Up for the Challenge

Trailblazing engineering grads tacked on 13 Grand Challenges in their final years

Starting her career with her first engineering job at an architectural firm in Durham this summer, D’Anna Dininny was well aware she was the only female mechanical or electrical engineer in the firm. It’s enough to intimidate your average recent college grad, but Dininny wasn’t fazed.

When your School of Engineering dean is a renowned voice for diversity in STEM education and careers in engineering and the majority of your professors over the previous four years are women, you learn a thing or two about confidence in the face of adversity.

“Because of Dr. [Jenna] Carpenter and the other women in the program, I was confident,” says Dininny. “They show you that because you’re a woman, you’re capable of so much more. To see and learn from successful women [at Campbell], it was such a great opportunity for us.”

Dininny and fellow School of Engineering graduate Anne Elise Bolton represented the program’s young women well in 2020, not only as members of the inaugural class but as the program’s first National Academy of Engineers Grand Challenge Scholars.

Grand Challenge Scholars — in addition to their regular coursework — are tasked to achieve five competencies as undergrads to address global challenges. Among the competencies: Entrepreneurship, understanding of different cultures and serving people and society while reflecting social consciousness. The NAE’s Grand Challenges program identified 14 “game-changing goals” for improving life on the planet, from sustainability to health, security to joy of living.

For Bolton, involvement in the program is already paying dividends. She accepted a position as a mechanical engineer for a company in Arlington, Virginia, during her senior year, with intent to start in August of this year. Her summer plans included traveling abroad, but the pandemic tossed a wrench in those plans.

Instead, she spent her summer testing the entrepreneurship waters. When she noticed family members complaining about their masks and children’s masks, Bolton created her own design project — a mask lanyard with magnetic clasps. The design not only secures the mask on the face and allows the user to hang it around their neck when not in use, it comes apart easily when snagged to prevent choking or injury.

D’Anna Dininny and Anne Elise Bolton (above) represented the inaugural class of engineering graduates as Grand Challenge Scholars in 2020. Photos by Bill Parish

“The last four years for me were constant learning,” Bolton says. “If I wasn’t learning academically, I was learning professionally. I felt like the faculty and Dr. Carpenter did everything they could do to provide the best opportunities for us and to get the best outcomes out of our projects. They really wanted us to succeed. The bar we set was so high, it made everyone work harder.”

School of Engineering Student Success Specialist Martha Bizzell says the students’ involvement in the Grand Challenge Scholarship program was noticed by their eventual employers, and the six current students in the program will benefit when job hunting begins.

“The great thing for our students is our curriculum takes care of a good bulk of the requirements of the Grand Challenge program,” Bizzell says. “Many of the employers we deal with are very aware of the NAE. It’s a great way for our students to network, and it’s no surprise D’Anna and Anne Elise both secured positions prior to graduating.”

Dininny’s work is already taking her places she never imagined — like the North Carolina Zoo, where she’s helping design air conditioning systems to cool indoor tiger habitats in the zoo’s future Asia exhibit.

“Going into engineering, I knew I wanted to make a difference, to help build something great and to invest in something cool,” she says. “Campbell and Grand Challenges were stepping stones toward a greater purpose.”

— by Billy Liggett