Katsouleas NAE Grand Challenges Scholars

Through engaging and interdisciplinary experiences, you’ll widen your global mindset and social consciousness to take on one of the biggest challenges facing humanity.

Duke was a pioneer in tying the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges for Engineering to our undergraduate experience. This concept has since spread to more than 90 engineering schools around the world.

Each scholar receives faculty mentorship and up to $5,000 toward the completion of a detailed scholarship portfolio.

What are the NAE Grand Challenges?

From making solar energy economical to engineering better medicines to securing cyberspace, the 14 Grand Challenges are major tasks needed to create a sustainable future for humanity.

Scholars Program Details

  • The program is an intentional series of courses, independent study and engaging experiences related to your Grand Challenges focus.

    The experiences are organized into five competencies. The program is capped by a senior thesis.


    • Research
    • Interdisciplinary
    • Entrepreneurship
    • Global
    • Service Learning


    As a scholar, you will create an online, public e-portfolio that describes and documents your GCS experiences. You’ll select the digital platform you prefer.

  • Experience Depth

    Research and interdisciplinary competencies are considered in-depth experiences, while Entrepreneurship, Global, and Service Learning can be medium- or minimum-depth experiences.

    Either (but not both) of the in-depth experiences in Research and Interdisciplinary may directly incorporate the Entrepreneurial, Global or  Service-Learning components, and thus can be “double-counted” as an additional component depending on the GC focus, the engineering and non-engineering courses taken, the nature of the research/project/curriculum and the extent of engagement.


    • Three (3) independent study classes or equivalent experiences related to the student’s GC focus
    • In-Depth Experiences = 400-plus total hours
    Example Experiences at Duke

    Note: Your GC Research experiences may also count toward Global, Entrepreneurial, or Service-Learning minimum-depth experiences. See restrictions below.


    • Three (3) non-engineering and non-research classes, or equivalent experiences, related to the GC focus
    • In-Depth Experiences = 400-plus total hours
    Example Experiences at Duke

    Note: GC interdisciplinary experiences may also count as minimum-depth experiences in Global, Entrepreneurial, or Service-Learning areas. See restrictions below.

  • For the remaining three competencies–Entrepreneurship, Global and Service Learning–one (1) must be at medium-depth level (or higher) and related to your GC focus.

    The remaining two (2) components may be minimum-depth (or higher) and related to any of the 14 Grand Challenges.

    Medium Depth is defined as a practicum, immersion experience or research activity that spans an eight-week summer or a regular semester, or one (1) regular semester class or independent study

    Minimum Depth is defined as a semester or less extra-curricular experience such as a volunteer activity, short course, workshop, seminar series or conference


    An entrepreneurship experience outside the classroom or lab.

    Example Experiences at Duke


    A cross-cultural experience outside the classroom or lab. For students from the United States, the experience should be outside North America. For international students, the experience should be outside the United States. See guidelines and restrictions above.

    Example Experiences at Duke


    A service-learning experience outside of the classroom that deepens social awareness and heightens motivation to develop practical solutions for society’s problems.

    Example Experiences
  • To complete the program, students submit a thesis that describes their experiences and how these experiences were related to each other and their GC focus.

    The thesis should include a reflection of how the GCS program added to their education and provided a wide range of experiences that shaped their understanding of the world and their future.

    The thesis is due before the end of the last day of classes of your final semester at Duke.

  • Before submitting your application, you’re encouraged to contact the program coordinator. Discuss your expectations and the application process.


    Apply before the end of sophomore year. As you prepare your application, you’ll choose one of the Grand Challenges for Engineering and write a 300-word essay.

Grand Challenges Scholars

Click to view e-portfolios.

Akhil Bedapudi

  • Major: BME
  • Grand Challenge: Engineer better medicines

Ethan Ho

  • Major: BME
  • Grand Challenge: Engineer better medicines

Tim Ho

  • Majors: BME/CS
  • Grand Challenge: Engineer the tools of scientific discovery

Sunny Li

  • Major: CEE
  • Grand Challenge: Restore and improve urban infrastructure

Andy Qiao

  • Major: BME
  • Grand Challenge: Engineer better medicines

Jessica Shah

  • Major: BME
  • Grand Challenge: Engineer better medicines

Lucy Zhang

  • Major: BME
  • Grand Challenge: Engineer better medicines

Thomas C. Katsouleas

This program at Duke is named in honor of former Vinik Dean of Engineering Tom Katsouleas, who played a leadership role in founding and launching the Grand Challenges Scholars Program on a national scale.

Program Coordinator

David E. Schaad Profile Photo
David E. Schaad Profile Photo

David E. Schaad

Professor of the Practice of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Research Interests

Sustainable engineering, community development, water and wastewater treatment design, stormwater retention/detention and treatment design, hazardous waste remediation, urban hydrology, constructed wetland and stream restoration design,…

Student Stories