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School of Engineering

Global Grand Challenges: Will Edmonds

Tuesday, August 1, 2017
Will Edmonds, E19, reports that collaboration will be key to tackle the 14 challenges featured at the recent Global Grand Challenges Summit.
Will Edmonds and August Frechette pose in front of the Lincoln Memorial
Students August Frechette and Will Edmonds visited Washington D.C. for the summit. Photo courtesy Will Edmonds.

By Will Edmonds

As I stepped off the plane at Reagan Airport in Washington, D.C., a blast of humid air washed over me, foreshadowing my struggle to seem professional while sweating profusely. I dropped my bag at the hotel before grabbing dinner and meeting my Tufts compatriot, August Frechette, E18. I had arrived in the nation's capital for the Global Grand Challenges Summit (GGCS). Before I delve into what happened over the next 48 hours of enlightening presentations and discussions, I should explain what the GGCS is.

In 2008, the top minds at the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE), the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and the Royal Academy of (you guessed it) Engineering got together to identify a list of challenges they should focus their efforts on. They produced a final list of 14 major struggles facing humanity over the coming decades. The 2017 summit focused on five: virtual reality, sustainability, artificial intelligence, reverse engineering the brain, and engineering in healthcare.

Now that you’re up to speed, what actually went down at the 2017 Summit in D.C.?

This summit brought together engineers from every level, from venerable members of the NAE to Ph.D., M.S., and B.S. students. Fifty percent of the attendees were students (most of whom were young), creating an audience with varying perspectives on the topics discussed.

Each pair of speakers fielded questions in an open discussion with the crowd, which brought to light a few challenges not listed in the 14. Attendees discussed how to bridge the gap between policy, academia, and engineering industry, and how to open up STEM fields to more women. Many questions were related to the apparent disconnect in decisions made in upper management at companies and in the government. Most attendees called for greater education on civic engagement, policy, and communication in engineering programs, as well as continuing education on these topics in industry.

Each speaker addressed their particular challenge, provoking interesting discussion. However, I would say the big takeaway was that there are fundamental problems in our current government and businesses that need to be solved before humanity can best address the 14 challenges.

I haven’t been able to stop sharing both the immense knowledge presented and the challenges brought up at the summit with my friends back at Tufts. I hope to bring what I learned at the summit back to Tufts in the fall and hopefully inspire my classmates to recognize the scale of these challenges, and how we must collaborate fully to tackle them.

Will Edmonds is a rising junior from Vancouver, Canada, majoring in mechanical engineering.