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About Me:

Name: Rebecca Lau

Hometown: Plainfield, Illinois

Education: Duke University, Class of 2022

Majors: Mechanical Engineering (B.S.E.) and German (B.A.)

Minor: Energy Engineering

GC Focus: Restore and Improve Urban Infrastructure

GCS Advisor: Dr. Volker Blum

GC Thesis: *TBD*

What is the NAE Grand Challenges Scholars Program?

In 2008, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) developed the 14 NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering in an effort to address what engineers need to provide to people in the 21st century. These challenges all support a future that is built on the pillars of sustainability, security, health, and joy of living. Since then, these challenges have been adopted by engineering schools through the Grand Challenges Scholars Program (GCSP) in order to inspire the next generation of engineers to solve humanity’s greatest challenges. The GCSP outlines five competencies that provide students with the technical expertise, breadth of knowledge, and the social, ethical and environmental awareness necessary to successfully pursue one of the 14 NAE Grand Challenges:

1. Hands-on research

2. Interdisciplinary curriculum

3. Innovation and entrepreneurship experience

4. A global dimension

5. Service learning

Why am I a Grand Challenge Scholar?

Solutions to the world’s greatest engineering challenges demand more than technical expertise. These challenges are inherently connected to ethical implications and issues of social justice, and engineering successful and sustainable solutions requires engineers to draw upon lessons learned in the classroom as well as their experiences as a global citizen. Over 2020 alone, the pandemic highlighted the inequities in healthcare, the unreliable energy access in rural and impoverished regions, and the disparity of wealth in the United States, among other social issues. The pandemic exposed the weaknesses in our society, but it also shedded light on the humanitarian aspect of engineering. The revolutionary mRNA vaccines were key to curbing the spread of the virus around the world. Manufacturing improvements allowed for rapid and cheap COVID testing for people across the nation. Network security and virtual calls on Zoom allowed for people to connect with one another and see loved ones’ faces. What the world viewed as a crisis, others viewed as a catalyst for technological evolution. Throughout this time, I was reminded why I chose to engineer to begin with and why I intend to continue my work. As I continue my education, I have found that my motivation for engineering is rooted, above all else, in the people, and that is why I elected to pursue the Grand Challenge Scholar Program. The GCSP was founded in the aspirational vision of engineers delivering to the people what is needed to live a life characterized by sustainability, security, health, and joy in the 21st century.

My motivation and passion for engineering directly aligns with the principles promoted by this program, and I believe that partaking in this program will help me achieve my educational and future goals by encouraging me to develop a technical skillset and to dedicate my time to raising my cultural, ethical, and social awareness. I am passionate about improving modern infrastructure —  particularly, energy infrastructure — as well as closing the disparity between regions that have resources and an established infrastructure and regions that do not. I am particularly focused on developing more efficient renewable energy systems that can satisfy the demands of a growing population in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly fashion. The Grand Challenge Scholar Program will ultimately allow me to develop a technical and cultural appreciation that will allow me to address humanity’s greatest challenges by developing culturally-sensitive, ethical, and technically-sound solutions that can address one of the humanity’s grand challenges: Restoring and improving urban infrastructure.