Undergraduate Sustainability Grand Challenge Fellowship Program (USGCF)

The USC Center for Sustainability Solutions (CSS) is pleased to announce the opening of the application period for the Undergraduate Sustainability Grand Challenge Fellowship (USGCF) program to support, through a competitive process, multidisciplinary research projects focused on sustainability. Funded by the CSS and open to undergraduate students in all USC majors, the USGCF will contribute to extending to the larger USC community the values espoused by the Viterbi School of Engineering, the Price School of Public Policy, and the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges Scholars Program. The deadline to apply is September 9, 2024. To read more about the AY 23/24 sponsored projects click here.


In order to encourage undergraduate interest in developing innovative solutions to important sustainability challenges, we are soliciting proposals for multidisciplinary sustainability-focused research projects, led by USC undergraduate students, and involving faculty advisors from two or more schools across USC. This program leverages the sustainability theme of the national Grand Challenges Scholar Program (GCSP) of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering (https://viterbiundergrad.usc.edu/gcsp/)[1]. It also relates to the Environmental Engineering Grand Challenges (Grand Challenges and Opportunities in Environmental Engineering for the Twenty-first Century | National Academies) as well as to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development (un.org)) . This program is separate from the GCSP and other existing USC funds such as the Provost Undergraduate Research Fellowship, URAP, and SOAR; it is meant as a streamlined process for undergraduate students specifically interested in addressing sustainability-related topics.

[1] Fundamentally contributing to the synergy of five competencies and mindsets, namely, research and scholarship, interdisciplinarity, innovation and entrepreneurship, cultural understanding, and societal impact, the Viterbi School GCSP is a call to action to undergraduate students, across disciplines, to be engaged in the solution of sustainability challenges facing our world. It addresses key elements of higher education: Research, Innovation and Impact, and Service. It enhances both technical and disciplinary competence as well as character.


The CSS aims to foster collaborative, interdisciplinary, innovative, and entrepreneurial research with strong societal impact in all issues surrounding sustainability. The USGCF program serves to both complement that mission and also underscore USC’s position as a leading university in undergraduate research and innovation for societal good. By allocating a dedicated fellowship fund for sustainability, we seek to garner student action in this important theme and contribute to the Viterbi school’s mission to engineer a better world for all humanity, the Price school’s quest to improve quality of life for communities worldwide, and the university’s overall focus on sustainability initiatives. Synergistic with several other on-campus sustainability opportunities for students, the USGCF will provide a focused path for students who want to engage in sustainability in career-oriented or hands-on, impactful environments. This new fellowship opportunity will serve all undergraduate students at USC.


7/8/24  Application period opens

9/9/24  Deadline to apply

9/30/24  Selections announced


The process of student applications to the USGCF is modeled on similar existing ones, such as the Provost Undergraduate fellowship and the recent Viterbi and Price summer research fellowships, but with the explicit requirements to focus on sustainability and to advance the five competencies and mindsets of the GCSP:

The USGCF program is open to undergraduate students of all majors and classes. Faculty mentors may be tenured, tenure-track, or non-tenure-track. Applications will be evaluated by CSS leadership and Research Advisory Board. The process will encourage diverse and inclusive cohorts to help best promote innovative and societally important solutions.

Throughout the year, fellows will be required to attend to workshops and educational sessions about parts of the research process. Workshops may include sessions on USC’s IRB and what that means for research, community-engaged research, and creating a research poster, among others, depending on the projects and interests of the Fellows.

Funding Amount

The fellowships will be for a one-year duration, renewable for up to three years based on annual proposal submissions and evaluation. The maximum annual award will be $5,000. Up to 10 Fellows and up to five projects will be selected, assuming receipt of sufficient proposals of merit.

Proposal Submission Instructions

Fellowship proposals are required to have participation from at least two schools within USC. This means that there should be at least two faculty mentors, each from a different school. Students are expected to reach out directly to faculty members to express their interest and get the necessary confirmation or approval from the faculty mentor. Proposals will need to include a statement of support from each faculty mentor in the form of a letter or copy of an email acknowledging their commitment to serve as a mentor for duration of the project.

If a proposal is submitted by a team of students as opposed to a single-student proposer, team members may be from just one school, but they are encouraged to include students from more than one school.

Proposals are to be submitted via the CSS website and will require a description of the proposed project, as well as how the project will advance the competencies of the GCSP listed above. Proposers can find a list of potential areas of research interest at https://sustainabilitysolutions.usc.edu/research/, but please note that this is not a comprehensive list and other relevant topics may also be proposed.

The proposals should be prepared as follows:

TECHNICAL SECTION: Maximum of 5 pages total, single-spaced, Times New Roman 12-point font, 1-inch margins on all sides. Technical sections must include (with exact headings and order):

  1. Introduction
  2. Problem Formulation and Project Objectives (Note: Renewal proposals should also include a summary of their USGCF accomplishments to date, not to exceed one page in length)
  3. Technical Approach
  4. Expected Significance and Relevance to the Five GCSP Mindsets
  5. Plan of Work and Milestones, assuming a project start date of October 1, 2024
  6. Team Members: Name(s), School Affiliation(s), Role(s) in Project

Additionally, please include the following sections, which do not count in the 5-page limit:

Proposals should be submitted as a single PDF file no later than September 9, 2024, via the following link:

Evaluation Criteria

  1. Technical merit
  2. Relevance to the solicitation
  3. Quality and interdisciplinarity of team
  4. Likelihood of enabling practical sustainability solutions

Other Considerations

The prospective applicants are encouraged to reach out to the following USC centers with sustainability research elements:

Please note that this may not be a comprehensive list, and that the applicants should cast their nets widely beyond these centers to consider other organizations across campus and to individual faculty members.

Contact Information

Inquiries should be sent to:

Jennifer Sosenko, Administrative Project Specialist: [email protected]

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