This past week, the USC Viterbi School played host to the NAE Grand Challenge Summit. The Summit brought “together leading scientists and engineers, educators, policy leaders, innovators and corporate executives to address the 14 challenges articulated by the National Academy of Engineering.” On Wednesday, the day was specifically for students, so of course a lot of Viterbi students were there! I had class all day, but I heard it was a lot of fun! On Thursday and Friday, there were panels focusing on different topics.

On Friday I got to attend both the panel on education and on business. They were very different, but both very interesting. I found the panel on education rather informative. Maria Klawe was a captive speaker who stressed the idea that math is a very important skill that all humans and Americans should have. “Math is like sports,” she said. If you practice you get better! I found this interesting, as many people around me simply state, “I’m no good at math.” I never thought twice about this until Friday. She also stressed the importance of bringing more girls into the field of STEM studies.

The business panel was also very interesting. My favorite speaker was probably Alexis Likanos, who spoke about cyber security, and how it is and will continue to be important in our nation’s security. He showed a video about how hackers can use their talents for a much tamer and more low-key reason. It brought a lighter side to a darker topic. I also really liked Isaac Babbs’s discussion on augmenting reality.

One of my favorite parts of the conference was being able to interact with the moderator and other members of the summit. Through twitter, the audience interacted directly with Miles O’Brien and other attendees. The tweets were part of the panels, or good quotes from the conference, etc. Mr. O’Brien did a great job of incorporating the tweet into the conference. (I was really loving his use of apple products up on stage: ipad, computer, iphone)

Overall, I’m really happy that I got to attend, and I look forward to following the Grand Challenges and their progress throughout the coming years. The only negative comment I have about the conference is that I would have appreciated more of an address of the challenges and how we, as normal people, engineering students, families, etc. change them, as opposed to speeches about specific companies with a brief address of what their company is doing. I’d love to see the next conference and see this topic improved. For more info check out Kristens’ blog!