The Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management established the Grand Challenges Program to provide experiential learning opportunities for undergraduates related to sustainable business. Students apply their skills to pressing societal challenges while strengthening their professional skills.

Each year, students complete approximately fifty projects in the Ithaca community and beyond. We encourage non-profits, NGOs, startups, companies of all sizes, and organizations from across the globe to submit a project proposal for a student team.

All projects meet the following criteria:

  • Working with a real client or partner on an issue with direct human impact in the community where the work takes place;
  • Well-defined scope and clear deliverables guided by a Challenge Question;
  • Integration with relevant topical course content;
  • Team-based work with a critical reflection component; and
  • Connection to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (e.g., reducing poverty, increasing food security, reducing inequality, and promoting sustainability).

Past and Current Projects

Grand Challenges team project teams have worked on topics that include corporate finance, market research, consumer discovery/behavior, decision-making, strategy, data analytics, innovation or new product development, and operations. Students have also supported organizations in concept development, social media or website development, incorporation or tax status determinations, business plan development, competitive analysis, event planning or fundraising, and community engagement.

Follow us on LinkedIn for more project stories and updates.

Submitting a Proposal

  1. After reviewing our Project Guidelines and Best Practices, organizations are invited to submit a project proposal.
  2. If approved, the Project Liaison for the organization will meet with a member of the Grand Challenges Program Team and the faculty advisor before the semester begins for final scoping, introductions, and an orientation to the program.
  3. On the first day of class, students are presented with a project prospectus based on your proposal and teams are formed.
  4. Students spend the first several weeks of the semester developing professional skills to support the project and completing research to prepare for the project kick off meeting. This meeting is attended by the team, their MBA Coach, a member of the Grand Challenges Program Team, the faculty advisor, the Project Liaison, and other relevant stakeholders at the client’s organization.
  5. After the project kick off meeting, students transition from research, planning, and discovery to work on agreed upon deliverables. The team meets with their Project Liaison at least four times during the semester to share project updates and seek feedback.
  6. At the end of the semester, teams deliver a final presentation and hand off deliverables to the client. Clients complete a feedback and evaluation form.

Client Testimonials

The Grand Challenges Program is an EXCELLENT way for students to connect and work with businesses to help solve some of the biggest issues facing our world today. From what we experienced, these students are going to change the world.

Tommy Freeman, Cleanwatts

I was fortunate to work with four smart and capable students who asked good questions, challenged ideas and assumptions, and generally took an interest in the project as a whole. They were able to effectively dive into the deliverables of the project with little direction and divided the work amongst themselves in what seemed to be an equitable way. I hope we provided a meaningful learning experience for the students; I know it was a great experience for our company.

Mat Degan, Mack Group

Learning Outcomes

While working on discrete deliverables with an external partner as part of a 3-credit Grand Challenges project course, students:

  • Develop professional skills in project management, leadership, communication, and client relationship management.
  • Work collaboratively with a team to produce deliverables that meet or exceed the client’s expectations.
  • Practice consulting skills, such as listening and engaging with stakeholders.
  • Reflect on individual and team learnings using the critical reflection framework “What?, So What?, and Now What?”
  • Translate learnings into stories and plans for future community engagement and work.

In addition, students deepen their understanding of topics relevant to their particular project, and clients share knowledge about their business and industry-specific concepts.


All projects are based on principles in community-engaged learning (CEL). By combining diverse expertise and skills, faculty, staff, students, clients, and community members address global issues and help build a more sustainable, just, and collaborative future. Community-engaged learning projects can look very different, but they share four important criteria:

  • Address a specific community interest, problem, or public concern;
  • Include working with and learning from a community partner;
  • Connect and integrate community-engaged experiences with educational content; and
  • Include structured, documented critical reflection.

Clients are encouraged to learn more about community-engaged learning at Cornell on the Einhorn Center for Community Engagement website.

Student Testimonials

The Grand Challenges Project was an experience unlike anything I have ever done before. The opportunity to work with a client in Africa and help them create new cultural tourism hubs was both new and meaningful and I'm truly grateful I got to be a part of it.

Alexander Stiegerwald, Dyson ’23