In 2008, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) asked an international group of diverse individuals from a variety of disciplines to identify the challenges for engineering in the 21st century. This inquiry resulted in the publication of the NAE 14 Grand Challenges of Engineering. While the Grand Challenges are derived from many different domains, they were subsequently grouped into four overarching categories: sustainability, health, security and joy of living.

GCSP at UMBC is designed as a unique interdisciplinary pathways program to assist students in finding solutions to address important problems facing society. Following the guidelines from the NAE, the GCSP at UMBC was developed to help students create a personalized framework around five program areas: research, entrepreneurship, service, interdisciplinarity, and global perspectives that focus on their self-selected grand challenge. Scholars in the program spend the final two years of their undergraduate careers participating in three one-credit seminars, completing experiences that address the challenges in the five program areas, and documenting the process and outcomes of those experiences in an e-portfolio. The program also encourages students to participate in conferences, discussions, and self-reflection exercises within a variety of academic environments. Upon graduation, scholars will receive a formal designation for their accomplishments in the program.