Making our world more sustainable, secure, healthy, & joyful.


Grand Challenges Scholars Program

The UW-Madison Grand Challenges Scholars Program (GCSP) is a multi-year, competency-based program that prepares students to address 21st-century challenges facing society. Students in the program participate in curricular and co-curricular activities aligned with their selected grand challenge, which can include course work, research or creative projects, internships, study abroad, volunteer work, and other experiences. Through this work, students develop competency in research, explore a multidisciplinary and entrepreneurial mindset, gain global perspectives, and contribute to society through service learning.

NAE Grand Challenge Themes

In 2008, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) identified 14 grand challenges for improving life, which broadly fall into the themes of sustainability, security, health and joy of living. These challenges require far-reaching solutions that will rely not only on engineering principles, but will also span political, social, ethical, and economical domains. Students in the program can select from these challenges, or design their own challenge around one of the 4 central themes.


Advance health informatics • Engineer better medicines Reverse-engineer the brain


Make solar energy economical • Provide energy from fusion Develop carbon sequestration methods Manage the nitrogen cycle Provide access to clean water


Prevent nuclear terror • Secure cyberspace Restore and improve urban infrastructure

Joy of living 

Enhance virtual reality • Advance personalized learning Engineer the tools of scientific discovery

Visit the NAE Grand Challenges site to learn more.

Competency Areas

Students in the program select courses and experiences that address their selected challenge while also fulfilling requirements in each of five NAE-recognized competency areas:

Talent development: Mentored research or creative project experience

Multidisciplinary: Interdisciplinary approach to problem solving

Multicultural: Culture awareness through global experience

Entrepreneurship / viable business: Implementation of a technical product or innovation

Social consciousness: Service learning in support of communities and society

GCSP scholars create a portfolio of their achievements to reflect on and connect their experiences.

Program benefits for students

  • Receive funding for GCSP-related activities (ex: travel to GCSP national meetings and/or conferences) 
  • Engage in opportunities to network with peers and professionals in social and development activities
  • Receive special recognition by UW-Madison and the National Academy of Engineering upon completion of the program
  • Gain streamlined support and pathway toward earning campus Leadership Certificate
  • Access dedicated 1:1 advising to help craft your grand challenge journey
  • Become part of a community of scholars, faculty, and staff

GCSP Scholars are students who:

  • Are passionate about using knowledge for the greater good of society and want to engage deeply with a Grand Challenges theme (health, security, sustainability, joy of living)
  • Want to join and contribute to a community of student-scholars throughout their undergraduate experience, and be connected with a broader network of GCSP scholars and alumni
  • Are interested in weaving in service, research, and entrepreneurship into their college experience while taking a global and interdisciplinary approach
  • Want to become well-rounded engineers prepared to take on the grand challenges facing the world

Grand Challenge Scholars - Program Details

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Program timeline

GCSP scholars are encouraged to choose a pathway that best aligns with their curricular and career goals. We do not require a specific sequence for completing the program. Instead, we’ll work with you as you chart out your grand challenge journey. Here’s a general summary of the types of activities you’ll complete:

Year 1 (freshman)

Year 2 & 3 (sophomore/junior)

    • Participate in GCSP community events
    • Complete coursework and co-curricular activities in line with your Grand Challenge
    • Build your GCSP portfolio, reflecting on your experiences and goals
    • Meet with the program director in the fall and spring to chat about your progress and explore opportunities 
    • Identify a faculty mentor

Year 4 (senior)

    • Continue working towards any remaining competency requirements and confirm successful completion 
    • Consolidate your portfolio into a final summative product that articulates your experience as a Grand Challenge Scholar
    • Meet with the program director for portfolio feedback and support 
    • Present your work at a College of Engineering or UW-Madison event
    • Celebrate your accomplishments at our yearly spring event

Staying connected with the program

We’re here to help you explore and design your path towards completing your Grand Challenge program. To remain in good standing with the program, we ask that you stay connected.

    • Meet with your GCSP mentor or the program director at least once per semester
    • Update your portfolio by completing a progress report (once per semester) that summarizes your accomplishments, identifies challenges, and outlining your plan for the upcoming semester
    • Attend GCSP workshops and events
    • Present your project at a GCSP event during your senior year

Contact us

For more information, please contact the program director by email (Angela Kita, or schedule an appointment through Starfish.