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KNOXVILLE—For the first time, a student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has completed a unique program designed to create a generation armed with skills to tackle life-changing problems.

The Grand Challenge Scholars Program is an initiative of the National Academy of Engineering. Only twelve universities in the nation take part in the program, which includes curricular and extracurricular programs meant to prepare students to be the generation that solves the grand challenges facing society.

Mark Walker is graduating with a degree in nuclear engineering. His work has focused on preventing nuclear terror.

“The mission is to really develop engineers who are ready to tackle challenges the world could encounter in the next few decades,” Walker said, explaining that the program’s goal is to create well-rounded people with expertise inside and outside their technical fields.

Through the two-year scholarship program, he traveled to the United Kingdom for a workshop on human reliability in nuclear security to study psychology in information technology research and beyond. He’s also been able to conduct research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and take entrepreneurship classes within the College of Business Administration.

“It was great to go to the U.K., which I would not be able to do without this funding,” said Walker. “It was a great educational opportunity for me to hear from other people in South Africa and Japan on how they handle their nuclear security issues. And taking the entrepreneurial classes is not something I would have considered and has planted some seeds in my head.”

Walker will attend Princeton University in the fall to get his doctorate in public affairs with a concentration in science, technology, and environmental policy. At Princeton, he will be working on designs for detector systems for verifying nuclear arms control treaties while studying the political questions related to treaty verification.

Morgan Baltz, a senior in chemical engineering, is currently in the program and has her sights set on improving the way drugs are administered.

To do this, she’s been studying a model fusion protein and its mechanism that recognizes a host cell, enters it, and propagates itself. She hopes to gain information that “will allow scientists to target specific areas of the body that need treatment with the drug, eliminating adverse side effects and increasing drug efficiency,” said Baltz.

Through the scholarship program, Baltz has found herself working for Exxon in Baytown, Texas, and near Washington, DC, as a process engineer and analyst.

“This scholarship allowed me to see my field from so many different angles,” said Baltz. “Taking all the interdisciplinary coursework has given me a completely different set of approaches to solving problems. Some majors look at a problem one way and another looks at it another way, but if you combine the two, you can view the problem more wholly.”

Baltz will graduate next year and continue on to get her doctorate in chemical and biomolecular engineering from UT.

The program also requires a service-learning experience. Both Walker and Baltz have held leadership roles in Tau Beta Phi, which hosts an Engineers Day to get high school students interested in engineering.

To find out more about Grand Challenge Scholars, visit the website.

C O N T A C T:

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460,