Engineering students represent Texas A&M at grand summit in Beijing, China


It’s not every day undergraduate students are surrounded by world-renowned leaders in engineering fields, but three Texas A&M University engineering students had that opportunity at the Global Grand Challenges Summit in Beijing, China.

Jointly sponsored by the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE), the Chinese Academy of Engineering and the U.K. Royal Academy of Engineering, the summit brought together global experts and leaders to explore pathways for solving global themes from the NAE Grand Challenges report. The summit was held Sept. 15-16.

M. Katherine Banks, vice chancellor and dean of Texas A&M Engineering attended the event with the three Texas A&M students — Allison Badgett, senior in computer science and engineering, Ian de Vlaming, senior in mechanical engineering and Nian Wei Tan, junior in petroleum engineering.

The summit focused on the themes from the NAE Grand Challenges report: sustainability, infrastructure, energy, health, joy of living, education and security/resilience. Leaders in the field were present to hold lectures and discussions. The event also included a student design competition.

The Texas A&M students served as ambassadors for the university in Beijing and will continue to help the effort by providing reports and analysis of the summit on campus and through Engineering Honors. As the AggiE_Challenge program is modeled after the NAE grand challenges, the student ambassadors hope to direct AggiE_Challenge to be more inline with what the NAE is doing for its grand challenges.

Many of the summit’s speakers and sessions revolved around climate change, the impact of it, and what part engineers play in the topic. De Vlaming was struck by this topic and said he’s planning to redirect his research interests to be related to climate change.

“As engineers, we need to better anticipate tomorrow’s problems and not only solving today’s problems,” de Vlaming.

The morality of climate change and engineering was noted as well. The student ambassadors related to speakers saying engineers have to think beyond the technical details to the ethics of the issues too.

“Engineering can help us handle problems the human population is facing right now,” said Tan.

Overall, the student ambassadors were able to engage with the best thinkers and doers in the field and gain a greater understanding of the issues facing the future of engineering.

Badgett said she didn’t grow up thinking she’d become an engineer, but her plans changed. Attending the summit has been one of her first opportunities to interact with a group like the summit provided.

“I’m new to the scientific community, so for me, it’s fun to become part of this community,” said Badgett.

To apply for this trip, students were required to be part of Engineering Honors and AggiE_Challenge. The students were selected as Texas A&M ambassadors for the summit based on a personal essay detailing their qualifications. They will be speaking at the Engineering Honors town hall meeting on Oct. 8 from 6:30–8 p.m. 

The AggiE_Challenge program was established in fall 2012 to engage undergraduates in multidisciplinary and vertically integrated teams to pursue solutions for some of the grand challenges in engineering. Student teams work closely with faculty and graduate students and receive course credit. More than 500 engineering undergraduates have participated in the program since its inception.