Department COVID-19 Updates:
COVID-19 Research Planning

Frequently Asked Questions about Grand Challenges Themes

Q: Why is the University of Nebraska-Lincoln pursuing grand challenge themes?

A: The second and third aims of the N2025 Strategic Plan call on the university to “Establish a culture at Nebraska committed to increasing the impact of research and creative activity” and “Focus research, scholarship, creative activity and student experiences to foster innovative, interdisciplinary endeavors and solve challenges critical to Nebraska and the world.” Doing so will require us to broaden and deepen our interdisciplinary research and increase our intellectual property and transfer in ways that increase the transformative potential and collective impact of research, scholarship and creative activity at UNL. Pursuing grand challenge themes will help us harness university talent and resources to work in more focused, targeted ways.

Q: What is a grand challenge theme?

A: A grand challenge themes is a problem or opportunity that, if addressed, will positively impact a great number of people and society in general; is significant in scope; results from complex causes; and can be solved only by a combination of innovative, interdisciplinary approaches.

Q: How will UNL’s portfolio of grand challenge themes be developed?

A: At the request of Chancellor Ronnie Green, the Office of Research and Economic Development designed and is implementing a process to establish UNL portfolio of grand challenges. Click here for more information.

Q: When will UNL’s portfolio of grand challenge themes be developed?

A: The process to identify UNL’s portfolio of grand challenge themes launched on June 5, 2020, and will be completed in late July. Chancellor Ronnie Green expects to release the full portfolio of themes in August, 2020. Click here for more information.

Q: Who is involved in the process to identify and develop UNL’s portfolio of grand challenge themes?

A: All members of the university community are welcome to contribute to the process to identify and finalize UNL’s portfolio of grand challenge themes. To date, more than 300 faculty, students and staff from 195 campus units have participated. UNL emeriti and friends of the university also are participating. To explore how you may contribute, please visit the grand challenges website.

Q: What resources will support UNL’s pursuit of grand challenges?

A: In response to the second and third aims of the N2025 Strategic Plan, UNL will prioritize the focus of the research, scholarship and creative activity occurring across campus by aligning at least 50 percent of strategic investments with grand challengeslike early childhood education and development, sustainable water and food security, and resiliency in our changing climate.

Q: What is the scope/scale of a grand challenge theme?

A: A grand challenge theme represents a significant opportunity space in which multiple campus actors (e.g., faculty, students, staff, alumni, external partners, etc.) can work together to help catalyze breakthroughs that improve the human condition. A grand challenge theme generally must be addressed by a large team of subject-matter experts, community leaders, foundations, entrepreneurs, law and policy makers and others. It is significantly larger in scope than an individual’s research or scholarly agenda and will require support from a variety of resources to be successful. Grand challenges are far broader in scope than an externally-funded project, which generally fulfills the needs and requirements of the sponsor, is very focused on a particular problem, is limited to one or a few subject matter experts, and has a defined schedule.

Q: Why do universities pursue grand challenges?

A: Universities pursue grand challenges to: