Solving Grand Challenges Through a New Perspective


Woman in front of brick wall.From providing access to clean water to managing the nitrogen cycle, there are no shortages of challenges for the next generation of engineers to tackle.

Danielle Dantzler, a sophomore majoring in biological engineering, is determined to tackle the grand challenge of engineering better medicine. She’ll get the opportunity to start as a National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenges Scholar. This combined curricular and extra-curricular program is designed to prepare students to face the NAE grand challenges facing society and change the world.

The NAE lists 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st century as a call to action and a way to focus society’s attention on opportunities and challenges affecting our quality of life. The 14 grand challenges fall into the categories of sustainability, health, security, and joyful living.

Dantzler first became interested in the engineering grand challenges during an introductory engineering class her freshman year. Her interests and background in history allowed her to see these grand challenges through a different perspective. As a Benjamin Franklin Scholar, Danztler is also majoring in history.

“I like how you can pull in a different discipline,” she explains. “Through my knowledge of history, you can think about medicine in use by other cultures or look back at medicine practices of the past for potential answers or inspiration.”

She has personal reasons for choosing this grand challenge and her interest in medicine: her father died of cancer when she was young. While Dantzler originally thought about majoring in biomedical engineering, she eventually found a home in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, in part to her mother’s background of living and working on a farm.

Through the program Dantzler hopes to gain a better understanding of what she enjoys and possible career paths that line up with her skills and interests.

“I also want to be able to find a way to merge my two majors,” she explains. “It’s better to use both sides of my brain at one time.”

Scholars in the program produce their own comprehensive portfolio of research, projects and high impact experiences that can be leveraged to pursue future academic and professional endeavors. As a scholar Dantzler will have access to industry partners, funding for travel to attend conferences, and networking opportunities.

“I want to learn more about the environment, what’s around me, and how this major can bring me to something that I’m passionate about.”