Last fall I applied to be a USC Inaugural Grand Challenge Ambassador. The description for the job–which included spreading awareness of the National Academy of Engineering’s (NAE) 14 Grand Challenges and planning the NAE Grand Challenge Summit conference for the following October–seemed daunting, but I figured there was no hurt in trying for the position. In January I met with my fellow “Grand Challenge Ambassadors” to begin our planning for the National Summit. Though we have been working tirelessly for months, the job has turned out to be way more exciting and fun than the daunting task I thought it would be. The Grand Challenge Ambassadors have specifically been given the task of planning the Student Day of the 3-day conference.

Check out the 14 Grand Challenges on the NAE website:

Here’s a little preview of the day we’ve planned:

Building Competitions:

Our building competitions will incorporate both engineering skill and mentoring. Local middle school students will be grouped with attending college students to participate in two fun challenges. The first competition, which focuses on the Grand Challenge of restoring and improving urban infrastructure will test the students planning and building skills with a childhood favorite…Legos! The other competition, which focuses on the Grand Challenge of providing clean access to water, will challenge teams to build a filtration device out of a series of materials in order to filter polluted sea water. I can’t wait to see all the innovated designs!

Hall of Inspiration:

In the Hall of Inspiration, students will be able to test out some interactive demos, some which appeared a recent TEDx event.

Grand Challenge Trivia Challenge:

Students will compete in a quiz-bowl style competition to test their knowledge in engineering, science, mathematics, and a few silly categories thrown in!

California Science Center

After the day’s activities have ended, students will get to relax at the California Science Center, where the exhibits will be open just for conference attendees. There will also be music and food (including a mashed potato bar where mashed potatoes will be served in martini glasses and everyone can choose their own toppings…how fun!).

I can’t wait for all our hard work to pay off at the event. Look for more updates on the Grand Challenge Summit or check it out at!