NAE Grand Challenges Scholars Program

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenges Scholars Program (GCSP) is a multi-year, research-based program designed to prepare students to be 21st-century problem solvers.

NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering

At Berkeley Engineering, the GCSP includes unique experiences that combine coursework, research, extracurricular activities, internships, study abroad, and volunteer opportunities. Berkeley Engineering GCSP leverages our engineering curriculum and programs, institutes and centers, as well as diverse experiences supported throughout and beyond our campus. These combined elements ensure that scholars achieve a rich portfolio centered upon a Grand Challenge that builds five core competencies.

Podcast: The executive director and faculty adviser share the details and their enthusiasm for GCSP.

NAE Grand Challenges

The NAE has identified 14 grand challenges broadly defined across four themes: sustainability, health, security and joy of living. These societal challenges require solutions that require not only fundamental engineering principles but also cultural, political, social, ethical and economic awareness.

  • Make solar energy economical
  • Provide energy from fusion
  • Develop carbon-sequestration methods
  • Manage the nitrogen cycle
  • Provide Access to clean water
  • Advance health informatics
  • Engineer better medicines
  • Reverse-engineer the brain
  • Prevent nuclear terror
  • Secure cyberspace
  • Restore and improve urban infrastructure
  • Enhance virtual reality
  • Advance personalized learning
  • Engineer the tools of scientific discovery

GCSP five competencies

GCSP scholars will build portfolios of achievements with the guidance of faculty advisers and the program executive director in these NAE-recognized competencies:

  1. Talent competency: mentored research or project related to a Grand Challenge
  2. Multicultural competency: cultural awareness obtained through global experience
  3. Multidisciplinary competency: knowledge in technical and non-technical areas
  4. Viable business/entrepreneurship competency: implementation of technical innovation
  5. Social consciousness competency: service for the benefit of society

Students must prove competency in these five areas and have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 in order to receive their distinction as a Grand Challenges Scholar upon graduation.

Program benefits

  • Funding for GCSP-related research conferences
  • Dedicated Grand Challenge Scholars Program adviser
  • Opportunities to participate in NAE social and professional development events
  • Challenges using innovative and entrepreneurial methods (also Berkeley events)
  • Special GCSP recognition by Berkeley and NAE
Berkeley engineers who complete our Grand Challenges Scholars Program will serve as global ambassadors with the requisite skills needed to innovate technologies that enhance well-being, security, health and sustainable energy for society.
Lisa A. Pruitt
Associate dean for students, faculty ambassador for GCSP

Program eligibility and application requirements

First-year students (after their first semester), sophomores and juniors in the College of Engineering are eligible to apply. The application consists of:

  • An unofficial transcript
  • A completed application including a statement explaining interest in the Grand Challenges and motivation for joining the program
  • Recommendation letter (optional)
  • Plan for completion of the program

Characteristics of applicants

  • The primary desired characteristics of GCSP applicants are a passion for addressing the Grand Challenges for Engineering and an interest in using knowledge for the greater good of society.
  • With its strong commitment to diversity, GCSP encourages applications from a broad spectrum of engineering students. Because completing the program requirements is a multiyear process, it is recommended that students apply to the program during their freshman (second semester) or sophomore years. The program will accept qualified candidates from any year as long as they can propose an achievable plan for completion of the program requirements.
  • It is particularly important that applicants from the junior and senior classes discuss their plans with the executive director to ensure that they can successfully complete the program prior to their expected graduation date.

The GCSP allows students to choose the path most desirable to their scholastic goals. There is no specific sequence for completing the program, but the following is a sample timeline:

Freshman, sophomore or junior

  • Attend info sessions, webinars, or meet with executive director to learn about the program
  • Study more about the Grand Challenges and determine which one you will focus on
  • Submit the Grand Challenges Scholars application online
  • Ascertain how you will complete each of the five competencies
  • Try to identify a faculty member to serve as your mentor
  • Meet with the executive director in the fall and spring to consult on your progress
  • Attend all relevant GCSP meetings or workshops


  • Attend relevant workshops to help you consolidate your portfolio
  • Verify that you have successfully identified a Grand Challenge and clearly articulate how you have fulfilled each of the five competencies
  • Meet with executive director for portfolio feedback
  • Present your portfolio and research to the greater Berkeley Engineering community

Talent competency
Each scholar must complete a Grand Challenge Project that has been approved by the GCSP executive director. The mentored project related to a Grand Challenge problem or theme can be in the form of an approved 1) independent research project, 2) team project or 3) senior capstone design project. The research must specifically address a societal challenge defined by the National Academy of Engineering. The research experience should be equivalent to a summer or semester-long research experience.

The NAE Grand Challenges are introduced in E1: Engineering Your Life; students are expected to take this one-unit class in the first year of their GCSP experience. At the culmination of their program, each scholar must submit a completed portfolio and a personal reflection on their discovery experience. Students are expected to complete E185: The Art of STEM Communication in order to build their competency in technical communication.

Multicultural competency
Each scholar must establish cultural awareness. This competency may be achieved in a number of ways including 1) a semester or summer abroad through the education abroad program (EAP); 2) completion of a GLOBE course such as E187: The Global Engineer: The Challenges of Globalization and Disruptive Innovation; 3) completion of a Blum Center for Developing Economies course such as GPP115: Global Poverty: Challenges and Hopes and GPP105: The Ethics, Methods and Pragmatics of Global Practice, or a similar multicultural experience through the Blum Center; 4) Participation in a Global Collider experience through the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology (SCET); or 5) an internship in another country equivalent to a summer or semester long course of study.

Multidisciplinary competency
Each scholar must demonstrate proficiency not only in their engineering major but also in a non-technical area. Students can obtain this competency through a number of pathways including 1) an interdisciplinary plan of study that may include courses/experiences that support the Grand Challenge such as those offered through the Jacobs Institute for Design or the Blum Center; 2) an outside minor in areas that support the Grand Challenge such as conservation and resource studies, digital humanities, public policy, psychology, chemistry etc. or 3) a simultaneous degree that supports the Grand Challenge.

Viable business/entrepreneurship competency
Each scholar must demonstrate the ability to translate innovation into a viable business model for solution implementation or entrepreneurial venture. This competency can be achieved through a variety of experiences including 1) completion of a technical innovation course through SCET or Jacobs Institute for Design; 2) leadership in an entrepreneurial student club*; 3) participation in entrepreneurial activities such as the Fung Fellows*; or 4) a business course offered through Berkeley’s Management, Entrepreneurship & Technology (MET) program. (* Experience must be equivalent to a summer or semester-long course of study.)

Social consciousness competency
Each scholar must participate in an experience that creates societal awareness.* This competency can be achieved in a variety of ways, including societal outreach education through 1) active participation at Lawrence Hall of Science (LHS), 2) an active role in Engineering for Kids (E4K); 3) active engagement with local K-12 schools through Berkeley Engineers and Mentors (BEAM); or 4) active work with a national outreach group such as Teach for America, etc. Scholars can alternatively opt to work with global service organizations such as Engineers Without Borders, Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) or a similar program. Additionally, students can opt to choose a Grand Challenge that specifically addresses a social need, such as bringing clean water to developing countries. (* Experience must be equivalent to a summer or semester-long course of study.)

GCSP student requirements

Each applicant must select an engineering faculty member as a GCSP mentor who will aid in guiding the student through the entire Scholars Program, especially the research component. Scholars are required to meet with their mentors every semester to provide progress updates and to plan for the next semester’s goals. Once identified, all prospective GCSP mentors will be given guidance on the Grand Challenges by the faculty ambassador and executive director. For students who do not already have a mentor in mind, the faculty ambassador and executive director can aid in finding one.

  1. Meet at least twice a semester with their GCSP mentor
  2. Submit a progress report (once a semester) to the executive director outlining their accomplishments for the past academic semester and detailing their plan for the upcoming academic semester
  3. Attend GCSP seminars/presentations/workshops
  4. Present their research project at a summit, symposium or at the National GCSP Summit during their senior year of school

  1. Submit a final report to the GCSP executive director verifying the completion of the plan
  2. Forward a signed letter of completion from their GCSP mentor to the GCSP director
  3. Present their portfolio/research project to the Berkeley Engineering community
  4. Give a GCSP exit interview on the program’s impact and suggest potential changes in the program.

The final report should describe the breadth and depth of their specific program, as well as define the means of completion for each of the five curricular requirements of their plan and the overall focus of their work. The presentation must be completed within the last two semesters of the student’s remaining time at Berkeley. This presentation should summarize the completion of the requirements and the research/project component. It is expected that students will present their work and network with other scholars at one of the local or regional GCSP summits or research symposia in order to connect with peers from other engineering schools. (Funding will be provided for scholars to attend meetings.) The final GCSP portfolio or completion checklist must be completed by the close of the semester in which the student graduates.

For more information, please contact the executive director.

Berkeley Engineering GCSP personnel

Dr. Kedrick Perry (pronouns: he/him/his)
Director of Strategic Initiatives & Executive Director of GCSP

Dr. Perry has been the director of strategic initiatives and the inaugural executive director of the Grand Challenges Scholars Program since the spring of 2020. In 2016, he came to Berkeley to become director of diversity and outreach in the National Science Foundation’s  Center for Energy Efficient Electronics Science (E3S).  Previously, he was director of the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program at Suffolk University in Boston, where he prepared underrepresented, first-generation, and limited-income undergraduate students for graduate study.  Prior to that position, he worked in the Office of Graduate Student Diversity Programs at the University of Virginia where he was committed to the recruitment, retention, mentoring, and graduation of a highly talented and diverse graduate student population.  He received his doctorate in higher education from the University of Virginia where he studied logic modeling in graduate student affairs. Dr. Perry also holds a Master of Public Administration and a graduate certificate in nonprofit management from North Carolina State University and a B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Professor Lisa Pruitt (pronouns: she/her/hers)
Associate Dean of Students & GCSP Faculty Ambassador

Lisa Pruitt received her Ph.D. from Brown University and joined the faculty of Mechanical Engineering at UC Berkeley in 1993. She has authored more than 300 publications in her research field of biomaterials, medical devices and failure analysis. Her research has been recognized with a Congressional citation; a National Science Foundation CAREER award; an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award; and her election into the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering. Professor Pruitt has also been honored for her commitment to excellence in mentoring, teaching and outreach with the American Association of Advancement of Sciences Mentoring Award; the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring; the UC Berkeley Distinguished Teaching Award as well as the A. Richard Newton Educator Award. Professor Pruitt has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in behavior of engineering materials, failure analysis, polymer engineering, medical device design, personal leadership and equine-guided leadership. She has authored three books including Mechanics of Biomaterials: Fundamentals for Implant Design; Horse of Fire: The story of an extraordinary and Knowing Horse as told by JJ Luck; and Savanna and the Magic Boots.