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Current Scholars


Aakash Bajpai
Major: Mechanical Engineering
Minor: Entrepreneurship
GCSP Cohort 1 (2016)
Expected Graduation: 2018

BajpaiWhy did you decide to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program?
During most of my undergraduate education, I have been focusing on how to make myself a better engineer and a better candidate for graduate study. However, the interdisciplinary and global problems we are facing, such as global climate change, can be solved better from a more diverse perspective. I want to diversify and explore the nature of our problems because research alone cannot fix them. How can a potential researcher solve global problems without a global perspective in mind?
Which of the Grand Challenges interest you most, and why?I regularly read National Geographic growing up, and have always had a curiosity for the unknown. This drives one of my interests to be the last of the fourteen Grand Challenges, which is to engineer the tools of scientific discovery. Whether in deep sea or outer space, inner tornadoes or flaming volcanoes, the challenge of creating technologies that can survive in these extreme environments is extremely difficult and interesting at the same time.
What are your plans after graduation?
My goals after graduation are to continue on to graduate school in mechanical engineering, mechatronics, or robotics. I want to create exploration technologies. I would also like to work on bio-inspired robotics and apply the locomotion of different species for robotic applications. After graduate school I would like to work in my interest area for a government lab or become a researcher and professor at a University. I really enjoy tutoring now and can see myself doing research and bringing undergraduates and graduates into a lab where they are able to develop themselves not just as researchers but also able to think from a global perspective through interdisciplinary focus.


David Barry
Major: Mechanical Engineering
Minor: Entrepreneurship
Certificate: Peace Corps Prep
GCSP Cohort 2 (2017)
Expected Graduation: 2020

Barry
Why did you decide to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program?
I joined the Grand Challenge Scholars Program to solve large-scale problems that negatively affect people. I hope to able to cultivate my skills as an engineer and a problem solver through this program and gain confidence in my ability to address daunting challenges in the workforce and in my personal life.
Which of the Grand Challenges interest you most, and why?
The Grand Challenge that interests me the most is Personalized Education. I believe that while education is not the answer to all our world’s many problems, it is the only way to empower people to do good. I hope to help to improve and revamp our current education so that it better teaches the most in demand skills (eg. problem solving, creative and analytical thinking) and not just knowledge and facts.
What are your plans after graduation?
I want to join the Peace Corps directly after college and help an impoverished community better educate themselves and their children. Peace Corps will also help me decide what I want to do with the rest of my life, but I know now that I want to work to fight for the rights and dignity of all human beings. I am thinking about graduate or business school after Peace Corps though.


Joseph Collins
Major: Computer Science
Minor: Mathematics
GCSP Cohort 1 (2016)
Expected Graduation: 2018

Collins

Why did you decide to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program?
The opportunity to work with other passionate people to help solve the complicated problems facing our generation drove me to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program. By working with the other Grand Challenge Scholars, I plan to gain a better understanding of the challenges various fields are facing. My goal is to help overcome these difficult obstacles, using tools from both computer science and mathematics.
Which of the Grand Challenges interest you most and why?
Currently, I am most interested in reverse-engineering the brain. As a student of computer science, I study various ways of processing information. The brain is the most powerful information processing machine known, and a computer has yet to match the depth and breadth of its abilities. A deep knowledge of how the brain works will inform the design of computers in the coming decades, providing powerful tools for solving problems in diverse array of fields.
What are your plans after graduation?
I will continue working in the field of computer science to find solutions to some of the most difficult problems facing humanity, whether in A.I., medicine, or cybersecurity. To this end, I will continue my studies through an M.S. and potentially a Ph.D. I have yet to determine the exact path I will take, and I plan to narrow my focus as I gain a clearer understanding of the challenges that interest me.

 


Laina Colony
Major: Chemical Engineering (Environmental Engineering & Sustainability Track)
GCSP Cohort 2 (2017)
Expected Graduation: 2020

Colony

Why did you decide to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program?
I decided to join the Grand Scholars program because I was intrigued by the opportunities it provides. It will introduce me to leadership skills and many other skills while providing me a way to research a challenge I find interesting. The GCSP will help pave the pathway for my future endeavors.
Which of the Grand Challenges interest you most, and why?
The challenge I am most interested in is providing access to clean water. I have always been interested in environmental problems and believe they are important problems that need to be solved; that is why my major is environmental engineering. Clean water is a major issue throughout the world and if a new and efficient technology can be designed, millions of people will be helped all over the world. This is a challenge I would like to be a part of.
What are your plans after graduation?
I plan to attend graduate school. Graduate school will help me to not only further my knowledge in a particular subject, but will also help me figure out what I want in a career, as will internships throughout college.


Emily Duan
Major: Mechanical Engineering
GCSP Cohort 2 (2017)
Expected Graduation: 2019

Duan

Why did you decide to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program?
Several challenges identified by the National Academy of Engineering are extremely interesting to me and I hope to join this interdisciplinary community to tackle these important societal problems. The gathering of students from interdisciplinary studies is one of the most appealing aspects of the program for me because I recognize the value of bringing a diverse group of people together to solve pressing societal problems. I truly believe that the only way that we can move forward in developing innovative solutions is to bring different people with different backgrounds and perspectives together because this type of interaction sparks creative ideas.
Which of the Grand Challenges interest you most and why?
Access to clean water, restoration and improvement of urban infrastructure, and engineering the tools of scientific discovery are just some of the Grand Challenges that interest me the most. Through my travel experiences abroad, I often feel that I have taken for granted many aspects of technology and resources in my environment, including access to clean water and the maintenance of urban infrastructure. I have always been curious to learn about the unknown. The challenge for us to understand the unasked questions excites me. I hope to tackle these significant societal problems during my lifetime.
What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation, I plan to continue to graduate school in mechanical or electrical engineering. During my career, I hope to obtain a Professional Engineering license. I have yet to determine the exact field I wish to develop a career in, but I hope to narrow down my interests through different courses and my internship experiences.


Connor Ganley
Major: Chemical Engineering
GCSP Cohort 1 (2016)
Expected Graduation: 2019

Ganley

Why did you decide to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program?
I decided to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program because I saw it as an opportunity to apply the things I have learned in the classroom to real-world applications. Further, I was also intrigued by the emphasis placed on interdisciplinarity within the program. I believe that being well-rounded is a very useful skill, and having knowledge about a broad spectrum of subjects helps to supplement that.
Which of the Grand Challenges interest you most, and why?
The Grand Challenge that interests me the most is “Engineer the Tools for Scientific Discovery.” I am drawn to this challenge because the prospect to discover something new about the world around me is very exciting. There is so much to learn about everything from the solar system to the deep sea, and being able to aid discoveries in any of these areas is an ultimate goal of mine.
What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation, my primary goal is to go to graduate school to work toward a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. I am currently interested in studying the development and alteration of synthetic materials with unique properties that could have applications in the aerospace industry. Ultimately, I would love to be able to apply a degree in chemical engineering to help an employer like NASA in developing new instruments for space observation and travel.

 


Zachary Hunter-Lee Little
Major: Environmental Science & Geography
Certificate: GIS
GCSP Cohort 2 (2017)
Expected Graduation: 2019

Little

Why did you decide to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program?
I decided to join GCSP because I wanted to challenge myself and seek new
opportunities where I could learn more about myself as a student and individual.
It is unique that the program allows for students from different disciplines to come
together and learn from each other in order to tackle some of Earth’s biggest
problems. The new support group and mentoring will be beneficial to my studies
as an undergraduate.
Which of the Grand Challenges interest you most, and why?
As an Environmental Science major, I am intrigued by the challenges of (1)
Managing the Nitrogen Cycle, (2) Providing Clean Water, and (3) Engineering the
Tools for Scientific Discovery. The Earth provides finite resources that all
organisms (including humans) depend on for survival. Environmental harm as a
result of human activity is becoming increasingly destructive and is affecting
millions of people and organisms throughout the world. I would like to explore
these challenges in an effort to develop solutions that would restore the Earth’s
overall health.
What are your plans after graduation?
My dream is to go to graduate school for geology or related geoscience. As
humans progress towards a better future there will be additional issues that arise
and I would like to be one of the geotechnical scientists/engineers to address
those problems. The Earth never ceases to amaze me and having the
opportunity to conduct research on it and to seek ways to protect it excites me.


Sophia Lopresti
Major: Global Studies
Minor: Emergency Health Services
Intercultural Communication Certificate
GCSP Cohort 1 (2016)
Expected Graduation: 2018

Lopresti

Why did you decide to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program?
I decided to join the Grand Challenges Scholars Program to ensure that I have a wide variety of experiences outside of my Global Health field. I was intrigued by the program since it is based in the College of Engineering and Information Technology, but was looking for all majors to apply. I’m really looking forward to working collaboratively with the students from other disciplines in the fall!
Which of the Grand Challenges interest you most, and why?
I’m most interested in working to provide access to clean water. I chose Global Studies: Health, Development, and the Environment as my major because I believe that everyone should have the right to safe living conditions. Clean water and proper sanitation go hand in hand. Over spring break I traveled to Northern Nicaragua with Global Brigades to assist with Public Health infrastructure projects such as latrines, showers, wash stations, septic tanks, and concrete floors. I’m really passionate about the benefits that clean water and hygienic sanitation provide.
What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation I plan to work for a nonprofit abroad doing aid work/humanitarian relief. Eventually I would like to return to school to become a Certified Nurse Midwife.

 


Lucas Bailey McCullum
Major: Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics
Minor or Additional Major: Financial Economics
GCSP Cohort 2 (2017)
Expected Graduation: 2019

McCullum

Why did you decide to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program?
I decided to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program because I admired how the program showed a great interest in introducing the biggest issues of our world to a young audience. By introducing young leaders to international issues, a greater sense of achievability and awareness towards these issues can be reached. I also admire the program’s focus on providing mentoring to the students through faculty members who have already gained experience in these major fields of research.
Which of the Grand Challenges interest you most, and why?
The Grand Challenge that interests me the most is “Making Solar Energy Economical” because I believe that it is important for us, as a species, to protect the beautiful planet that we live on. Furthermore, by making solar energy affordable, more people can obtain access to clean alternatives to energy and limit the amount of negative footprint to the environment.
What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation, I plan on obtaining a Fulbright Scholarship to complete a Master’s degree in either Sustainable Energy Technology or Applied Physics at TU Delft in Amsterdam, Netherlands. If I do not obtain the scholarship, I plan to attend graduate school to pursue a Master’s degree in Sustainable Energy Systems. Following graduate school, I plan to work in the sustainable energy sector while allocating time to travel abroad.


Stephanie Milani
Major: Computer Science and Psychology
Certificate: Honors College
GCSP Cohort 2 (2017)
Expected Graduation: 2018

Milani
Why did you decide to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program?
I joined GCSP because I wanted the chance to synthesize my experiences I have had and will have as an undergraduate student into a cohesive, overarching direction. Additionally, I was intrigued by the opportunity to work collaboratively on interesting, large, and interdisciplinary challenges that have real-world effects.
Which of the Grand Challenges interest you most, and why?
I am most interested in the Grand Challenge of reverse engineering the brain because I believe that it is crucial to understanding how the brain works. As it stands, current understanding of the brain is severely limited to the role of discretized neurotransmitters and localized areas. Reverse engineering the brain will give us a clear picture of how these individual parts interact to produce the most complex and sophisticated processing organ in the world. Understanding both the parts and the whole will allow for more precise, targeted treatments of issues like addiction, mental illness, brain damage, or brain trauma in addition to paving the way for new technologies and developments in artificial intelligence.
What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation, I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in Computer Science with a focus on machine learning, artificial intelligence, or robotics. More broadly, I hope to contribute to research that makes a difference in people’s lives.


Roopa Mistry
Major: Health Administration & Policy
Minor: Legal Policy
GCSP Cohort 1 (2016)
Expected Graduation: 2018

Mistry

Why did you decide to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program?
The Grand Challenges Scholars program was enticing because it encompasses a wide range of disciplines to solve issues. As I am studying Health Administration and Public Policy focusing in Public Health Legal Policy, I like solving issues by looking at the bigger picture. In my opinion, learning to solve issues through discussing interdisciplinary ideas is a critical skill. I am looking forward to interacting with individuals from different backgrounds and learning better problem solving skills.
Which of the Grand Challenges interest you most, and why? 
As I hold a strong interest in public health, I was immediately drawn to the “Provide Access to Clean Water” challenge. Clean water is an essential element to the overall health of an individual as well as a population. Safe and easy access to clean water, in my opinion, is an inherent human right.
What are your plans after graduation?
After graduating from UMBC, I would like to pursue a Master’s Degree in Public Health, more specifically global public health. After I get my MPH I would like to work in the public health field for a few years. My long-term goal is to eventually attend law school, where I will focus on Health Law.

 


Heather Mortimer
Major: Interdisciplinary Studies (Museum Education and Exhibit Development)
Certificate: Honors College
GCSP Cohort 2 (2017)
Expected Graduation: 2018

Mortimer

Why did you decide to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program?
Through the Honors College and INDS, I’ve had the opportunity to meet students from diverse academic backgrounds and see how they might solve problems differently from me. The Grand Challenges Scholars Program presents an exciting opportunity to learn from and collaborate with students from various disciplines.
Which of the Grand Challenges interest you most, and why? 
I am most interested in advancing individualized learning. I’ve always been attracted to museums for their role in facilitating free-choice learning for diverse audiences. Because there is no test at the end of a museum visit, learning must be relevant, accessible, and enjoyable. In a way, museum exhibits facilitate individualized learning by allowing visitors to choose how they would like to learn about a topic; however, I would like to see more exhibits that respond to each individual learner based on their needs.
What are your plans after graduation?
I hope to work in exhibit development, science communication, or education after graduation. I am considering several graduate programs, including programs in museum studies, information design, and health communication.

 


James Rogers
Major: Mathematics
Minor: Computer Science
GCSP Cohort 1 (2016)
Expected Graduation: 2018

Rogers

Why did you decide to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program?
I decided to join the Grand Challenges Scholars Program because it addresses the kinds of problems I find interesting. Most of the challenges in this world are greater than any one discipline, and through this program, I hope to gain a window into how my chosen discipline is a part of these larger tasks. Those are the problems I find interesting: the ones that are larger than myself, but which I can still play a role in solving.
Which of the Grand Challenges interest you most, and why?
The Grand Challenges that interest me the most are those such as advancing personalized learning, virtual reality, and reverse engineering the brain. These are the challenges that require thinking about how we learn or how we perceive; while the rest will enhance physical quality of life, these will enhance quality of knowledge, and our ability to appreciate what is contained in the life we have.
What are your plans after graduation?
My current plan following graduation is to pursue a Ph.D. in applied mathematics. My exact field of interest in undetermined, but likely to be some form of optimization. I am as yet undecided as to whether I would rather apply this in academia or in industry.

 


Kourtney Rutkowski
Major: Mechanical Engineering
Minor: Psychology
Honors Certificate
GCSP Cohort 1 (2016)
Expected Graduation: 2017

Rutkowski

Why did you decide to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program?
A lot of the grand challenges are things that interest me and are things that I hopefully will pursue a career in solving. I wanted to be a part of a community of people who were like-minded and wanted to tackle the same challenges.
Which of the Grand Challenges interest you most, and why?
The Grand Challenges that interest me the most are making solar energy economical, engineering better medicines, restoring and improving urban infrastructure, providing energy from fusion, managing the nitrogen cycle, and developing carbon sequestration methods. Although I realize this is 6 out of the 14 challenges, I had a hard time narrowing it down more because all of the Grand Challenges honestly interest me. The reason that the energy and sustainability related ones interest me is because I hope to pursue environmental engineering as a career. I have also always had an interest in better health care, due to health issues that affect both my family and myself. Finally, improving urban infrastructure interests me because although I am from the more rural areas of Maryland, the well-being of those living in the cities has always been something I have cared about.
What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation I hope to work for either Exelon Generation or GE Power and Water. My end goal is to be in a career that involves the design of alternative energy systems. I have worked for both GE and Exelon as an intern in the past and hope to use this work experience to obtain a full-time position post-graduation.

 


Connor Shaffer
Major: Computer Science
GCSP Cohort 1 (2016)
Expected Graduation: 2019

Shaffer

Why did you decide to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program?
I decided to join the GCSP so I could focus my undergraduate studies on a topic I am interested in, as well as being able to work with those who already have experience in the field. I also felt it would be a valuable experience to work with other students who share similar goals and interests.
Which of the Grand Challenges interest you most, and why?
The “Reverse Engineering the Brain” challenge interests me the most because I find linking brain research to applications in computer science to be quite intriguing. I believe that being able to fully understand how the brain works is crucial to the development of AI and other technologies, and is my primary reason for being interested in this field.
What are your plans after graduation?
Post graduation, I plan to get apply for a graduate program in order to research brain-computer interfaces and how to improve any current designs. From there, I hope to be able to work in a lab or with a university to both continue researching as well as practically applying any findings.

 


Eric Shaner
Major: Chemical Engineering
GCSP Cohort 2 (2017)
Expected Graduation: 2020

Shaner

Why did you decide to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program?
I decided to join the GCSP because it appeared to be an excellent opportunity to kickstart my career path. Along with the numerous interesting challenges proposed, the program will help me apply my class time to the real world.
Which of the Grand Challenges interest you most, and why?
I’m most interested in the Engineering New Medicines challenge, because there are always new barriers we must break in the medical field to help the world become a better place. Specifically, I’ve always been interested in dementia and how we could find a treatment or even a cure for it.
What are your plans after graduation?
After college I’m not sure exactly what I want to do, but I see numerous possibilities, including completing a Master’s degree and/or working for a company. In the long run, I would be ecstatic to work with medicine or materials.


Nicholas Simon
Major: Chemical Engineering
GCSP Cohort 1 (2016)
Expected Graduation: 2018

Simon

Why did you decide to join the Grand Challenges Scholars program?
I liked the idea of applying what I’ve learned in the class room to some of the world’s most pressing issues. This program offers students the opportunity to do just that early on in their college career, which is rare.

Which of the Grand Challenges interest you the most, and why?
Energy from Fusion hands down. The world is in an energy crisis and I believe fusion is a strong contender for the future of energy production. I’m fascinated by energy and how it moves throughout the universe and hope to explore its endless possibilities.

What are your plans after graduation?
I’m considering graduate school for either nuclear or energy engineering, but I would also like to work in the field as soon as possible. I am currently looking into SpaceX’s internship program, which could lead to a job after graduation.

 


Jethro Ssengonzi
Major: Mechanical Engineering
GCSP Cohort 2 (2017)
Expected Graduation: 2020

Ssengonzi
Why did you decide to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program?
I decided to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program because I wanted to be exposed to scholars from all walks of life who desire to have a global perspective and impact in their respective fields of study.
Which of the Grand Challenges interest you most, and why?
I have an interest in “Make Solar Energy Economical” because I personally find sustainable energy to be a field that needs to be advanced upon more. I also have interest in the “Restore and Improve Urban Infrastructure” project; the basic foundations of a community, the infrastructure, must always be in check for society to operate well. I view both of these challenges as the ones to have the most societal impact.
What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation, I plan to obtain a terminal degree. I am still currently looking into what I want to specialize in.


Claudia Xie
Major: Biological Sciences
Minor: Psychology and Emergency Health Services
GCSP Cohort 1 (2016)
Expected Graduation: 2018

Xie

Why did you decide to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program?
I joined GCSP because I want to weave a common thread through my college experiences. Sometimes I feel like my classes and clubs are unrelated, when they are really all contributing to the growth and development of me and my community. I am excited to collaborate with scholars and mentors to work towards chipping away at a Grand Challenge.
Which of the Grand Challenges interest you most, and why?
I am most interested in engineering better medicines. From my genetics and psychological disorders classes, I’ve learned that patients react differently to their medications and that there are rarely one-size-fits-all medicines. I hope that medications can become more affordable as well. Having good health is important to achieve your goals and enjoy life. It is a shame that many patients suffer and become sicker if they cannot afford to pay.
What are your plans after graduation?
I plan to attend professional school in the health field but I am currently deciding what kind.