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ASPIRE students take on the Grand Challenges


 In a first-time collaboration, UNSW’s outreach program ASPIRE joined forces with the UNSW Grand Challenges program to give Year 10 students a closer look at how the university confronts the issues of Inequality, Climate Change, Living with 21st Century Technology, Refugee and Migrants, and Rapid Urbanisation.

Over two days,160 Year 10 students from ASPIRE’s Sydney, regional and remote partner schools attended the Connect event to hear leading academics and PhD students talk about the latest research into the Grand Challenges. Through a series of workshops, students contributed their ideas to finding solutions to the world challenges facing their future.


Connect is an annual event that aims to demonstrate to students the connections between school, university and careers, and the wider opportunities that can open up with a university degree. This year ASPIRE decided to align the event with the Grand Challenges Program and in doing so showcase the cutting edge of the university environment.

In welcoming the students to UNSW, the President and Vice Chancellor Ian Jacobs said, “The Grand Challenges are massive for humanity, but particularly for people of your generation. They won’t be solved by your grandparents or your parents, but you and people of your age are going to solve these problems… I hope you really do make the very best of this opportunity…(and) that it inspires you and it helps you decide whether a university education is the right thing for you.”

At the end of the two days, teams of students in each of the Challenges were asked to prepare a presentation on what they’d learned. The best presentation from each Challenge then presented in front of the entire cohort and a panel of judges headed by Scientia Professor Rob Brooks who is the Lead of the Grand Challenges Program.  

In congratulating all the students for their involvement in this event, Professor Brooks said, “It’s amazing to watch what happens to the Grand Challenges and the ideas we kick around in the Grand Challenges Program when handed over to you and what you do with it. Congratulations to you all. You are the folks that are going to live in the future that we are discussing here and trying to work on in the university. I hope that you have taken away the fact that university is a place where people really care. They really care about the future, they really care about people and they really care about the planet. (University) is a fantastic place to shape that future.”

Stating that it was a difficult decision for the panel, and that all contenders were impressive, Professor Brooks awarded first prize to ‘Team Marvel’ for their presentation on the impact of the lack of access to resources and services,  particularly in health and medical care, in rural and regional areas as an example of the inequality that exists in Australia.


Professor Brooks concluded the event by stating that he hoped that those students who did decide to study at UNSW would look up the Grand Challenges program and become involved. 


ASPIRE is an award-winning outreach program working in communities where the number of students who go on to university is low. The program began in 2007 and is established in over 50 schools working with students from Kindergarten through to Year 12. Through a range of in-school workshops, on campus experiences and academic enrichment activities, ASPIRE creates awareness about university, and enables and supports student aspirations and academic attainment.