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Virtual ‘Grand Challenges’ workshops to begin June 5

Research and Economic Development

Ashley Washburn, May 27, 2020

Virtual ‘Grand Challenges’ workshops to begin June 5

The process to identify the university’s grand challenges — major societal issues that can only be solved through interdisciplinary approaches — is launching June 5 and will continue through mid-July. The campus community is encouraged to participate and offer perspectives that will help shape the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s trajectory for the next five years and beyond.

Identifying a suite of grand challenges is one aim of the N2025 strategic plan that was outlined in Chancellor Ronnie Green’s 2020 State of Our University address. Solving the greatest challenges facing the community, nation and world will require Nebraska scholars from a range of disciplines to collaborate with the goal of creating new knowledge. Through a series of virtual, interactive workshops, the university community will come together to identify up to three grand challenges to address. The identified grand challenges themes will help guide activities and talent and be used to guide institutional investment and resource allocation.

“At Nebraska, every person and every interaction matters,” Chancellor Ronnie Green said. “The grand challenges we pursue must reflect the breadth of research, scholarly and creative activity happening across campus. By recognizing how our combined strengths and expertise can be leveraged to solve our greatest problems, UNL can have major impact on our community, country and world.”

The grand challenges will supplement the extraordinary work that Nebraska faculty, staff and students already do, Green said, and create additional opportunities to work together at higher levels to make an impact.

The full suite of grand challenges will include up to three themes identified during this summer’s workshops and those outlined in the State of Our University address: early childhood education and development; sustainable water and food security; and resiliency in our changing climate.

Faculty, staff and students are encouraged to register for the virtual workshops led by Knowinnovation, which specializes in facilitating events that foster innovative, interdisciplinary conversations and collaborations. The process will take place through an easy-to-use platform that Knowinnovation designed to imitate the spontaneity and idea generation that occurs during an in-person event.

Chancellor Green and other members of the executive leadership team will kick off the first session June 5. Michelle Popowitz, University of California, Los Angeles vice chancellor for research, will share her insights on how grand challenges can help an institution focus on a set of common goals to fulfill its mission.

The grand challenges workshop series includes the following sessions and topics. Times are listed in central daylight time. Most sessions will be recorded for later viewing, and some allow for asynchronous participation to accommodate scheduling constraints.

• June 5, 3-4 p.m. — Kick-off event open to faculty, staff and students.

• June 9, 1-2 p.m. — Establish the context for grand challenges that Nebraska is poised to solve and identify relevant publications, resources and data collections. Open to faculty, staff and students.

• June 12, 1-3 p.m. — Microlab led by Knowinnovation to generate options for grand challenges themes. Participation will involve time in virtual breakout rooms to capture ideas and reconvening as a group to capture broad ideas. Open to faculty, staff and students.

• June 26, 1-3 p.m. — Evaluate theme ideas against the evaluation criteria established by the online survey and identify a preliminary list of grand challenges. Participants may generate brief overview documents and other materials to aid in selection. Open to faculty, staff and students.

• Late July — Two-day virtual writing workshop to outline, draft and review descriptions of the identified grand challenges. Participation will include selected faculty, staff and administrators.

The Office of Research and Economic Development is facilitating the grand challenges process on behalf of the Office of the Chancellor. For questions about the process, contact Nathan Meier, assistant vice chancellor for research, at nlm@unl.edu or 402-472-3902.


Research and Economic Development