Check out the Crochet Coral Reef on Display in the Bridge for Laboratory Sciences building through April.

Coral Reef
Photo by Karl Rabe

Heading into winter break, we (the Grand Challenges team!) wanted to come up with a way to virtually connect people and engage with the campus community in a fun, relaxed, Zoom-easy way.  We gathered on zoom to crochet forms that resemble corals and other marine critters, and hosted guests who could teach us about corals, art as protest, history of science, and hyperbolic geometry. Then, we assembled it all together into a glorious underwater feast of color and life, adding growth to a crochet coral reef created at Vassar ten years ago.

Read more about this project and process on the Student Catalyst blog

More Information About the Grand Challenges Program

Grand Challenges is a five-year initiative of curricular innovation, faculty development, and community engagement at Vassar College, founded in 2018 with the help of a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, whose aim is to foster inclusive excellence in STEM education at the college.

An institution embodies inclusive excellence to the extent that it pursues and achieves its scientific and educational goals within a pervasive culture of inclusion—that is, an intellectual climate which is founded on the diversity of identities, backgrounds and perspectives of its members, which is committed to supporting the hard work of its members, and which expects that all members play a vital role in the community.



Climate change is one of the most challenging, most intersectional, and farthest-reaching issues of our time. Despite this reality, our generation has the opportunity to make meaningful, systemic change. The Grand Challenges Program is an opportunity for students to actively shape our Vassar experience, to equip ourselves and future students to critically understand climate change and its accompanying injustices, and to use our distinct perspectives to collaboratively construct solutions. Discover resources for getting involved, such as professors who are integrating climate change into their work and teaching, classes that address environmental problems, ways to create your own programming, and more. -Sophie Cash VC ’19


Faculty Student

The Grand Challenge program is fostering a community of faculty and students coming together to tackle complex interdisciplinary problems. As the problems evolve, so do our ways to teach, learn, and collaborate. Explore how the Grand Challenges program can facilitate our evolution as teachers, scholars, and members of an engaged community.


Community Collage

How might students and faculty work together in pursuit of these goals? In what ways can we bring this work to the whole campus community?

We envision the Grand Challenges taking shape in the following categories:

  • Courses and Curriculum
  • Collaboration and Mentorship
  • Communicating Science
  • Community Engagement

Our Principles and Priorities

Grand Challenges is a five-year initiative of curricular innovation, faculty development, and community engagement at Vassar College, founded with the help of a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, with the aim of fostering inclusive excellence in STEM education at the college. An institution that embodies inclusive excellence is founded on the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives of its members; supports the hard work of its members; and makes space for all its members to participate meaningfully.

Grand Challenges embodies the following principles

  • We learn most effectively when empowered to discover, amplify, and leverage our individual strengths, and when those strengths are supported and valued by our community.
  • We learn when we take risks, and when we experience, and overcome, failure. Responding productively to failure is essential to learning and to scientific advancement.
  • Every individual’s scientific work is necessarily linked to the greater community of scientists. Therefore, excellence in science education requires engagement across difference and openness to diverse perspectives.
  • Our academic community is most vibrant and dynamic when we recognize a variety of ways to engage with scientific knowledge. Excellent science education combines rigorous academic standards with a wide range of opportunities to participate.

Our current priorities are

  • Transforming the science curriculum in ways that enhance student engagement—with a particular focus on students from groups currently underrepresented in STEM—while improving the intellectual climate for all.
  • Supporting faculty development through scholarly projects and pedagogical innovations that further the goals of inclusive excellence.
  • Implementing community-building activities that enhance the sense of belonging of members of the Vassar science community, and the college as a whole.