Students embark on Grand Challenges Impact Lab to India

On a quest to better understand sustainability in a global context, two Program on the Environment students, Tyler Ung and Olivia Scott have joined the UW’s Grand Challenges Impact Lab for its pilot program in Bangalore, India. The students are there for Winter Quarter, immersing themselves in a unique learning lab that uses design thinking to address complex societal problems.

Program on the Environment students Olivia Scott and Tyler Ung at a train station in India during the GCIL.
Program on the Environment students Olivia Scott and Tyler Ung at a train station in India during the GCIL.

What are Grand Challenges?

Grand Challenges are the big problems facing humanity – things like food security, clean water, and climate change.” The Grand Challenges Impact Lab (GCIL): India is a new UW study abroad experience that empowers students to learn about Grand Challenges and propose and test solutions to them. The program, established by UW College of Civil & Environmental Engineering professor Julian Marshall, offers an active, hands-on learning laboratory where multidisciplinary teams slowly “chip away” at grand problems that require a systems and design thinking approach.

To prepare for the immersive study abroad experience, the students attended a one-hour seminar every week last quarter where they read books, watched videos, had deep discussions and participated in group exercises. Assigned books included The End of KarmaPoor Economics and The Guide to Human Centered DesignStudents also listened to faculty lectures and will have faculty mentors throughout the quarter. The first part of this experience will include gleaning insights from local professionals, and the second part will involve students designing solutions that meet the needs of the community.

India bound

Tyler Ung is “beyond excited” to be in India, and this experience will build upon his intended senior Capstone project with UW Center for Creative Conservation, which will use his exploration of three powerhouse countries (US, China, India) to explore how environmental art can be an effective medium to promote sustainability and develop an environmental consciousness. Tyler will pair photographic images with line art to tell different stories of conservation, culture, and environmental knowledge. 


“I believe that environmental work is a strong proponent towards equity. Examining different cultures, narratives and environments is a powerful tool to address the big challenges of our time, at home and abroad.” – Tyler Ung


Olivia Scott was drawn to the idea of going to India and this GCIL opportunity to immerse herself in the country’s culture, environment and challenges fulfills her dreams of studying abroad and expanding her perspective and understanding of what it means to live sustainably in today’s world. Olivia was an Environmental Studies Leadership Scholar last year and used part of her scholarship money to fund this study abroad trip.

The Project

Tyler and Olivia are working on a team together with two students from UW civil engineering. They will work with Hasiru Dalaa local organization in Bangalore focused on promoting equity for waste-pickers through sustainable municipal waste management. The team will work on one of two proposed projects: implement a design package for more sustainable housing or standardize eco-hub waste sorting facilities.

To follow along and learn about the students’ experience this quarter, follow the Grand Challenges blog, Twitter feed, Facebook page and Instagram.