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UNL commits $40 million to Grand Challenges research effort, events planned

Grand Challenges

Heidi Uhing, September 7, 2021

UNL commits $40 million to Grand Challenges research effort, events planned

Chancellor Ronnie Green and Bob Wilhelm, vice chancellor for research and economic development, have committed $40 million to fund grand challenges research efforts over the next four years. The funds come from a partnership between the Chancellor’s Office and ORED, using existing F&A carryforward funds earmarked for major research infrastructure projects, with future annual allocations provided from funds designated for strategic institutional investments.  

These funds will be leveraged to initiate goal-driven, sustainable projects or programs that lead to measurable impacts and innovative solutions toward grand challenge opportunities.  

This announcement follows Chancellor Green’s charge last year for the university to identify a series of challenges that Nebraska is uniquely positioned to solve, as called for in the N2025 Strategic Plan. Grand challenges are large societal problems whose solutions require a combination of transformative, interdisciplinary approaches.  

More than 500 faculty, staff, students and emeriti helped identify the challenge themes: anti-racism and racial equity; climate resilience; early childhood education and development; health equity; quantum science and engineering; science and technology literacy for society; and sustainable food and water security. Descriptions of these themes are available on the Grand Challenges website.  

“As the state’s comprehensive research, land-grant institution, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is uniquely positioned to think bigger and more strategically about these complex problems and bring solutions to serve the greater good,” Green said. “I encourage the university community to engage in this process and determine how their research, scholarship and creative activity could shed light on our grand challenge themes.” 

Faculty are invited to two kickoff events to have coffee and donuts with members of the Grand Challenges steering committee and ORED staff on Sept. 9 from 8-9 a.m. on East Campus at the plaza outside Dinsdale Family Learning Commons, and the second event will be Sept. 9 from 10-11 a.m. on City Campus at the plaza outside Adele Coryell Hall Learning Commons.

Over the next two months, a series of community-building events will provide opportunities for faculty to learn more about work underway in each thematic area and to extend their professional networks. Following that, ORED will host a series of activities to help individuals begin to identify specific problems to solve within these grand challenge areas and form inclusive teams to develop innovative, high-impact funding proposals.  

Participants may choose to register for either in-person or virtual events and are encouraged to participate in grand challenge areas that intersect with their expertise, experience or personal interests. Registration details are provided on the Grand Challenges website

  • Science and technology literacy for society: Sept. 14, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., or virtual Sept. 15, 12-1 p.m. 
  • Health equity: Sept. 21, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., or virtual Sept. 22, 12-1 p.m.  
  • Sustainable food and water security: Sept. 28, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., or virtual Sept. 29, 12-1 p.m. 
  • Anti-racism and racial equity: Oct. 5, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., or virtual Oct. 6, 12-1 p.m. 
  • Early childhood education and development: Oct. 12, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., or virtual Oct. 13, 12-1 p.m. 
  • Quantum science and engineering: Oct. 19, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., or virtual Oct. 20, 12-1 p.m. 
  • Climate resilience: Oct. 26, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., or virtual Oct. 27, 12-1 p.m. 

“We are eager to hear from faculty their grand and innovative ideas for solving the big problems our world is facing,” said Rick Bevins, interim associate vice chancellor of research and Grand Challenges committee co-chair. “This is an exciting opportunity for faculty to create cross-disciplinary connections to elevate the impact and profile of our university.”    

A request for proposals is being reviewed by the steering committee and will be shared later this month on the Grand Challenges website


Grand Challenges