Julian Marshall: Establishing a Grand-Challenges Impact Lab


Professor Julian Marshall.

To address major problems facing humanity, such as food security, clean energy and poverty, CEE Professor Julian Marshall has received a Global Innovation Fund Award to establish a new lab, called the Grand-Challenges Impact Lab (GCIL). By empowering students with hands-on problem-solving skills, Marshall aims to develop solutions to global problems, starting in India.

The idea for the program stems from Marshall’s experience working in rural India as a volunteer with an environmental organization in the late 1990s, prior to graduate school. This led Marshall to create the Acara Program with a colleague while he was a faculty member at the University of Minnesota. Similar to the GCIL, the Acara Program offers courses and study abroad programs to help students learn about and devise solutions to global environmental and health problems.

“My time in India was transformative personally, but in terms of helping people, my effectiveness was low,” Marshall said. “I did not know how to identify a problem or design and test a solution.”

Via the Acara program at University of Minnesota, and now the GCIL at UW, Marshall hopes to give students the appropriate tools and awareness to solve important problems. According to Marshall, grand challenges are too big and complex to belong to any one discipline. They will not be “solved” in a traditional sense, but instead must be “chipped away at” by individuals and teams.

“Students are passionate and idealistic. They want to learn how to identify problems and solutions,” Marshall said. “In response, the GCIL will offer experiential education on tackling some of the major challenges facing society.”

Piloting in winter 2018, the GCIL will house an overseas 10-week multidisciplinary program in India that will empower students to solve problems by equipping them with the proper hands-on experience. Students will spend time learning about problems from residents and experts in locations where grand challenges are present, before developing ideas and testing solutions. To facilitate problem-solving, students will learn how to develop solutions via a “design thinking mindset” and how to create lean start-ups.

Marshall is the John R. Kiely Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering. As part of his research in air quality engineering, he regularly travels to India for fieldwork. The goals of his work in India are to understand human exposure to air pollution, in collaboration with public health researchers in understanding health impacts of air pollution, and to investigate strategies for reducing human exposure to air pollution. His current projects include indoor and outdoor monitoring campaigns in several Indian cities and in rural communities. He is especially interested in indoor air pollution, and in testing interventions involving cleaner-burning cookstoves.

The GCIL is expected to draw undergraduate and graduate students from across campus, especially from engineering, environment, policy and health programs. Faculty members from across campus will each spend one week in India, taking turns working with students during weeklong modules.

While India is a logical starting point, the program may later expand to other locations. Ultimately, the program is anticipated to be self-sustaining, with student fees covering costs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *