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 Grand Challenge Scholars Program (GCSP)

The Viterbi Grand Challenges Scholars Program (GCSP) is an opportunity for Viterbi undergraduate students to customize their curricular and co-curricular experience to engage with one of the National Academy of Engineers’ 14 Grand Challenges. GCSP students will participate in programs and activities that demonstrate their comprehension of the Five Mindsets necessary for solving society’s most significant issues and how those Mindsets apply to a chosen Grand Challenge. Students who complete Viterbi GCSP will be designated as Viterbi Grand Challenges Scholars, recognized by both USC 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 personalized learning
  • Engineering the tools of scientific discovery

The Five Mindsets of GCSP

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.

How to Apply for Designation (Seniors)

Program Requirements

Current undergraduates should follow the program outlined above.  While focusing on your selected Grand Challenge only one Mindset requires in-depth focus. You will notice the 5 Mindsets of a successful Grand Challenges Scholar have flexibility built in.  While we list possible interpretations of the Mindsets, 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 Five Mindsets. Scholars are recognized at the Undergraduate Viterbi Awards and are also recognized at commencement.

Grand Challenge Scholars Senior Presentation Slides

The Application cycle for Spring 2024 is closed.

GCSP Alumni

Click to see all GCSP alumni form 2012 and on

Alumni Testimonials

It was a great opportunity to meet and learn from other students interested in how engineering could benefit other friends of study. I joined clubs, found internships, and worked on research projects that were interesting to me! Once I found my footing, I then moved around in each of those situations until I found something that matched a Grand Challenge. As someone interested in health and education, I was able to volunteer with Troy Camp, research HIV, and work as a Tour Guide, all of which benefited my growth as a Grand Challenge Scholar!

- Jack Cagney '20
Industrial and Systems Engineering

I wanted to be part of this program because engineering is a global discipline that requires multicultural understanding to solve the world's most pressing engineering problems. I felt that completing this program would make me a stronger and more knowledgeable engineer. My genuine interests in volunteering, joining multi-disciplinary organizations, conducting research, pursuing an internship, and studying abroad helped me complete the 5 competencies. These interests as well as guiding advice from Dean Yates and Myra Fernandez allowed me to successfully complete this program.

- Jamie Schlacter '20
Biomedical Engineering

I wanted to be named a Grand Challenges Scholar at the end of senior year and receive the cash prize. To accomplish this goal, I joined Viterbi and non-Viterbi orgs, completed a study abroad program, and pursued a minor outside of Viterbi. I became interested in a career in cybersecurity, which I may not have known about without trying to complete the 5 competencies.

- Julia Sircar '20
Industrial and Systems Engineering

I wanted my engineering experience at USC to be directed towards addressing real-world, social, and environmental issues. I took advantage of the many opportunities presented to students in Viterbi and USC, from student orgs, business competitions, and volunteering opportunities in the community. It has made me aware of the ways my engineering toolset can impact global issues as I move forward in my career. The Grand Challenges Program helps you become a more socially aware and well-rounded engineer.

- Roxanna Pakkar '20
Electrical Engineering

I wanted to connect with like-minded students to tackle the greatest engineering challenges we are currently facing as a society. I found a vast array of enrichment opportunities offered by Viterbi such as the Tsinghua Summer Research Program as well as clubs like Engineers Without Borders that addressed the five competencies. The Grand Challenges Scholars Program motivated me to pursue medical school so that I can synthesize my engineering and medical knowledge to innovate new medical technology. The most valuable aspect of the Grand Challenges Program at Viterbi is the sense of community. Everyone amalgamates their different areas of expertise to create something beautiful that can change the world around us.

- Neelesh Bagrodia '20
Biomedical Engineering

I wanted to participate in the Grand Challenges program because I thought the program would really help to enhance my engineering curriculum while working toward a common cause. I got involved in a wide variety of activities and organizations from working in a research lab to studying abroad, to participating in Makeathons. It allowed me to view a problem from different perspectives, and this mentality is important for working within the medical device industry or in any engineering job. The Grand Challenges Program is valuable because it allowed me to work toward a Grand Challenge through a variety of ways and contributed to my education by giving me diverse experiences. It pushed me to challenge myself and participate in new activities and organizations.

- Kayley Cheng '20
Biomedical Engineering (Mechanical Emphasis)

I've always been passionate about using my education to make a difference in the world, and this program gave me an avenue to find real-world relevance to my classes. I liked that it encouraged me to diversify my experiences at USC and to get involved with activities outside of Viterbi. As someone that is not necessarily planning on being an engineer for the rest of my life, I was especially drawn towards the multidisciplinary aspect of the program.

- Nathan Alvarez '20
Mechanical Engineering

As a freshman, I was introduced to the Grand Challenges of Engineering in my Introduction to Engineering class (a replacement for major-specific intro courses, for undecided engineering majors). We read through what it meant to become an "Engineer of 2020" and since this moment, I have believed that engineers have a unique responsibility to steer technology towards a direction of positive impact, with ethics and real humans at the center of our mission. This led me towards the desire to participate in the Grand Challenges. To achieve this, I focused on Virtual Reality (as well as its interaction with Brain-Computer Interface technology) as my Grand Challenge because I believe in its potential to share diverse experiences, promote learning, and more; and equally hope to prevent its potential for abuse and disengagement in our society. I got involved in a Video Game Programming specialization in Viterbi, participated in the Mixed Reality club, engaged in classes (and articles) focusing on science/technology ethics and philosophy, and wrote papers on this topic.

- Madelyn Douglas '20
Electrical (Computer) Engineering

Published on December 5th, 2019

Last updated on April 22nd, 2024