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A Grand Day: Dean Yortsos Receives Top Award for Engineering Education
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Thirteen years ago, Yannis Yortsos, dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, helped launched a movement in engineering education.
That movement, the Grand Challenge Scholars Program (GCSP) has played a key role in re-imagining 21st Century engineers. To date, the program has been adopted at 97 engineering schools and produced 1760 engineers uniquely equipped to tackle humanity’s most pressing global problems.
On Friday, May 6, Yortsos, flanked by USC President Carol L. Folt and John Anderson, president of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), received the NAE’s Gordon Prize — the nation’s most celebrated for engineering education — for his role in co-creating the program.
Appropriately, the award was received within hours of USC’s 2022 class of Grand Challenges Scholars being inducted in a ceremony that celebrated their diligence and accomplishments throughout their undergraduate careers.
The Grand Challenges Scholars Program
In the Grand Challenges Scholars Program, enrolled students tailor their educational experience towards exploring solutions to one of the NAE’s 14 Grand Challenges, 14 pressing global challenges that range from making solar energy more economical to creating better medicines. Students can receive the distinction of a Grand Challenges Scholar by demonstrating in their academic career the five competencies of research, multidisciplinary understanding, entrepreneurship, a global mindset and social consciousness. In the year of their undergraduate commencement, students present their accomplishments and receive the distinction upon their graduation.
In 2022, over 300 undergraduate students across the country will graduate as NAE Grand Challenges Scholars.
GSCP Class of 2022
At the USC Viterbi School, 32 students were granted the distinction of Grand Challenges Scholar in 2022. Graduates were presented with a diploma and commemorative medal from Dean Yortsos and Anderson, the NAE president. Five program members spoke at the ceremony, detailing how their college careers enabled them to display the five competencies of the program.
Among them, Jessica Santos, who will be graduating with a degree in chemical engineering, explained how she used her multicultural and multidisciplinary competencies to tackle the grand challenge of carbon sequestration — capturing the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels and storing it safely away from the atmosphere. Through working with local organizations that combat urban oil drilling and participating in USC Viterbi’s virtual iPodia program, Santos explored her passions in environmental justice and regulatory policy.
“One of the factors that attracted me to USC’s engineering program was an emphasis on Engineering+, the idea that you are an engineer and so much more,” said Santos.
“When I heard that the GSCP also values the multidisciplinary aspects of engineering education, I took this opportunity to push the boundaries of what Engineering+ could be, and I challenged myself to learn as much as possible within my eight semesters here.”
Santos will be remaining a Trojan after graduation from the Masters of Public Health program.
Gauri Madhok, who will be graduating with a computer science degree, focused on the grand challenge of personalized learning.
Her W.V.T Rusch Undergraduate Engineering Honors Program thesis involved the design and business plan for a device that helped blind students learn STEM. Madhok also took USC Viterbi’s Innovation in Engineering: Design for Global Crises course, in which her team designed Remedy, a wearable prescription holder designed for people living on the streets of Los Angeles. Just days before Madhok was set to graduate, Remedy won the USC Min Family Challenge, receiving a $50,000 investment into their non-profit business.
Madhok will be working at Microsoft after graduation.
The Gordon Prize
Later on in the night, Dean Yortsos accepted the Gordon Prize for his efforts in establishing the GSCP in 2009, alongside the program’s other co-founders: Tom Katsouleas, former dean of the Duke University Pratt School of Engineering; Rick Miller, president emeritus of Olin College; and Jenna Carpenter, founding dean of engineering at Campbell University and incoming president of the American Society of Engineering Education.
Since 2001, the National Academy of Engineering has awarded the Gordon Prize to educators making exceptional advances in engineering and technology education. In their citation for the 2022 Award, the NAE stated the award was granted for “creating an innovative education program that prepares students to become future engineering leaders who will address the NAE Grand Challenges of Engineering.”
“Both the NAE Grand Challenges and the Grand Challenges Scholars Program emanated from the important belief that human ingenuity and innovation, if properly summoned and nourished, can solve the grand challenges of our times, based on scientific, engineering and technological advances,” said Yortsos. “It is this belief in purposeful, human-centric, engineering pursuits to engineer a better world for all, that permeates GCSP throughout its history and sets the background for its growth and flourishing.”
The Gordon Prize award ceremony followed a celebratory dinner on the Epstein Family Plaza — the heart of engineering at USC Viterbi — attended by the NAE representatives, USC faculty, staff and students and guests from across the country.
“Universities have a duty to prepare our future leaders and shape our global citizens,” said USC President Carol Folt at the awards ceremony.
“Because of this program, students at institutions like Duke, Olin, Campbell, ASU and USC can reimagine what’s possible for our planet and society.”
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