Grand Challenges Scholars Program

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

In addition to the Renaissance ScholarsGlobal 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).

The Viterbi School of Engineering 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.

NAE Grand Challenges

Grand Challenge Scholars drive their educational experiences towards discovering, exploring, and potentially solving one of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE)’s Grand Challenges and earn recognition at graduation from USC and the NAE.


  • 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

GCSP 5 Competencies

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

Upon applying as a graduating senior, your application must reflect your focus across all of the five competencies 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.

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. 
Understanding gained through multidisciplinary studies: 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.
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.
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.
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.


Timeline: Freshmen, Sophomores, & Juniors

Attend Info Session on January 28th, 2020 from 5:30-6:30PM in Ronald Tutor Hall (RTH) 211.
Learn more about the Grand Challenges and determine which one will be the focus of your work.
All interested applicants must submit their Grand Challenges Scholars Application online.
Determine how you will interpret the 5 competencies 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.

Timeline: Seniors

Attend Submitting Success – How to Write and Prepare your Application Workshop.
Check to make sure you have successfully identified a Grand Challenge and clearly explained how you’ve fulfilled each of the five competencies.
Get feedback on your proposed GCSP Portfolio from Myra Fernandez.
Apply in the year of your undergraduate commencement for official recognition.

How to Apply

Program Requirements

Current Undergraduates should follow the program outlined above.  While focus on your chosen Grand Challenge should be carried through across the 5 competencies, only one competency requires in-depth focus. You will notice the 5 competencies of a successful Grand Challenges Scholar have flexibility built in.  While we list possible interpretations of the competencies, 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 competencies.  The Viterbi School will name up to a total of 50 NAE Grand Challenges Scholars each year.  Scholars are awarded at the Undergraduate Viterbi Awards and are also recognized at commencement.

Spring 2020 Application (Official Designation) Deadline Extended: Sunday, March 1, 2020 (11:59pm)!


Apply Now!