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.

Join Today!

Fall 2020 GCSP Interest Application Due: Friday, August 28, 2020 (11:59 p.m.)

Watch a past Fall 2020 GCSP Info Session below (USC Shibboleth Login Required): 

Fall 2020 GCSP Info Session

Fall 2020 – Grand Challenge Scholars Info Session – Slides

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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 competency, 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 July 30th, 2020 2:00PM via Zoom.

Zoom Meeting ID: 991 7075 1082 Password: 081263

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 Interest Application online.

Deadline to Apply – Friday, August 28 (11:59 pm)

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.

Attend Submitting Success – How to Write and Prepare your Application Workshop.

Zoom Meeting Link | Meeting ID: 939 7023 9765

How to Apply for Designation (Seniors)

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 recognized at the Undergraduate Viterbi Awards and are also recognized at commencement.

Applications for Spring 2021 GCSP Senior Designation – Will be available late fall 2020.

In the meantime, make sure you join the GCSP program via the link below.

Fall 2020 GCSP Interest Application Deadline: Friday, August 28, 2020 (11:59pm)


Apply Now

GCSP Alumni


Ara Mahseredjian

Arynn Gallegos

Catherine Knox

Celeste Goodwin

Devlin Halpin

Gavin Kress

Jamie Schlacter

Janeline Wong

John Cagney

Julia Sircar

Kayley Cheng

Lucas Hu

Madelyn Douglas

Megan Schoen

Meredith Troy

Michael Tawata

Namita  Prakash

Nathan Alvarez

Neelesh Bagrodia

Olufikunayo Famutimi

Roxanna Pakkar

Scott Kriesberg

Siena Applebaum

Sofia Tavella

Soraya Levy

Zhelan Chen


Aliyah Arunasalam

Alexis Barge

Alexina Boudreaux-Allen

Kayanne Chen

Rhea Choudhury

Daniel Cummins

Daniel Donchev

Linnea Engstrom

David Garry

Ritt Givens

Divya Gupta

Conor Hayes

Jose Hernandez-Alvarado

Avinash S. Iyer

Desiree James

Sarina Kapai

Daniel Kawalsky

Madeline Koldos

Hannah Lin

Brian Loh

Rafael Maarek

Timothy Malaney

Dillon McKinley

Sahit Menon

Sarah Milkowski

Tanuja Mohan

Natalie Monger

Pooja Moolchandani

Michael Morikado

Ryland Mortlock

Sai Praneetha Mutyala

Joshua Neutel

Shuntaro Nishi

Olivia Pearson

Luann Raposo

Manjima Sarkar

Edith Shao

Nina Singh

Yingyu Sun

Jonathan Sussman

Suveena Thanawala

Adam Walker

Angela Yang

Ling Ye

Kevin Zhao

Michelle Zheng


Annalaura Arredondo

Maria Bacci

Sampurna Basu

Alyssa Brill

Joelle Burkhardt

Mingkun Chen

Sarah Chiles

Tilden Chima

Grace Chrysilla

Paul Chyz

Madeleine Combs

Aashka Damani

Eric Deng

Jeffrey Doan

Reese Dorrepaal

Shana Douglass

Anthony Elevathingal

Tvisha Gangwani

George Gatsios

Naish Gaubatz

Arushi Gulati

Natalie Helms

Jonathan Hong

Bria Jamison

Bethany Jarvis

Kevin Jiang

Justine Lee

Jill Leva

Samantha McVety

Ninareh Mehrabi

Emily Palmer

Sophie Pepin

Madelina Pratt

Natalie Ramsy

Caitlin Reck

Mary Richardson

Peter Roberson

Ayuh Saraswat

Pavan Shah

Michael Thorson

Rebecca Thoss

Cherrie Wang

Angela Zhang

Michelle Zhong


Daniel Amchin

Andrianna Ayiotis

Yash Bharganwar

Neel Bhoopalam

Alex Budde

Camille Conner

Lindsey Estrada

Sydney Forsyth

Rachel Gaspar

Hilina Gudeta

Fernanda Gushken

Elisabeth Hopkins

Nikhil Kotha

Calvin LeGassick

Wilson Lin

Avery McEvoy

Melisa Osborne

Priyam Parikh

Pablo Pozas Guerra

Rebeca Ramirez

Ally Reister

Mikela Ritter

Sean Salisbury

Adam Seifert

Mustafa Sezgen

Martin Siron

Betty Stearns

Katya Sutil

Matthew Yeung

Willa Zhao


Lindsay Barlow

Shira Bernard

David Butler

Kevin Cheberenchick

Alex Coco

Gabrielle Colvert

Andrew Couillard

Edgar De Leon

Jesus Dillon

Alaina George

Shikhar Gupta

Felipe Helman

Lauren Howe

Paige Kehoe

Elyse Kellerman

Connie Li

Hannah Luk

Holly Mitchell

Alexei Naumann

Julianna Porter

Tyler Pullen

Libanos Redda

Kathryn Rosenfeld

Jordan Seeley


Lyssa Aruda

Aleena Byrne

Renuka Fernandes

Stephanie Fong

Yekaterina Glazko

Mathew Lui

Colleen O’Brien

Michael Preud-Homme

Dinesh Seemakurty

Joycelyn Yip


Zachary Gima

Ian Malave

Kristen Rice

Mia Smith


Omar Dana

William McGarey

Adrian Meza


Samantha Ma 

Kristen Sharer

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!
The Grand Challenges Scholars Program showed me that engineers can work in almost any field! I studied engineering not to be an engineer, but to be an effective problem solver, data scientist, and researcher. After graduation, I will be working at the intersection of epidemiology, data science, and global health research, which are all aspects of GCSP!
Viterbi students have access to everything USC has to offer, meaning you can truly combine engineering with any other field of choice. I was able to minor in the Keck School of Medicine, conduct research in Dornsife and the Price School of Public Policy, and study abroad through the Marshall School of Business! Each experience helped me grow as a professional, scholar, and person, and each experience helped me check off one more requirement of the Grand Challenges Program!

Jack Cagney '20Industrial 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.
This program has influenced me to continue pursuing my engineering interests in advancing health informatics as I continue on to earn my medical degree. Completing this program helped me apply what I was learning inside the classroom and enhance my understanding through meaningful activities outside of the classroom. Because of this program, I have become a more well-rounded engineer prepared to solve problems in a global context.

Jamie Schlacter '20Biomedical 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.
The GCS program provides a clear framework to ensure you are getting a well-rounded, holistic education beyond the scope of engineering. Engineers need to understand more than just math and science, and the GCS program prepares you to solve problems in a global context.

Julia Sircar '20Industrial 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 '20Electrical 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 '20Biomedical 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 '20Biomedical 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.
I did not center my college experience around the GCSP competencies; instead, I pushed myself to find interesting, diverse involvements that helped solve problems in the world that excited me. After finding my involvement this way, I was able to easily fit them into the five competencies. Using the competencies as a general guide, rather than as a rigid checklist of requirements, allowed me to follow my passions in more creative ways that I could tailor to my interests.
Rather than doing homework and class projects for the sake of a good grade, I was able to see the relevance of what I was learning and how it can be applied to solve some of the world's most pressing issues. This program's emphasis on creating well-rounded engineers was also incredibly beneficial because it pushed me to explore areas outside of engineering and build on what I learned in my classes. The GCSP helped me realize my responsibility as an engineer to address and solve relevant, pressing problems in the world. After I finish graduate school, I know that my involvement in this program will guide my career towards one focused on addressing a grand challenge and driving a positive change in the world.

Nathan Alvarez '20Mechanical 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.
With the Grand Challenges in mind, I hope to enroll in a program focused on the Philosophy and Ethics of Technology in the future (specifically with regard to Virtual Reality and Brain-Computer Interfaces) and push for proactive policies addressing up-and-coming technology. Viterbi has offered me invaluable resources and mentors to pursue the Grand Challenges and has provided me with inspiration from an interdisciplinary and thoughtful group of peers.

Madelyn Douglas '20Electrical (Computer) Engineering

Engineering and COVID-19

Engineering is at the forefront of addressing societal needs in dealing with challenges posed by COVID-19.  In fact, “pandemic” has explicitly been addressed in one the original 14 NAE Grand Challenges, Advance Health Informatics  — “How to prepare against a pandemic?”

Moreover, since the start of the outbreak in the US, the following noteworthy efforts have been initiated at the NAE and USC levels, which could provide you with further information concerning opportunities related to COVID-19 research and engagement at USC:

NAE COVID-19 Call to Action:

Addressing COVID-19 Challenges:

USC Technology Innovation Bootcamp 4HS: Fighting COVID-19:

USC COVID-19 Experts