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The inaugural class of Grand Challenges Scholars tackles society’s big problems while earning engineering degrees

Story by
Trisha Radulovich
grand challenges scholars
The inaugural class of Grand Challenges Program Scholars at FAMU-FSU Engineering includes (left to right): Cole Daly, Yusef Kutbi, Nina Mihajlov, Andrea Moncada and Atilla Sulker. Not pictured: Caterina Arnold, Rahsaan Corbin II and Giovanni Lopez Parker. (Photos: FAMU-FSU Engineering/M Wallheiser)

Eight undergraduate engineering scholars from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering make up the college’s inaugural National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenges Scholars program beginning in the fall semester of 2021.

Caterina Arnold, Rahsaan Corbin II, Cole Daly, Yusef Kutbi, Giovanni Lopez Parker, Nina Mihajlov, Andrea Moncada and Atilla Sulker are the first students selected for the program. Beginning this summer, the undergraduates will have the opportunity to represent the college in a robust national network of engineering institutions embarking on solving engineering’s “grand challenges” in 2021.

Each undergraduate student will work on the Grand Challenges competencies through undergraduate research, professional experience, service work and classwork. Nina Mihajlov, a sophomore in chemical engineering, will work on a project to provide energy from fusion. 

“I want to work in the renewable energy field, specifically nuclear energy,” Mihajlov said. “Controlling reactors to create energy from fusion and could provide an abundant supply of clean energy with minimal environmental consequences.”

Kassie Ernst, an engineering faculty member, heads up the college’s chapter of the nationwide program that identifies 14 Grand Challenges. Participants choose themes in health, sustainability, security and “the joy of living,” and participate in in-depth challenges such as providing access to clean drinking water or making solar energy more affordable.

“Now, more than ever, it is clear that we have challenges to solve at the global scale,” Ernst said. “We want to educate, amplify and support our undergraduates who will play important roles in solving the grand challenges of the 21st century.” 

Atilla Sulker, a sophomore in electrical engineering, will work on a research project to advance personalized learning. 

“My project will hone in on developing novel ways to assess learning in students without them knowing they are being tested,” Sulker said. “Imagine being able to test students while also dissipating the stress of test anxiety.”

Sulker is the Chief Strategy Officer and product developer for Blue Ocean Discover, a local educational company to revitalize K-5 STEM education. His current project, the MagShark, is an immersive augmented reality-driven learning experience for K-1 students, in which they learn about magnetism. 

“The factory-esque school models are turning students away from the joy of learning,” Sulker said. “They are not getting a sense of how they can shape the world around them. The ‘I don’t do math’ mentality must be reversed.”

FAMU-FSU Engineering professors Tristan Driscoll, Simon Foo, Cesar Rodriguez, Camilo Ordonez and Jeffrey Whalen are a part of the first cohort of faculty mentors for the program.

NAE GCSP 2021 Scholars: 

  • Caterina Arnold (FSU) - Sustainability Theme 
  • Rahsaan Corbin II (FAMU) - Secure cyberspace
  • Cole Daly (FSU) - Make solar energy economical 
  • Yusef Kutbi (FSU) - Health Theme 
  • Giovanni Lopez Parker (FSU) - Providing access to clean drinking water 
  • Nina Mihajlov (FSU) - Provide Energy from fusion 
  • Andrea Moncada (FSU) - Engineering better medicines
  • Atilla Sulker (FSU) - Advance personalized learning     

“To be a Grand Challenge Scholar is to be part of something bigger than yourself,” Mihajlov said. “It prepares undergraduates to think in an international perspective and develop globally relevant skills applicable to their future careers.”

Click here for more information about the program.