The goal of the Grand Challenge Scholars Program (GCSP) is to provide a transformational experience that produces graduates committed to building inclusive and collaborative communities where we lead innovation to improve the world. In the GCSP, students choose one of 14 “Grand Challenges” of engineering and contribute to this grand challenge through five different program areas: research, interdisciplinary curriculum (Bacc Core), entrepreneurship, multicultural dimension, and service-learning. These five areas work together to create well-rounded engineering students, who are ready to engage with an increasingly complex, interconnected, and unpredictable world. The GCSP spotlight series aims to highlight the experiences of current students in the program. We will begin the series with Mikayla Farr, our first-ever GCSP graduate!

I am a senior studying mechanical engineering with a minor in aerospace engineering. I am a member of the Leadership Academy, the Aerodynamics and Recovery sub-team lead for the OSU Experimental Sounding Rocket Association (ESRA) team and have completed two six-month internships through the MECOP program.

My Grand Challenge is “Engineer the Tools of Scientific Discovery”. The goal of this challenge is for engineers to partner with scientists and continue to develop solutions for many unanswered questions of nature. This challenge relates to the research component of the GCSP because it is crucial to conduct research today to make advancements for tomorrow. This challenge relates to the entrepreneurship and multicultural components in the GCSP because to achieve it, I must know how to communicate my solution well and know how to come up with ethical and inclusive solutions. My involvement in the GCSP has allowed me to become a volunteer at Jackson Street Youth Services and Corvallis High School, a mentor in the Cultural Ambassador Conversant Program (CACP), take an introductory course in entrepreneurship, and conduct research and development for the ESRA team at Oregon State.

To fulfill my service-learning requirement, I volunteered at Jackson Street Youth Services and Corvallis High School. As an academic coach at Jackson Street Youth Services, I tutored struggling youth with their studies. Jackson Street is a local non-profit shelter that promotes safety, stability, and well-being for youth in need. I volunteered at the Albany house once a week on Sunday nights. I enjoyed being an academic coach for Jackson Street Youth Services because I was able to share my passion and love for learning with youth who struggled with their education. As an academic coach I encouraged them in their studies and was an adult role model who the kids could look up to. A lot of the kids struggled in school due to the lack of support and good role models in their lives. So, the fact that I was able to support them in their personal life and education made this experience extremely rewarding.

To fulfill my multicultural dimension, I was a mentor for the CACP. As a mentor in the CACP, I met with two international students once a week for a term where I helped them improve their English, communication skills, and helped them adjust to life at OSU as international students. My involvement in the CACP allowed me to learn about two new cultures and gave me the opportunity to form friendships with two women I would have otherwise never had the chance to meet. Through this program, I also learned the importance of breaking down barriers between domestic and international students and appreciating different cultural perspectives.

To fulfill my entrepreneurship experience, I took BA 260: Introduction to Entrepreneurship. In this class, I worked with five other students to develop a new product idea, create a business plan, and pitch the idea to OSU alumni during the OSU BA 260 Pitch Competition. Through this experience I learned about the business side of product production and how important it is for engineers to be able to pitch their ideas. This experience forced me outside my comfort zone by giving me new opportunities in a field I was unfamiliar with, but I became a better engineer because of it.   

To fulfill my research experience, I was a member of the ESRA team at Oregon State. The goal of the ESRA team was to design, manufacture, and test an experimental rocket that can reach an altitude of 30,000 ft and compete at the Spaceport America Cup. This team was composed of six different sub-teams, where I was the lead for the Aerodynamics and Recovery sub-team.

As the sub-team lead of Aerodynamics and Recovery, I led the effort to design, manufacture, test, and integrate a high-power competition rocket that met specific aerodynamic and recovery requirements. These requirements included designing the shape and size for the rocket’s nosecone and fins and designing the drogue and main parachutes. It also included manufacturing the parachutes, testing the rocket’s ejection system, and verifying the rocket’s performance through simulation.

As a member of this team, I did research on rocket fin design parameters, designed the fins and the recovery harness, and performed an in-depth analysis of the rocket via simulation software. This project allowed me to gain experience in designing, manufacturing, and testing engineering sub-systems and has provided me with a hands-on experience that I would not have been able to receive from the traditional classroom setting. Being a member of the ESRA team at OSU has taught me what engineering is all about. I was able to see this project from the beginning to the end, in which a lot of learning occurred along the way. This project was very challenging and at times seemed impossible, but that made it so much more rewarding in the end.

Through my involvement in ESRA, I had the opportunity to get my Level 1 and Level 2 High-Power Rocketry certifications through the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) and Tripoli Rocketry Association (TRA).

All my experiences in the GCSP has helped me become a more well-rounded engineer. Before the GCSP, I thought engineering was all about how much technical knowledge you know, but engineering is so much more than that. To be successful, you must be well-rounded with knowledge of business, culture, and ethics and have great communication, organization, and teamwork skills. By participating in the GCSP, I was able to improve all of these and become the engineer I had hoped I would be when graduating from Oregon State University.