Purdue joining national effort to attack 'grand challenges'

March 24, 2015  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University has joined a group of 122 U.S. universities to educate a new generation of engineers with specialties aimed at tackling some of the most pressing issues facing society.

The schools signed a letter of commitment presented to President Barack Obama at a White House Science Fair on Monday (March 23).

William Oakes, a professor of engineering education and director of Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) at Purdue, will speak during an event today (March 24) in Washington to announce the National Engineering Education Initiative.

The initiative focuses on "grand challenges" identified through efforts such as the White House Strategy for American Innovation, the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges for Engineering, and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The challenges are described as complex yet potentially achievable goals to improve national and international health, security, sustainability and quality of life in the 21st century. These include goals such as engineering better medicines, making solar energy cost-competitive with fossil fuels, securing cyberspace and advancing personalized learning tools to deliver better education to more students.

Together, the 122 schools plan to educate more than 20,000 formally recognized "grand challenge engineers" over the next decade.

"Purdue already has considerable experience educating students to address societal challenges through our EPICS program, Global Design Teams, and other initiatives, so we felt it was important to join this effort," said Leah Jamieson, Purdue's John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering and a co-founder of EPICS.

Preparing more engineers to meet the world's grand challenges also is part of Purdue Moves, a range of initiatives designed to broaden Purdue's global impact and enhance educational opportunities for its students. To address the national need for more engineers Purdue is increasing the number of students and faculty in the College of Engineering by 1,500 and 107, respectively.

EPICS is a service-learning program in which multidisciplinary teams of students develop engineering- and technology-based projects to address needs within local and global communities.

"We now want to leverage the experience that we have and guide students into a combination of experiences that align with the goals of the Grand Challenge Scholars Program," Oakes said. "We want to provide incentives for students, building off of the EPICS experiences and leveraging other initiatives such as the entrepreneurship program, leading to recognition."

EPICS was created at Purdue and has been adopted by more than 20 universities and colleges, engaging students from their first year through senior year. It also has been introduced in more than 50 high schools and middle schools in 12 states. EPICS students sometimes work on the same project over several semesters.

"This deepens their experience, and our approach is to get students to go deep into some of these challenge areas," Oakes said.

Information about the National Engineering Education Initiative is contained in a National Academy of Engineering news release, "U.S. Engineering Schools to Educate 20,000 Students to Meet Grand Challenges," available online at http://www.nae.edu

Writer: Emil Venere, 765-494-4709, venere@purdue.edu 

Sources: Leah Jamieson, 765-494-5346, lhj@purdue.edu

William Oakes, 765-494-3892, oakes@purdue.edu 

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