Eight U.S. universities including Duke have established the Vest Scholarship program to spur international collaborations among graduate students whose studies are focused on tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges.
The scholarship, named after the outgoing National Academy of Engineering (NAE) President Charles M. Vest, was announced at the inaugural Global Grand Challenges Summit (GGCS) in London on March 13, 2013. The program has been endorsed by both the NAE and the U.K.’s Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE).
The participating universities are all conducting leading research toward addressing the NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering™, 14 “game-changing” goals with the potential to dramatically improve life in the 21st century, as identified by a blue-ribbon committee of leading technological thinkers and doers. The challenges are also the inspiration for the GGCS.
“The NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering address global issues that transcend national boundaries,” said Yannis C. Yortsos, dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. “They are timely, inspirational, and interdisciplinary. Their solutions are also within reach in this time of exponential technology gains. The Vest Scholarships will provide the glue that will enable the engagement of the international engineering and scientific communities in pursuits that will benefit all of humanity.”
The NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering are already being incorporated into education at all levels – including an undergraduate Grand Challenges Scholars Program being implemented at several colleges and universities across the United States – and Vest has been an influential leader in raising the visibility of these ideals.
“All of the sponsoring schools were unanimous in naming the scholarships for Dr. Vest,” said Tom Katsouleas, dean of engineering at Duke. “His leadership and championing of the Grand Challenges, and the role of the engineering profession, has been inspirational.”
In the scholarship’s first year, students from schools attending the Global Grand Challenges Summit will be eligible to apply for the scholarships. In later years, the program will be expanded to additional schools.
“This is like a reverse Rhodes Scholarship,” said Katsouleas. “It gives select international graduate students the opportunity to pursue potentially world-changing ideas at top U.S. universities.”
In addition to Duke, other participating schools are North Carolina State University (NC State), California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Olin College, University of Southern California, University of Washington, Illinois Institute of Technology, and MIT. Students who are chosen will receive an expense-paid year to pursue research opportunities related to the 14 NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering at one of those institutions.
“The Vest Scholars follow on programs announced at previous U.S. Summits – like the Grand Challenge Scholars Program for undergraduates and the K-12 Partners Program for pre-college students,” Katsouleas said in announcing the program at the GCGS.
“We hope that the Vest Scholarships will grow and become a highly valued platform for international collaboration – specifically that the students will carry the pollen of potent ideas from continent to continent with them and back again, strengthening international relationships in order to advance progress in some of our most critical global challenges,” Katsouleas said.
“Perhaps as important,” he continued, “we hope to cultivate a community of Vest scholars, a network they will have for life, with a shared mindset to take on the world’s most important challenges.”
Locally, Duke and NC State have worked together before to bring attention to the Grand Challenges. In 2009 and 2010, the schools played leadership roles in summits held in Durham and Raleigh that brought together engineers, policymakers, industry leaders, economists and scientists to explore ways to meet the challenges through innovation and cooperation.
“The Grand Challenges can’t be met by one group of people in one field,” said Louis Martin-Vega, dean of the College of Engineering at NC State. “Finding the right solutions requires a focused, global effort that brings together people from different disciplines and backgrounds to develop new ideas. By linking some of the world's top graduate students with leading US researchers, the Vest Scholarships will be an important part of this collaborative effort.”
Additional details about the Vest Scholarships can be found here.