Grand Challenge

Integrating the Grand Challenge into University Classes: 2019 Successes

TN Tech’s Next Big Thing: The Grand Challenge, Implemented in March 2019

Graphic for Rural ReimaginedTheodore Roosevelt once said, “Do what you can with all you have, wherever you are,” and Tennessee Tech is doing just that through serving its surrounding rural counties with the Grand Challenge. The Grand Challenge has become the next big thing at Tennessee Tech, and it is continuing to expand across faculty and students alike on our campus. In the Fall 2019 semester, only six months after President Oldham announced the university’s new initiative to serve rural in March of 2019, over 400 students and 50 faculty, staff, and administrators jumped on board through incorporating the passion of serving rural into service projects, classwork, and capstone courses. The road ahead for the Grand Challenge is bright indeed, and the students and faculty that travel it are continuing to multiply. 

Grand Challenge Superstars: 2019 Successes in Coursework

Dr. Jeffrey Boles: Incorporating Rural into University Connections Classes

For all freshmen attending our university, a university connections class is required in hopes of providing students with an opportunity to get more acquainted with college life, academia, expectations, and etiquette. Dr. Boles incorporated the Grand Challenge into four of these classes in Fall 2019 through rural healthcare related challenges, creating the love for rural in our students from the very beginning! After selecting their challenge, the students researched solutions and disseminated results through flyers, posters, and educational presentations. Sixty students were involved in rural university connections classes, which were taught by Dr. Boles, Dr. Janet Coonce, Dr. Ann Marie Carrick, and Dr. Thomas Turner. 

Dr. Boles loves the Grand Challenge, and he believes that “Integrating Rural Reimagined into our pre-health science first year experience courses introduces … [it] to new students.” The primary introduction leads to a passion in our students, which Dr. Boles thinks will get them to quickly recognize and “likely understand other Grand Challenge campus activities." He states, "It gives them more opportunities to get involved while they are a student.” 

Instructor Gina Padgett: Incorporating Rural into Online Classes

One of the general education courses that all students must take at TN Tech is a communications course, and Instructor Padgett has incorporated the Grand Challenge into that course with flying colors. In Fall 2019, she taught PC 2500, “Communicating in the Professions,” which gives students an overview of the skills and principles that are related to oral communications in various professions. Through the several types of oral presentations that are required of students in the course, Instructor Padgett provided her students the skills to exceed in the social, professional atmosphere. 

After learning about the Grand Challenge and witnessing the Maker Challenge, an Eagle Works Competition in which students created a product to solve a problem in a rural community, Instructor Padgett wanted to incorporate the challenge into her class. She said that “it seemed like an excellent fit” for a persuasive presentation, one of the main oral techniques in the class. Her students researched a real world problem affecting people living in rural communities, critically evaluated the problem, and used problem solving skills to present a solution to the class. Instructor Padgett believes that in addition to providing students with skills in persuasive communication, incorporating the Grand Challenge also “gives them the opportunity to create a solution for problems that affect people, their families, or their communities … life changing skills.” 

Instructor Padgett had 25 students in her class for the fall semester, and she believes that through incorporating the Grand Challenge into communication, they had the opportunity to have a “life outside of themselves” through community engagement. Instructor Padget states, “Projects like Rural Reimagined help students to be able to think past their current life situations in college and to develop compassion and concern for fellow citizens.” She believes that it is “great for Tech, and great for students.” 

Dr. Bill Eberle: Incorporating Rural into Capstone Courses

When thinking about a rural problem, not many people picture the field of computer science as an important factor that could help. However, Dr. Eberle has proven that, especially in the modern era of technology, computer science could help solve rural problems in major ways. Over the fall semester of 2019, Dr. Eberle incorporated the Grand Challenge into three sections of a capstone course for Computer Science majors through focusing on real problems that could be approached through the application of computer science. 

Dr. Eberle taught one of the sections, while Dr. Eric Brown and Mrs. Ania Jennings instructed the other two sections. Through the course of eight weeks, the students found a Grand Challenge problem while learning concepts of agile software engineering. Based off of each team’s specific problem, the students created mockups of software products that would address the problem and presented them. Many of the students came from rural communities and approached the course with the mindset of, “Well, I know in my town we needed…” Dr. Eberle states, "I really like the fact that we were doing something for the community,” and he appreciates the Grand Challenge because it gave the students the opportunity to use their skills to solve real world problems in an exciting way. 

The Future of the Grand Challenge: Inviting All Research, Ideas, and Involvement

The Grand Challenge is bigger than ever before, and the successes of implementing it into coursework has proven to be beneficial to students and faculty alike in the semester of Fall 2019. Serving rural is becoming a big part of what makes our university unique and innovative, and the Grand Challenge can’t wait to see more students, faculty, advisors and staff get involved. As Earl Nightengale states, “everything begins with an idea.” We can’t wait to see the ideas of ways to serve rural from our university’s community and to build upon them to make a true difference. 



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