April 16, 2010

ASU helping nation confront biggest challenges

Posted: April 16, 2010

Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering dean Deirdre Meldrum chaired the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges Summit in Phoenix. (Photo: Jessica Slater/ASU)

Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering present summit to spark call to action on critical engineering and science goals

[Read more about the Grand Challenges Summit Series, and see Summit Photo Gallery 1 and Summit Photo Gallery 2]

Arizona State University is continuing to take a leadership role in efforts to realize the nation’s engineering and science goals.

A major step in that commitment was accomplished recently when ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering presented the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges Summit for the Southwest on April 8 and 9 at the Biltmore hotel in Phoenix.

In partnership with the National Science Foundation, the academy has compiled 14 Grand Challenges that identify the technological progress that must be achieved to ensure the nation’s security and prosperity in the 21st century.

ASU and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering in particular have already put restructuring designs in motion to align research pursuits and teaching goals more intensively with the university’s role of serving societal needs like those spelled out in the academy’s Grand Challenges.

Those endeavors led to the selection of ASU’s engineering schools as organizers of one of five Grand Challenges Summits this year across the country.

ASU has joined Duke University, the University of Southern California, Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and the University of Washington, among others, as hosts of the Summit series.

Chaired by Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Dean Deirdre Meldrum, the Phoenix Summit drew close to 600 participants – business and education leaders, engineers, scientists, teachers and university students. It attracted corporate sponsorship from Intel, Raytheon, First Solar, Salt River Project (SRP) and Ira A. Fulton.

The Phoenix Summit focused on four of the Grand Challenges – making renewable energy sources more reliable and affordable, engineering better medicines, managing the nitrogen cycle, and advancing personalized learning.

Leading animated discussions in those areas were the plenary speakers: Leland Hartwell, Nobel Prize-winning medical research leader and president and director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; Kristina M. Johnson, Under Secretary for Energy with the U.S. Department of Energy; Pamela Matson, Chester Naramore Dean of the School of Earth Sciences at  Stanford University; and James Duderstadt, president emeritus of the University of Michigan and leader of the Millennium Project, which examines the impact of technology on society, communities, institutions and the planet.

ASU President Michael M. Crow set the tone for the event, telling the Summit crowd that it will take more than engineering and scientific breakthroughs to maintain and improve the quality of life in a rapidly growing and increasingly complex world.

Faced with environmental, economic and social challenges more daunting than any that civilization has yet confronted, Crow said, a road to sustainable global security, health, prosperity and freedom can’t be achieved merely by technological advancements.

We need evolutionary strides in the ways we do business and govern ourselves, the ways public and private sectors invest their resources, and the ways we educate younger generations, Crow said.

Amid diverse viewpoints expressed by dozens of Summit participants, a consensus emerged about the magnitude of the overall challenge. Speakers agreed that beyond technological achievements, it will take transformative changes in prevailing economic, business, political and education cultures to fully meet the world’s most pressing needs.

There is little disagreement about such goals as making health care and education more accessible, protecting natural resources, ensuring abundant water supplies, or reducing the threat of global terrorism. But Summit participants said friction between the interests of various facets of social, political and marketplace cultures make it difficult to build and maintain the cooperative and collaborative efforts needed to serve the common good.

“These challenges are enormous, but we cannot afford to be defensive,” said Dean Deirdre Meldrum. “It’s time to accelerate the conversion of our words into action and meaningful results for the benefit of society.”

The Grand Challenge Summit Series is designed to establish a commitment to sustain the public dialogue that is critical to developing effective solutions to societal problems, Meldrum said.

“It provides us opportunities to share ideas and join forces to face these challenges,” she said.

The two days of presentations, debates and question-and-answer sessions were driven by an impressive lineup of panelists.

Among them were:
• Chris Uhlik, engineering director, Google Inc.
• Fiona Sim, director of the Intel Open Energy Initiative
• Raymond L. Woosley, president and CEO, The Critical Path Institute
• Jason Elwood, vice president of  Operations for Raytheon Missile Systems
• Lisa Krueger, vice president of Sustainable Development for First Solar and chair of the Solar Energy Industries Association Environmental, Health & Safety Committee
• Don McMonagle, vice president of NASA programs and director of Alternative Energy Security Programs for Raytheon Missile Systems
• Norman Fortenberry, director of Center for the Advancement of Scholarship on Engineering Education of the National Academy of Engineering
• Kathleen Weiss, vice president of government affairs for First Solar.

Other panelists included:
• Michael Birt, director of the Center for Sustainable Health at ASU’s Biodesign Institute and executive director of the Pacific Health Summit at ASU
• Attorney Peter Barton Hutt, a food and drug law specialist with Covington & Burling LLP, in Washington, D.C.
• Alan C. Nelson, executive director of ASU’s Biodesign Institute
• professor Terri Fiez, head of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Oregon State University
• Gary Dirks, director of ASU’s LightWorks
• C. Judson King, director of the Center for Higher Studies in Higher Education at the University of California, Berkeley
• Sander van der  Leeuw, professor and director of ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change
• Brad Allenby, the Lincoln Professor of Engineering and Ethics, a professor of law and professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment at ASU.

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Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering