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About Me

Rachael Lau, Duke University Class of 2020

Major: Civil Engineering (Environmental and Water Resources)

Certificate Program: Global Development Engineering

Hometown: Plainfield, Illinois

Grand Challenge Focus: Providing Access to Clean Water

Grand Challenge Advisor: Dr. David Schaad

Grand Challenge Thesis: Sensing and Decision for Multi-hazard Early Warning

What are the Grand Challenges?

In 2008, the National Academy of Engineering identified 14 “Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century” that aim to improve sustainability, health, security, and the joy of living worldwide. The next generation of engineers will be tasked with creating innovative solutions to these challenges. Therefore, engineering programs at over 40 universities around the world have adopted the Grand Challenge Scholars Program as a way to better prepare students for the real world problems they will face, and also to allow them to begin addressing these urgent needs while they are still undergraduates.

The Grand Challenge Scholars Program at Duke is a combined curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular program with 5 key competencies that are designed give students the technical expertise, breadth of knowledge, and the social, ethical and environmental awareness needed to be leaders in addressing the 14 NAE Grand Challenges.

1. Hands-on research

2. Interdisciplinary curriculum

3. Innovation and entrepreneurship experience

4. A global dimension

5. Service learning

The Grand Challenge I have chosen to focus on is Providing Access to Clean Water. This portfolio illustrates the research, classes, and other experiences I have completed or plan to complete in my effort to address this critical issue.

Why the GCS Program?

I firmly believe that my goals for my own education and career align closely with the five themes of the Grand Challenge Scholar Program. My personal passion lies in clean water access and equitable access to improved sanitation. I appreciate both the technical, hard-skills of engineering and design as well as the broad social and cultural aspects that can immeasurably complicate the success of a project, and I believe that the Grand Challenge Program requires both a technical and cultural appreciation of the situation at hand, no matter the challenge. I am always eager to both start and continue new projects that can address major humanity crises around the world, and I know that the Grand Challenge Program can assist me to do so.

I am particularly passionate about clean water access and equitable sanitation because of how much modern society relies on these two basic concepts in order to sustain much of our current daily lives. Understanding the issue that arises when people in disadvantaged regions do not have access to equitable sanitation and clean water is one thing, but taking active steps to fix it in any way that you can is another. I believe that the Grand Challenge Scholar Program will allow me to do that.