The Grand Challenges Program embodies the Charles H. Dyson School’s commitment to immersive, community-engaged learning and impactful applied research with a broad range of partners in the Ithaca community and beyond. Each semester, approximately 20 student teams of 4-6 seniors work on a business project which can be sourced by faculty leading a project course, developed by students in their junior year or pitched by organizations via an online proposal form.
The Grand Challenges Program is growing rapidly, and this year we are piloting significant changes in response to feedback from students and stakeholders as well as from a school-wide curriculum review. Our model, with four required courses over four years, presents opportunities and challenges, and the Faculty Fellows in Engaged Learning Program is an excellent way for us to learn best practices that can be integrated into all projects and courses. Our goal is to move beyond the “check the box” mentality among some students who enroll in these courses only to fulfill a graduation requirement and to provide a meaningful experience that pushes them to reflect critically and build professional, human-centered skills that will help them in their careers.
As faculty director of Grand Challenges, my role focuses on ensuring the courses and program is broadly aligned with the needs of the curriculum and vision for the school. I provide feedback and guidance to Lisa Gerber, the program manager, regarding the incredible operations and logistics work she manages to make all of these pieces come together. In addition, I teach the pre-project course (AEM 3000) and co-lead a section of AEM 4000 with Lisa that currently has two student-developed projects; I hope to learn key skills and practices to bring to these courses and to disseminate to the faculty that teach in the Grand Challenges Program.