First-Year Students’ Attitudes towards the Grand Challenges and Nanotechnology

  • Joni M Lakin
  • Edward Davis
Keywords: Grand Challenges, First-year engineering programs, Diversity, sex differences


The Grand Challenges for Engineering are an effort to portray engineering as a field that has profound impacts on society. This study explores the level of interest first-year engineering students had in various Grand Challenges and in nanotechnology topics. We administered a survey to a large sample of students enrolled in a pre-engineering course at a four-year, research-focused institution. The survey measured students’ interest in nanotechnology and the Challenges, their perception of the relationship between nanotechnology and the Challenges, and their attitudes and self-reported knowledge about nanotechnology. The most interesting topics related to high-profile issues (such as reverse-engineering the brain) as well as topics that have a pro-social component (such as access to clean water).For female students, advancing health informatics and engineering better medicines were especially interesting, while URM students were more drawn to nanotechnology and virtual reality. These results will help educators developing engineering curricula emphasize engaging topics that better promote persistence and diversity in engineering.

Author Biography

Joni M Lakin
Assistant Professor Educational Foundations, Leadership, & Technology Principal contact for editorial correspondence.