DU Well-Represented at Global Grand Challenges Summit
Eleven DU students participate in weeklong international conference
The engineering community is beginning to take note of the University of Denver in ways that were hard to imagine just five years ago. Nowhere was this more evident than at the 2017 Global Grand Challenges Summit, sponsored by the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE), the UK Royal Academy of Engineering and the Chinese Academy of Engineering. Eleven DU undergraduate students were accepted to this year’s summit, hosted by George Washington University. That’s more than any other institution in attendance.
“I think this is a sign of how much progress we have made and how quickly,” says JB Holston, dean of DU’s Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science. “We are on the map now in ways that we weren’t. We are considered a place where some really interesting and innovative things are happening.”
The summit aims to inspire the next generation of engineers, policymakers and the public to address critically important engineering challenges and opportunities facing our planet. More than 1,200 people from all over the world attended; half of them were college students.
“The biggest takeaway for me was having the opportunity to meet industry experts and leaders from companies that came from all over the world,” says Camerron Mismash, who is studying electrical engineering at the Ritchie School. “The event also stressed the importance of engineers, which gave me more motivation to continue what I’m doing.”
An interesting aspect to the DU student contingent was the interdisciplinary makeup of the group. Eight of the students were from the Ritchie School, while three students came from Natural Sciences and Mathematics, the Daniels College of Business, and Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS).
“It was a great opportunity to show what DU is largely about, a real emphasis on co-disciplinary work,” Holston says. “The work on grand challenges is by definition work that we have to do across different disciplines if we are going to make progress.”
During the weeklong summit, the DU students who created the ride-sharing app Wanderlift competed against 14 other student groups in the startup competition. They were selected by the NAE to compete because their creation falls under the vision of the Grand Challenges. Wanderlift launched in 2016 as a way to help people get from Denver to the mountains. Meredith Gee and Sam Schooler devised the idea when they were first-year students at DU and didn’t have a car.
“The caliber of competition was great,” says Gee, an emergent digital practices major in AHSS. “I felt really privileged to be selected, to be one of the student groups to be recognized as working on one of these [Grand Challenge] solutions and having some sort of vision or impact or path to get there.”
Before the end of the week, the students had the opportunity to meet with Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet. “You don’t get many opportunities to sit down with your peers and your senator,” Holston says. They talked about education and innovation, and Bennet was eager to hear about the different projects the students are tackling.
“I was impressed by his genuine interest in what we were doing, ways that he could be supportive and his questions of us,” Gee says.