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WVU engineering students attend Grand Challenges Summit

Andy Maloney, Emily Phipps and Katie O'Connell pose together holding the West Virginia University flag on top of the Great Wall of China

Andy Maloney, Emily Phipps and Katie O'Connell pose together holding the West Virginia University flag on top of the Great Wall of China


Two days at the Global Grand Challenges Summit in Beijing, China, changed the lives of West Virginia University seniors Andy Maloney, Katie O'Connell and Emily Phipps.

Sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Engineering, the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the Royal Academy of Engineering, the invitation-only event brought together a diverse mix of thought leaders and students who discussed opportunities believed to be achievable and sustainable to help people and the planet survive. The summit focused on the themes found in the NAE Grand Challenges report - sustainability, infrastructure, energy, health and joy of living - along with education and security/resilience.

The trio of students from the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources were selected to attend the summit based on their outstanding academic and extracurricular achievements.

For Maloney, a chemical engineering major from Morgantown, the experience demonstrated how valuable his WVU education is.

"While at the Summit, I felt fully capable of understanding and discussing many of the challenges and ideas mentioned," said Maloney. "I learned a great deal about topics outside my discipline as well that gave me a more well-rounded perspective on the problems we face."

Maloney shared his experience with his classmates, but realized many of the themes discussed at the Summit were already in the minds of WVU students.

"Upon my return to WVU, I discussed much of the information that was new and interesting to me with my classmates. When I learned they were already aware of many of the topics, it validated my thought that WVU is an institution that prepares its students to be competitive in multiple disciplines on a global scale."

Being in the presence of so many prestigious engineers and scientists had a lasting mark on O'Connell.

"Seeing accomplished and renowned scientists and engineers share a common passion to bring together science, public policy and life value for the betterment of human kind sparked my own passion to do the same," said O'Connell, a mechanical engineering major from Wellsburg. "Attendees brought their ideas, charisma and wonder, and left with a new perspective and insight on how science and engineering can change the future of our world. I left with a sense of hope and motivation for my future career as an engineer."

As an industrial engineering major with an eye on a career in the health industry, Phipps was most struck by the session on health in the age of informatics.

"Hearing from an expert in this niche that I want to work in was the most impactful experience," said Phipps, from Cornelius, North Carolina. "Attending this Summit was really motivating, in that it reaffirmed how many issues there are in the healthcare industry and how as engineers we have the ability to correct these problems, which can save millions of lives."

Phipps hopes to help other WVU students participate in future Global Grand Challenges experiences by initiating the Grand Global Challenges Scholars Program.

"The Scholars Program, sponsored by NAE, gives participants the opportunity to do hands-on projects, service learning and research on a global scale. It would allow the University to expand its presence in the engineering community and help WVU students become the best problem-solvers of our time."

While they will all change the world in different ways, Maloney, O'Connell and Phipps left the summit with a sense of urgency to do just that.

"A key point of the Summit was appreciating the trust the public gives engineers to develop innovations in technology and research that can change the world," said O'Connell. "With this great power comes great responsibility and we left ready to use that power to contribute to the greater good of society."



For more information on news and events in the West Virginia University Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources:


Phone contacts:
College Relations Office: 304-293-4135
Office of the Dean: 304-293-4157
Other College administrative and department offices: Administration