Rising to the challenge: New McMaster Grand Challenges Scholars Program launched – Faculty of Engineering

Rising to the challenge: New McMaster Grand Challenges Scholars Program launched

The McMaster Grand Challenges Scholars Program aims to enhance graduates’ ability to drive real, sustainable change in the face of 21st century challenges.

Cam Churchill and Grand Challenges crew stand outside JHE all looking off in the distance in different directions

Young people who will tackle tomorrow’s thorny global problems will need both superlative technical skills and a range of problem-solving skills.

That’s the philosophy behind the newly launched McMaster Grand Challenges Scholars Program, an initiative aiming to enhance graduates’ ability to drive real, sustainable change in the face of 21st century challenges.

The Grand Challenges program builds on the strengths of MacChangers, a co-curricular program led by the Faculty of Engineering and the MacPherson Institute, which brings together teams of students from across campus to seek local solutions to challenging societal issues.

It’s just the latest way McMaster Engineering is transforming the student experience and amplifying experiential learning, says Ishwar K. Puri, Dean of Engineering.

We know that the world is changing at a rapid rate and so we need to prepare students to be agile thinkers and strong communicators who are capable of shaping the future, rather than just chasing it. We want to ensure that every student graduating from McMaster Engineering is a resilient, calculated risk-taker who can impact the world.

Ishwar K. Puri, Dean of Engineering

Following a framework developed by the US National Academy of Engineering, the Grand Challenges Scholars Program is offered at more than 60 American universities, including MIT, Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio State and the University of Southern California.

McMaster is the first Canadian university to be accepted into the program, joining eight other non-U.S. schools, including Australian National University, City University of Hong Kong, and the National University of Singapore.

While the American version of the program focuses students on very specific goals, the McMaster version encourages students to look for problems that address the UN Sustainable Development goals., which range from eradicating poverty to climate action to improving water quality and good health and well-being.

To complete the program and earn a digital credential, students will have to demonstrate skill in the five competency areas of research, multiculturalism, business and innovation, multidisciplinary work, and social consciousness. 

They can draw on learning gained through coursework, extracurricular and co-curricular activities, exchange programs, volunteer opportunities, and work experiences to demonstrate their mastery of the competencies.

Civil Engineering professor Cam Churchill, who is also the Director of the McMaster Grand Challenges Scholars program, says a process for reflection built into the program will help students gain insight into the skills they are cultivating. For example, participating in Engineers without Borders could develop an understanding of different cultures to contribute toward the multiculturalism competency.

As participants gain skills and experience, they will move sequentially through foundational, visionary and scholarly levels in each competency.  Scholarly-level skills in at least two competencies will be required to graduate as a Grand Challenges Scholar, while those who earn scholarly credentials in all competencies will be awarded a Grand Impact Scholar certification.

“Our students want to change the world, they want to make a difference,” says Churchill. “The Grand Challenges program lets them actually work on something real, on problems in the Hamilton community that they learn to understand and solve as allies of the community.”