grand challenges initiative student team working with Dr. Goldsmith
Schmid College of Science and Technology

» Grand Challenges Initiative (GCI)

Grand challenges are described as "ambitious goals on a national or global scale that capture the imagination and demand advances in innovation and breakthroughs in science and technology." We aim to develop inspired scientists capable of thinking across traditional disciplinary boundaries to take on the most complex problems of our time.

Working in small interdisciplinary teams over their first two years, students engage in grand challenges that fascinate them, from realizing unlimited renewable energy to explaining how the brain functions. Throughout the program, students build a sophisticated intellectual foundation for the rest of their academic experience and career. 

Student Experience

GCI team working on drone

In the Grand Challenges Initiative, students are empowered to discover, evaluate, and synthesize the information they need to solve big problems facing society. 

Foundational Skills

professional and student at networking event

By challenging our students with the world's most complex problems, they are compelled to work together to expand their understanding of the world around them and seek solutions. Through this approach, the process of doing impactful, interdisciplinary, team-based science becomes an integral part of their education.

Through the Grand Challenges Initiative, students will develop:


  • Scientific Intelligence:
    • a fresh perspective on the breadth and depth of the sciences
    • an evidence-based approach to problem-solving
    • critical thinking across disciplinary boundaries
    • a foundation in science ethics


  • Leadership Skills:
    • oral and written communication skills
    • practical teamwork and leadership training
    • experience in team building and project management


  • Career Skills and Resilience:
    • experience in building a professional network
    • an informed view of career opportunities

The GCI Solutions Laboratory

GCI student using 3D printer

The Grand Challenges Initiative is supported by its own Makerspace, where student teams can turn their solutions into reality. Unlike most Makerspaces, which are focused on fabrication, our space supports the diversity of projects that students are pursuing in the program. One team may be working on perfecting a virtual reality game, while the team next to them is using the 3D printer. Equipment in the space draws from biology, chemistry, environmental science, software engineering, electrical engineering, and manufacturing. Our current core equipment includes:


Ultimaker S5 3D Printer

Pulse XE 3D Printer

Carbide 3D Desktop CNC Mill

Snap-On Tool Cabinet (700 tools)


Soldering Stations

Raspberry Pi

Arduino Starter Kits


Alienware Desktop Computers

Flatscreen TVs

Oculus Rift VR


Fume Hoods

Incubator and Drying Oven

Refrigerator and Freezer

Analytical Balances


Thermocycler and Gel Rig

Hotplate Stirrers

Teaching and Research Fellows

GCI Postdoctoral Fellow

Our Post-doctoral Fellows are outstanding early-career scientists who contribute to innovative teaching and mentorship in our undergraduate Grand Challenges Initiative, as well as advance independent research in collaboration with a member of the faculty. They aspire to be the next generation of leaders in innovative teaching and research.


Our Fellows:


  • Inspire our students to use science and technology as a means of understanding the world around them.


  • Teach our students skills associated with problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, teamwork, and leadership.


  • Engage in an active research program in collaboration with their faculty mentor, leading to peer-reviewed research, and external funding applications.


  • Foster diversity and inclusivity in the college.


  • Benefit from an extensive professional development program that advances their research, teaching and leadership skills, guided by an individual development plan.

Meet the Fellows

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Interested in becoming a Fellow?

The yearly advertisement is made available in early December and the application is typically due in early January; please check for instructions. Appointments begin in late summer and can be extended for up to three years on mutual agreement. 

Support the Grand Challenges Initiative

Help our science students undertake the most complex problems of our time! Your support will ensure that the students in this program can be successful, providing them the resources they need to tackle these challenges.

Developing Engaged and Motivated Students

GCI is a student-driven program that develops students who strive to explore, make connections, seek answers, and solve big problems.

Dr. Greg Goldsmith

Dr. Gregory R. Goldsmith
Grand Challenges Initiative Director

"The Grand Challenges Initiative is empowering the next generation of leaders to use collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches to solving our planet’s greatest challenges through science, technology, engineering and math."

Contact Us

Dr. Gregory R. Goldsmith
GCI Program Director

Rebecca Green
Administrative Support

Dr. L. Andrew Lyon

Dr. L. Andrew Lyon

Founding Dean of Fowler School of Engineering

"We started this program with the goal of giving our students ownership of their education. As the program's founder, it was vital to me that they learned to be outstanding critical thinkers while solving problems about which THEY were passionate."