Grand Challenges Benefits, Requirements and Opportunities

Dyson has created the Grand Challenges curriculum as a way for undergraduates to engage in complex—and concrete—community challenges on a local and global scale. The curriculum further differentiates Dyson’s Applied Economics and Management (AEM) business program, helping students develop critical skills in self-awareness, project teaming, and leadership for societal impact. Moreover, Grand Challenges @Dyson prepares AEM majors to engage dynamically with the growing number of small businesses and high-profile companies committed to supporting the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

GC Box Design Version 2

Grand Challenges Framework

Grand Challenges refers broadly to programs or projects designed to solve complex, pressing societal problems. At Dyson, the Grand Challenges curriculum empowers students to practice community engagement during their undergraduate experience at Cornell. The program also reinforces our School’s vision—Our Business Is a Better World—inspiring students to use their business skills to make a difference.

Grand Challenges Required Curriculum Components

The Grand Challenges curriculum is a required component of the Dyson undergraduate experience. It includes 7.5 credits and comprises a writing course, a pre-project course, and a project course. While completing this three-part series, students work with peers, faculty, and external partners on real community challenges, making the world a better place through business and service.

Student Learning Outcomes

Dyson Grand Challenges Curriculum
Denise Ramzy, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Business Minors Program in Dyson (DYS) speaks to undergraduate students during the Dyson Grand Challenges Pre-Project Immersion Weekend.
Sophomore Year Requirement:

Written Expression Course

Focus: Critical thinking. These course options are centered around contemporary global issues and help students learn communication, business analysis, and critical thinking skills as they develop cultural awareness.

Undergraduate Dyson (DYS) during the Dyson Grand Challenges Pre-Project Immersion Weekend.
Junior Year Requirement:

Pre-Project Immersion Course

Focus: Working as part of a team In preparation for their Grand Challenges project, this course is an intensive learning experience. Students learn teamwork and presentation skills, reflect on their experience, and develop self-awareness.

Undergraduate Dyson (DYS) during the Dyson Grand Challenges Pre-Project Immersion Weekend.
Senior Year Requirement:

Grand Challenges Project Course

Focus: Local and global community involvement In this team-based, capstone project course, students work with a faculty member and a client or community partner to tackle a societal problem. Projects span the entire semester. Projects vary widely. Because of Cornell’s land-grant mission and our local commitment, we will always have some projects focused on economic development in New York’s Southern Tier Region.

Grand Challenges current course offerings

Sophomore year

Written Expression Course

  • AEM 2000 – Contemporary Controversies in the Global Economy
  • AEM 2555 – Corporate Sustainability: The Business Challenge
  • AEM 2800 – Hot Economic Issues in the News Today
  • AEM 2805 – Strategic Responses to Poverty and Hunger in Developing Countries
  • AEM 2810 – The Economics of Vice and Corruption

Junior year

Pre-project immersion Course

  • AEM 3000 – Grand Challenges Pre-Project Immersion

Senior year

Grand Challenges Project Course

  • AEM 3015 – Developing Racial Equity in Organizations
  • AEM 3260 – Cooperative Business Management
  • AEM 3385 – Social Entrepreneurship Practicum
  • AEM 3601 – Impact Learning (South Africa)
  • AEM 4375 – Advanced Design and Innovation
  • AEM 4421 – Research and Strategy in Emerging Markets
  • LAW 7875 – Low-Income Taxpayer Law and Accounting Practicum

Sustainable Development Goals Logo

Grand Challenges and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

The Grand Challenges curriculum and its projects align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Adopted by 193 countries in 2015, the 17 SDGs comprise a shared plan to end extreme poverty, reduce inequality, and protect the planet by 2030. With these goals in mind, and consistent with the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, Dyson is connecting its curriculum to real global challenges.


No Poverty
Zero hunger
Good health and well-being
Gender equality
Clean water and sanitation
Affordable and clean energy
Decent work and economic growth
Industry, innovation, and infrastructure
Reduced Inequalities
Sustainable cities and communities
Responsible consumption and production
Climate action
Life below water
Peace, justice, and strong institutions
Partnerships for the goals

Grand Challenges Course Offerings

Whether the focus is on agribusinesses in New York State, financial institutions in Upstate New York, or the eradication of poverty in Africa or emerging markets, Dyson faculty have long cultivated an environment where students apply practical, applied economics and management tools on every continent to solve some of the world’s most significant business and social issues.

No Poverty

Related Faculty:

Mark Constas

Goal: No Poverty

Overview: Eradicating poverty in all its forms remains one of the greatest challenges facing humanity. While the number of people living in extreme poverty dropped by more than half between 1990 and 2015, too many are still struggling for the most basic human needs.

The SDGs are a bold commitment to finish what we started, and end poverty in all forms and dimensions by 2030. This involves targeting the most vulnerable, increasing basic resources and services, and supporting communities affected by conflict and climate-related disasters.

Related Sophomore Year Courses:

Zero hunger

Goal: Zero Hunger

Related Faculty:

Anke Wessels

Goal: Zero Hunger

Overview: Unfortunately, extreme hunger and malnutrition remain a huge barrier to development in many countries. There are 821 million people estimated to be chronically undernourished as of 2017, often as a direct consequence of environmental degradation, drought and biodiversity loss. Over 90 million children under five are dangerously underweight. Undernourishment and severe food insecurity appear to be increasing in almost all regions of Africa, as well as in South America.

The SDGs aim to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, making sure all people–especially children–have sufficient and nutritious food all year. This involves promoting sustainable agricultural, supporting small-scale farmers and equal access to land, technology and markets. It also requires international cooperation to ensure investment in infrastructure and technology to improve agricultural productivity.

Related Senior Year Courses:

Good health and well-being

Related Faculty:

Chris Barrett

Goal: Good Health and Well-Being

Overview: Good health is essential to sustainable development and the 2030 Agenda reflects the complexity and interconnectedness of the two. It takes into account widening economic and social inequalities, rapid urbanization, threats to the climate and the environment, the continuing burden of HIV and other infectious diseases, and emerging challenges such as noncommunicable diseases. Universal health coverage will be integral to achieving SDG 3, ending poverty and reducing inequalities.

Related Sophomore Year Courses:

Decent work and economic growth

Related Faculty:

Todd Schmit

Goal: Decent Work and Economic Growth

Overview: As the global economy continues to recover we are seeing slower growth, widening inequalities, and not enough jobs to keep up with a growing labour force. According to the International Labour Organization, more than 204 million people were unemployed in 2015.

The SDGs promote sustained economic growth, higher levels of productivity and technological innovation. Encouraging entrepreneurship and job creation are key to this, as are effective measures to eradicate forced labour, slavery and human trafficking. With these targets in mind, the goal is to achieve full and productive employment, and decent work, for all women and men by 2030.

Related Senior Year Courses:

Goal: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure

Overview: Investment in infrastructure and innovation are crucial drivers of economic growth and development. With over half the world population now living in cities, mass transport and renewable energy are becoming ever more important, as are the growth of new industries and information and communication technologies.

Technological progress is also key to finding lasting solutions to both economic and environmental challenges, such as providing new jobs and promoting energy efficiency. Promoting sustainable industries, and investing in scientific research and innovation, are all important ways to facilitate sustainable development.

More than 4 billion people still do not have access to the Internet, and 90 percent are from the developing world. Bridging this digital divide is crucial to ensure equal access to information and knowledge, as well as foster innovation and entrepreneurship.

Related Senior Year Courses:

Reduced Inequalities

Related Faculty:

Jennifer Majka

Marquise Riley

Cindy van Es



Goal: Reduced Inequalities

Overview:  Income inequality is on the rise—the richest 10 percent have up to 40 percent of global income whereas the poorest 10 percent earn only between 2 to 7 percent. If we take into account population growth inequality in developing countries, inequality has increased by 11 percent.

Income inequality has increased in nearly everywhere in recent decades, but at different speeds. It’s lowest in Europe and highest in the Middle East.

These widening disparities require sound policies to empower lower income earners, and promote economic inclusion of all regardless of sex, race or ethnicity.

Income inequality requires global solutions. This involves improving the regulation and monitoring of financial markets and institutions, encouraging development assistance and foreign direct investment to regions where the need is greatest. Facilitating the safe migration and mobility of people is also key to bridging the widening divide.

Related Senior Year Courses:

Goal: Responsible Consumption and Production

Overview: Achieving economic growth and sustainable development requires that we urgently reduce our ecological footprint by changing the way we produce and consume goods and resources. Agriculture is the biggest user of water worldwide, and irrigation now claims close to 70 percent of all freshwater for human use.

The efficient management of our shared natural resources, and the way we dispose of toxic waste and pollutants, are important targets to achieve this goal. Encouraging industries, businesses and consumers to recycle and reduce waste is equally important, as is supporting developing countries to move towards more sustainable patterns of consumption by 2030.

A large share of the world population is still consuming far too little to meet even their basic needs.  Halving the per capita of global food waste at the retailer and consumer levels is also important for creating more efficient production and supply chains. This can help with food security, and shift us towards a more resource efficient economy.

Related Sophomore Year Courses:

Related Senior Year Courses:

Peace, justice, and strong institutions

Related Faculty:

Garrick Blalock

Goal: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions

Overview: We cannot hope for sustainable development without peace, stability, human rights and effective governance, based on the rule of law. Yet our world is increasingly divided. Some regions enjoy peace, security and prosperity, while others fall into seemingly endless cycles of conflict and violence. This is not inevitable and must be addressed.

Armed violence and insecurity have a destructive impact on a country’s development, affecting economic growth, and often resulting in grievances that last for generations. Sexual violence, crime, exploitation and torture are also prevalent where there is conflict, or no rule of law, and countries must take measures to protect those who are most at risk

The SDGs aim to significantly reduce all forms of violence, and work with governments and communities to end conflict and insecurity. Promoting the rule of law and human rights are key to this process, as is reducing the flow of illicit arms and strengthening the participation of developing countries in the institutions of global governance.

 Related Sophomore Year Courses:

Dyson Students

"The class changed my perspectives and gave me great insight on what I want to achieve as a business leader. The experiences I had and what I learned have benefitted me ever since.”

Lawrence Ntim, AEM ’17
Better Business_Better World

Our Business Is a Better World is the vision for Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. However, what does this really look like in a practical way? Better Business, Better World seeks to share the stories of burgeoning and veteran business leaders – students, faculty, alumni, and community members – who are using business to transform our world.

For more information, contact:                                                                                   

John Tobin, faculty director
475E Warren Hall

Elizabeth Sullivan, program manager
210 Warren Hall