Texas A&M launches inaugural Grand Challenge Scholars Program

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The Grand Challenge Scholars Program (GCSP) at Texas A&M University is a selective three-year program offered to sophomore students with the intent to attract, retain and graduate future leaders who are equipped to solve engineering grand challenges facing our society today and in the future. While achieving in-depth understanding of their chosen research areas, Grand Challenge scholars will also be prepared to be global leaders in academia, government and industry.

“The Texas A&M Grand Challenge Scholars program provides students with a truly unique experience, combining research on one of the 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering with coursework or other activities providing the scholars with competence in interdisciplinary work, entrepreneurship, service learning and global perspective,” said Dr. Nancy M. Amato, GCSP director.

A group of 24 scholars from various engineering departments were selected to participate in the inaugural cohort of the program. These students include aerospace engineering students Eghosasere Alao, Milton Garza and Kanika Gakhar; biological and agricultural engineering student Zhoucheng Li; biomedical engineering students Hector Linares Garcia and Luke Oaks; chemical engineering students Agnes Aina, Victoria Hicks, Ricci Seguban and Alex Strasser; civil engineering students Alyssa Ornelas, Brian Welsh and Samantha Wilson; computer engineering student Josiah Coad; computer science and statistics student Jusung Lee; electrical engineering students Andrew Allen, Millie Krel, Bryton Praslicka, Jorge Vasquez and Stephanie Wilcox; industrial engineering student Lorenzo Riddle; and mechanical engineering students Andy Alcantar, Melissa Burket and Yuming Zhao.

During their first year in the program, Grand Challenge scholars work with faculty mentors to plan their customized GCSP curriculum. During their second year, they are actively engaged in the research for the GCSP thesis and make progress on achieving the other components of the GCSP. During their final year in the program, Grand Challenge scholars complete their program requirements and mentor other participating students. There are five components of the curriculum, including research related to one of the engineering grand challenges, multidisciplinary, entrepreneurship, global experience and service learning.

For her research thesis, junior aerospace engineering student Kanika Gakhar is working with Dr. Moble Benedict, aerospace assistant professor, to improve the design and efficiency of his robotic hummingbird.

“Spending endless hours next to a setup that mimics a hummingbird’s flapping motion reminded me of how close we were to understanding the aero-elastic relationship between the shape of the wing and the interdependent aerodynamics associated with it,” Gakhar said. “This helped me realize that I wanted to engage in the Grand Challenge Scholars Program and help contribute toward engineering tools for scientific discovery. Moreover, I was so inspired by this research experience that I decided to encourage other students to engage in undergraduate research. As an undergraduate research ambassador and executive leader for the Council of Undergraduate Research in Engineering, I currently work on helping students gain valuable research experience.” 

The GCSP program will also provide students with unique and exciting opportunities to grow as students and individuals. Five students will attend the upcoming Grand Challenge Summit this summer in Washington, D.C.

Amato, who is also senior director of the Engineering Honors Program and Unocal and Regents Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, said, “We are very excited to launch the Texas A&M Grand Challenge Scholars Program. We have selected an amazing set of students for the inaugural cohort and I'm really looking forward to seeing what they will achieve.”