things that you’re doing in the program is having one-on-one meetings with the students. What kind of relationship can they expect to have with you as the executive director?
KP: Oh great. Good question. The hope is to meet one-on-one with students a couple times a semester. So we can get to know each other, so I can understand their motivations and assist them along their scholastic path. It won’t be these long, time consuming meetings but I want to understand how the students are doing, not only with Grand Challenges, but also in life and in Berkeley Engineering. I want students to see me as an advisor, another set of ears to bounce ideas off. And in terms of what type of relationship to expect with me as director, I can say a supportive one. Also a fun one. We are going to talk a lot about Berkeley Engineering, a lot about Grand Challenges, but also, we are definitely going to leave time to discuss my latest shows I’ve been watching on Netflix, or Hulu, or Amazon, or Disney+, or HBO Max, or Peacock or the latest high fantasy novel I’m reading, which just so happens to be Children of Blood and Bone, which is exciting.
LV: That’s actually a very good novel. Lisa, when we’re talking about all these different grand challenges that the students are going to choose from. How will they choose? I mean there’s 14 that range across so many different categories. How are you going to be able to help these students choose?
LP: I think in making decisions like this, it’s much like choosing a major and also just choosing research areas in general. There has to be something that speaks to you, it resonates with you, it’s visceral. You feel like I want to make a difference in maybe energy methods that are used across the world. There might be something that just in your life you’ve already got some interest in, that’s just there percolating. And so I always suggest for students, what’s that piece that keeps calling to you? What’s the piece that is your passion point? When you’re on those types of rounds or even just curious, I want so much to know more about this, I find that that’s the energy you need for success. For me, that’s always my advice. Just keep following those things that are the natural draw for you in life. And it certainly has served me well.
LV: I feel like a lot of our students that are probably going to be interested in this program or look at it, when they look at that list of the options that are coming up, something’s probably going to jump off the page at them.
LP: That’s right. I think there will be things for which it just feels like, yeah I’m interested in making solar energy more affordable, yeah I’m interested in reverse engineering the brain. I’m interested in maybe improving learning methods that are personalized for people. I think there will be something that jumps off the page and also I think, as Dr. Perry is so elegantly put together this brochure for us that students will look at, you’ll also see that there will be courses and programs that really support your whole mission. Also, those pieces from which you get to choose, those will also resonate for you uniquely. Everyone can put their program together in a very unique way, which I also just really excited about our engineers.
LV: Kedrick, as students finish the program, how do we expect them to build on what they’ve done as a Grand Challenges Scholar, once they graduate and move on?
KP: Of course. At the end of the program, they will have assembled a robust portfolio of everything that did as a Grand Challenges Scholar. And our hope, is that they will present this portfolio to potential graduate programs, to show their expertise in a certain area, or to potential employers, demonstrating their commitment to making the world a better place for us all. And especially in terms of graduate school, they can hopefully continue to build on the work they started here as a scholar and do more of that research in graduate school. That’s been the route for many scholars and other Grand Challenges programs across the country.
LV: I know this is a brand new program, can I have each of you tell me what you are most excited about with the start of this new endeavor? Let’s start with you, Lisa.
LP: I’m excited because we create such amazing engineers in our college and on our campus. I am excited to have them completely aligned with societals grand needs and that they are going to step out in this world and make a difference. They will be our agents of positive change.
LV: Excellent, Kedrick?
KP: Well said, Lisa. I’m excited to launch a program, especially doing these very surreal times, because I think that it would give our students another dimension to focus on. Something else to concentrate and put their energy towards. Many students are looking for ways to make a difference in our society, as Lisa said, I think Grand Challenges is an amazingly perfect way to make a difference, especially here at Berkeley Engineering.
LV: Well, thank you so much. And is there anything else about the program that I missed or that you want to add to the conversation?
LP: I’m just so excited to have this opportunity to work with Kedrick on this great program, and like Kedrick, I too am fun. You know, I think we wear these academic titles, and people think we don’t have fun, but we have fun.
KP: You definitely have fun. Grand Challenges is not going to be your typical scholars program. Yes, we’re going to do amazing scholastic activities. Yes, we’re going to build your portfolio and make you ready for the next stage after Berkeley Engineering. We’re also going to work on your wellness. We’re going to work on mindfulness. We’re going to make you the best Berkeley Engineering student you can be. And it’s going to be an exciting, fun program and we’re looking forward to having you in it. Please apply, come join, be a Grand Challenges scholar!
LV: Thank you both so much today. Lisa, Kendrick, I really appreciate you coming on and telling us about this program. I am excited to see what happens with it and watch how it grows and see what the students do as they participate. And, thank you everyone for tuning in to The Not So Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer. And I look forward to podcasting with you next week.