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GCSP fundraiser aims to raise funds for incoming students

Group of Engineering Grand Challenges scholars pose for a group picture.

NC State first-year Isaac Hedges spends much of his time with parasitic waxworms thanks to the Grand Challenge Scholars Program (GCSP).

As a GCSP scholar, Hedges is one of 29 students spending their year participating in research, coursework, extracurricular activities and volunteer opportunities focused on four areas: security, joy of living, sustainability and health. He was admitted to the program just a few weeks ago.

Hedges’ research focuses specifically on waxworms, which are the plastic-eating caterpillar larvae of wax moths.

“Since the beginning of our research, we’ve been developing tools that we need to break down the genetics of the waxworm,” Hedges explained. “We’ve got the waxworm’s ability to eat plastic, so we know it breaks down the chains of molecules within the plastic into shorter chains, which can be useful and very important for certain things like composting and other applications with just getting rid of large chunks of plastic.”

Currently, GCSP is raising funds to support five incoming and transfer undergraduate engineering students. The funds will cover costs for them to participate in the GCSP Undergraduate Research Experience, where they will focus on one of the four pillars of the program. They aim to raise $5,000 to enable this opportunity for five students.

“It’s so important to the students and so great to be a part of because you get to become a good communicator as well as a great engineer,” Hedges said of the program. “And you also get to just have a ton of fun. It’s been invaluable to my education.”

Man behind lecturn speaking during GCSP meeting. Large screen is to the right displaying GCSP slide.

The current crowdfunding campaign is led by Dr. Olgha Qaqish, director of the Engineering Grand Challenges Scholars Program. She says the main reason for this campaign is because the admitted incoming freshmen and transfer students haven’t yet paid the engineering enhancement fee that funds the other researchers.

“The model we have for this program allows us to serve students that already paid the fee,” she said. “But I was trying to be more inclusive to include incoming freshmen and incoming transfer students that will start their education at NC State in the fall of 2025, allowing them to get a head start by doing research over the summer before they get started.

She anticipates about 24 undergraduate research scholars doing research this summer.

“Engineers will fail multiple times before they succeed,” she said. “Our whole idea here is to create this training ground where they can do that so that when they first enter the class, they’re already learning that. That’s what I see with these students with the scholarship program.”

Students in every discipline at the College of Engineering are able to apply to the program. Junior Angela Lee, a double major in mechanical and textiles engineering, researches solar energy for her GCSP project and says GSCP has allowed her to focus and learn more about her interests.

“My research experience helped me shape my journey through engineering by letting me discover what was missing and gave me a specific goal to focus on,” Lee added. “I started very broad with just an interest in renewable energy, then I honed into just solar energy, then I dove more into organic/polymer solar cells.”

Student speaks in front of a group of fellow students in a large meeting room.

Now, Lee plans to apply to graduate school with the goal of working in organic solar cells.

“My advice for incoming scholars is to budget energy,” she added. “Even if you have the best time management skills, if you are working at 110 percent all the time, eventually the work you do will be less effective.”

Qaqish said students who participate in the program, like Hedges and Lee, tend to become ambassadors later. Most of the recruitment for the program comes from them.

One such student is Chloe Hincher, a first-year Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering. She is a graduate assistant for the program and participated as an undergraduate student. Her research in the field of engineering education looks into the development of research self-efficacy and engineering identity in students who participate in GCSP.

“I believe that the program offers an invaluable platform for personal and academic growth,” she said. “For incoming scholars, I strongly recommend prioritizing experiences that push the boundaries of their comfort zone.

“GCSP not only provides substantial support through financial resources but also facilitates professional development and fosters a community that spans the entire spectrum of engineering disciplines,” she added. “Embracing the opportunity to be a Grand Challenges Scholar equips scholars with the skills and insights necessary for success in the dynamic field of engineering and beyond.”