Grand Challenges Scholars Program

Spend your time at USC Viterbi working towards solving the Grand Challenges!

In addition to the Renaissance Scholars, Global Scholars, and Discovery Scholars, undergraduate students at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering have the unique opportunity to compete in another opportunity – the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenge Scholars Program (GCSP).  Grand Challenge Scholars drive their educational experiences towards discovering, exploring, and potentially solving one of the NAE Grand Challenges and earn recognition at graduation from USC and the National Academy of Engineering.

NAE Grand Challenges:


  • Making solar energy economical
  • Providing energy from fusion
  • Developing carbon sequestration methods
  • Managing the nitrogen cycle
  • Providing access to clean water


  • Securing cyberspace
  • Preventing nuclear terror
  • Restoring and improving urban infrastructure


  • Engineering Better Medicines
  • Advancing Health Informatics
  • Reverse engineering the brain

Joy of Living

  • Enhancing virtual reality
  • Advancing personalize learning
  • Engineering the tools of scientific discovery
Learn More About the NAE Grand Challenges

Spring 2020 Info Session:


How to Apply:

The USC Viterbi GCSP is only open to current undergraduate students. 
1.) All interested applicants must submit their Grand Challenges Scholars  Interest Application online.
Application Opens: April 15th
Application Deadline: October 15th
Additional interested applicants may be considered on a rolling basis.
2.) In order to be designated a Grand Challenges Scholar, students are eligible to apply in the year of their undergraduate commencement.  Applications typically become available in January, and are due in mid-February.

The Viterbi Grand Challenges Scholars Program

The Viterbi School encourages students to pursue their academic and co-curricular involvement while keeping the Grand Challenges in mind.  The USC Viterbi Grand Challenge Scholars Program (GCSP) helps organize the time you spend focusing on exploring results that benefit society. Each year, the top Viterbi students who successfully complete the USC Viterbi GCSP areas will be named National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenge Scholars, recognized both by USC at graduation and the National Academy of Engineering.

Students interested in being designated as Grand Challenge Scholars should demonstrate involvement related to a specific Grand Challenge topic in each of the five areas.  Successful students must carry their involvement related to the challenge across 5 dimensions:

  1. Talent Competency
  2. Multidisciplinary Competency
  3. Viable Business/Entrepreneurship Competency
  4. MultiCultural Competency
  5. Social Consciousness Competency

Freshmen, Sophomores, & Juniors

  • All interested applicants must submit their Grand Challenges Scholars Application online.
  • Learn more about the Grand Challenges and determine which one will be the focus of your work.
  • Determine how you will interpret the 5 dimensions and how you plan to successfully complete each.
  • Consult with your academic advisor on your plan and solicit feedback as you build your GCSP Portfolio.
  • Admitted students must submit their Grand Challenges Scholars Action Plan online. Please note that the content submitted on the form is not considered a final application and may need to be edited or changed by the student.
  • Spring Semester Check-in Meetings – admitted students must meet with Myra Fernandez, Associate Director of Undergraduate Programs and Women in Engineering to review the progress of their action plan.


In order to be designated a Grand Challenges Scholar, students must apply in the year of their undergraduate commencement for official recognition.

Senior students must attend the Submitting Success – How to Write and Prepare your Application Workshop.

Date: Thursday, November 7th, 2019

Time: 12:00 – 1:00 p.m.

Location: RTH 105


If you have questions or would like feedback on your proposed GCSP Portfolio, please contact Myra Fernandez.

Spring 2020 Application Due Sunday, February 16th, 2020!

Apply Now!

Program Requirements

Current Undergraduates should follow the program outlined below.  While focus on your chosen Grand Challenge should be carried through across the 5 dimensions below, only one dimension requires in-depth focus. You will notice  the 5 dimensions of a successful Grand Challenges Scholar have flexibility built in.  While we list possible interpretations of the dimension, we encourage you to think of these areas broadly.

The GCSP Committee will only accept applications from graduating seniors.  Each application will be evaluated on the student’s focus on their chosen Grand Challenge and interpretation of their work and experiences across the 5 dimensions.  The Viterbi School will name up to a total of 50 NAE Grand Challenges Scholars each year.  Small cash prizes are awarded to Scholars and additional recognition is provided at graduation.

The 5 Dimensions of GCSP:

Upon applying as a graduating senior, your application must reflect your focus across all of the five dimensions listed below.  While we list some examples of how an undergraduate may complete each dimension, please understand these lists are not exhaustive.  We welcome your ideas and interpretations.

1. Talent Competency

Mentored research or project experience related to a Grand Challenge: Participate in an approved team project, senior capstone project, design project or research project related to one of the Grand Challenge Topics.

Examples can include:

  • Working with faculty focused on one of the Grand Challenges
  • Developing your own independent research and enrolling in a Directed Research course
  • Focusing a senior capstone design project on one of the Grand Challenges
  • Presenting independent research on one of the Grand Challenges at USC Undergraduate Research Symposium or other such venue
  • Participate in team project with Grand Challenge focus, such as Solar Car Team, HackSC Hackathon; etc


2. Multidisciplinary Competency

Understanding gained through multidisciplinarity: Enroll in courses outside the engineering curriculum that will complement the technical curriculum such as public policy, business, law, ethics, art, sociology, natural sciences,etc.


Examples can include:

  • Pursuing a Minor related to the Grand Challenges
  • Taking at least two courses in biotechnology; communication and the entertainment industry; ethics & moral philosophy; global health; human rights; applied computer security; social entrepreneurship; non-profits, philanthropy, & volunteerism; science visualization, or other potential courses that are connected to Grand Challenge themes


3.Viable Business/Entrepreneurship Competency

Understanding gained through experience that viable business mode. Students should be prepared to translate invention and innovation and to develop market ventures that can scale to global solutions to the Grand Challenges.

Examples can include:

  • Pursue a minor or enroll in at least two courses in digital entrepreneurship; social entrepreneurship; etc.
  • Take on a leadership role in a student organizations related to entrepreneurship such as Spark SC; LavaLab; NOBE; etc.
  • Participate in the Viterbi Start-Up Garage or Maaseh Prize Competition by submitting a business plan related to the Grand Challenges.
  • Participate in VSi2 or other entrepreneurial program activities.

4. MultiCultural Competency

Understanding gained through global or different cultural experience: Participate in a curricular or co-curricular activity that develops the perspective necessary to understand global challenges or that lead to innovations in a global economy.


Examples can include:

  • Conduct research related to global health issues, non-profit marketing or low-cost manufacturing
  • Participate in an approved study abroad program
  • Participate in iPodia, the Viterbi Tsinghua Research program, Engineers Without Borders or other USC international program
  • Participate in an international internship or the USC Global Fellows program

5. Social Consciousness Competency

Addressing societal problems through service learning, K-12 engagement, and/or social entrepreneurship: Participate in a curricular or co-curricular activity that deepens social awareness and develops the motivation to bring technical expertise to bear on societal problems.

Examples can include:

  • Participate in activities or conduct research in an area of focus on improving the human condition.
  • Participate in Viterbi Impact, Engineers Without Borders, JEP, Volunteer Center programs and projects
  • Participate in STEM related outreach activities.