The Grand Challenges Framework
Grand challenges are problems or opportunities of such magnitude that, if addressed, will positively impact society. They have their origins in complex causes and require a combination of transformative, interdisciplinary approaches to solve.
It is through this lens that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln commits to thinking bigger and working more strategically to deliver on its mission as the state of Nebraska’s comprehensive research, land-grant institution and serve the greater good.
The foundation for this approach is in the second and third aims of UNL’s N2025 Strategic Plan, which calls for the institution 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.”
Following Chancellor Ronnie Green’s 2020 State of Our University address, the Office of Research and Economic Development was charged with designing and leading an open, participatory process for the campus community to identify a portfolio of Nebraska “Grand Challenges.” More than 500 faculty, staff, students, emeriti and other friends of the university contributed to this process, which ran from June to October 2020.
During November and December 2020, more than 100 faculty, staff and students formed writing teams to draft descriptions for each of the thematic areas that comprise the collection of Nebraska’s Grand Challenges. These descriptions describe the opportunity, rationale and potential payoffs associated with UNL’s committed focus and strategic integration of research, education and engagement around 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.
Racism and racial inequity pervade all aspects of society. Given this ubiquity, an anti-racism and racial equity framework is vital to the success of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) moving forward – particularly as faculty, students, and staff seek to help address salient social issues. Racism is well-documented to be both institutionalized and personalized. As such, addressing racism and racial inequities requires a collective effort from the university community to address various social domains and institutions (e.g., education system, health care system, child socialization, media) to identify causes and consequences of these inequities. To have maximum impact, these activities should be pursued in tandem with ongoing initiatives like the UNL Journey on Anti-Racism and Racial Equity that promote inclusivity and equity across all of our campuses and in all aspects of our work (e.g., curriculum, pedagogies, programs, and processes).
Scope and Significance
The scope of the Anti-Racism and Racial Equity theme is quite broad. It can and should communicate with each of the other themes in UNL’s grand challenge portfolio. That said, related research and creative activities can be organized around three general goals to guide collaboration, initiatives, and support to address this theme. First, a crucial step in dismantling racist ideas and practices is to identify and transform the processes and structures that lead to racial inequities. Second, scholarly activities should focus on minimizing negative consequences of racism on the physical and mental health of individuals and communities in order to develop. Third, identify ways to inoculate and/or reduce bias and discrimination in individuals across the lifespan and in various social domains (e.g., education environments, and business).
The idea that “every person and every interaction matters” is at the heart of N2025. As such, we have a responsibility at UNL to address issues of racism, discrimination, and inequities. We recognize and continue to call for additional resources to support research and creative activities related to this theme — including a sustained commitment to recruitment, retention, and support of a more representative faculty, staff, and student body.
Context and Rationale
There are existing strengths at the university that can be supported and serve as a foundation for our scholarly efforts related to anti-racism and racial equity. In addition to research and creative activities of individual faculty members and department/unit priorities, examples of these strengths include – but are by no means limited to – interdisciplinary units and research initiatives (e.g., Institute for Ethnic Studies, Minority Health Disparities), grant-supported racial justice programs (e.g., International Coalition for Multilingual Education and Equity), and arts and humanities-based collaborations and programs ( e.g., the award-winning Anna documentary, African Poetry Fund, and Creative Writing Series on Diversity and Inclusion).
Through these existing efforts and a host of others not listed here, it is clear that addressing racism and racial inequities is a transdisciplinary concern across diverse areas of study: social science, humanities, arts, education, health, environment, business, etc. Moving forward, we can expand opportunities for creative activity in the arts and other fields that have popular appeal and cultural reach but have not always been prioritized in anti-racism and racial equity endeavors. Likewise, there are potential connections in addressing global racial inequities (e.g., working with scientists, academic institutions, governmental bodies, and the private sector to enhance agricultural productivity and food sustainability). As such, we need to identify connections and collaborations across departments, colleges, and administrative offices to unite disciplines in these efforts.
To better integrate and leverage existing institutional strengths and resources related to anti-racism and racial inequity — and to advance work in response to the goals outlined above — UNL must consider supporting, incentivizing, and facilitating activities like the following:
- Rigorously identify and sustain special projects (e.g., lecture series, conferences, and community outreach) that successfully demonstrate UNL’s commitment to racial equity, ensuring a foundation of security and reward for projects in service to this mission and providing clear lines for funding. Establishing and supporting research collaboratives for scholars working specifically on racial issues could minimize feelings of marginalization and isolation among people of color and other marginalized groups on the campus.
- Identify campus leaders to create forums for discussion, exploration, creation, and implementation of partnerships and collaborations to address anti-racism and racial equity in specific contexts such as education, health and healthcare, etc. Inter-, multi-, and transdisciplinarity should remain at the heart of these potential new partnerships so that projects expand beyond what would have been proposed otherwise.
- Highlight research and creative activities – past and present – that speak to the mission of racial equity, presenting a history of representation and recognition for faculty and student success.
- Support conferences and activities that connect scholarly activities with Nebraska history (e.g., Native American history, development of North and South Omaha communities, and changes in rural populations) and present-day events related to racism and racial inequities.
- Offer training, workshops, and funding on community-based research and collaborative learning practices to connect scholars, practitioners, community leaders, and Extension to identify problems and potential solutions related to racism and racial inequity. In doing so, we need to better embrace our local and regional community action groups who are doing anti-racism work in our communities. We need to learn from and elevate their voices in our academic spaces.
- Provide guidance and support for engaging external funding opportunities through foundations and nonprofit organizations, in addition to more traditional funding sources (e.g., NIH, NSF, and USDA).
- Develop standards and guidelines for evaluation of faculty in which innovative and creative scholarly works, as well as the “scholarship of engagement” (e.g., community partnerships and outreach, translational and applied research), related to anti-racism and racial equity scholarship counts in substantial ways for tenure, promotion, and merit raises.
The goals associated with this theme require a commitment to addressing the racial inequities (e.g., bias in classroom and lack of representation among faculty) at UNL as well as tangible support to faculty and staff committed to these goals.
If UNL is successful in the types of endeavors suggested above, the research and creative activities associated with the grand challenge theme of anti-racism and racial equity will have an impact on our local and larger culture with pragmatic implications such as improved healthcare, access to quality education, fair housing, financial security, and overall well-being for individuals and communities. Further, there is a symbiotic relationship between scholarship and pedagogical activities and outcomes. As such, these research and creative activities will also benefit our students as they learn histories, competencies, and skills to help them address racism and racial inequities in their professional and personal lives.
The Earth is a complex, adaptive, and integrated system to which climate change is causing gradual and acute disruptions. To better prepare for and mitigate the impacts brought by this phenomenon, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) will focus on understanding and characterizing the multidimensional impacts of climate change on biological, physical, and social systems. Contributions by individuals from diverse but complementary fields will help generate translational research and instructional strategies that enable climate resilience and inform science-based decision- and policy-making. By enabling interplay among stakeholders, the university will play a critical role in advancing resilience approaches in ways that will benefit the state, the nation, and the world.
Scope and Significance
In 2020, the World Economic Forum identified “failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation” and “extreme weather events” as the top risks facing global society during the next 10 years in terms of impacts and likelihood, respectively. Further, “climate action” is one of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015 and to be addressed by all nations by 2030. Arguably, all of the SDGs are impacted, to some degree or another, by climate change. This global attention on climate resilience highlights the urgency required to address climate variability and change, extreme weather events, and natural disasters. Droughts, floods, wildfires, tropical cyclones, melting polar ice, rising sea levels, and many other trends are affected by climate change and have disproportionate impacts on the poorest people of the world, often leading to increased human migration. Increased competition for food, water, shelter, and public health infrastructure along with a changing climate, even in the absence of extreme weather events, exacerbates human suffering and may lead to unrest and the spread of infectious diseases.
The Climate Science Special Report (2017) and the National Climate Assessment report (2018) highlight the vulnerability of the central U.S. in the sectors of water, agriculture, recreation and tourism, and energy, as well as the impacts on the indigenous communities within the region. UNL is well positioned to help tackle this complex issue given its depth of relevant expertise and collaborative interdisciplinary culture. The university’s approach toward developing solutions that foster climate resilience at local, national, and global levels should involve integrated research, teaching, and engagement efforts in three priority areas:
- Conducting basic climate research to improve understanding of the climate system and further defining the magnitude and spatial variance of our changing climate.
- Identifying climate- and weather-related impacts at scales where adaptation and mitigation (i.e., resilience) can take place.
- Increasing and disseminating our understanding of how to develop resilience strategies that prevent or lessen the impacts of climate variability, climate change, extreme weather events, and natural disasters.
Context and Rationale
Research, teaching, and engagement efforts focused on the past, present, and future of climate change are happening across the UNL campus and encompass basic and applied climate science as well as agriculture, conservation, natural resources management, education, humanities, physical and life sciences, social sciences, engineering, and architecture. Having faculty stationed across the state, UNL is positioned to comprehensively address the challenges of climate change in Nebraska via multi- and transdisciplinary approaches. Such efforts will enable discoveries in climate resilience that can be communicated to communities across the state and regionally, nationally, or globally when appropriate. This will build on UNL’s existing base of activities designed to help understand climate resilience from the many facets of our coupled human and natural systems using a myriad of technological tools, including earth systems and ecological models, remote sensing, and others. In the mid- and long-term, the integrative discoveries made at UNL will help inform the public and policymakers by providing science-based data for decision-making regarding this highly complex topic.
A grand challenge focus on climate resilience will contribute to the N2025 aim of “broadening Nebraska’s engagement in community, industry, and global partnerships.” Knowing that climate issues are pervasive and disruptive in Nebraska and beyond provides opportunities for outreach through Nebraska Extension, the Office of Global Engagement, the Nebraska State Museum, the Nebraska Forest Service, and many other units. Nebraska can thus produce and translate science-based information to communities across the region and the world. Currently, the university’s most important assets in this space are intellectual capacity and interest across campus, administrative support and momentum to consolidate these efforts, and extensive collaborative networks for research, education, and engagement. For example, UNL has extensive experience in climate science within academic programs and specialized units like the National Drought Mitigation Center, the High Plains Regional Climate Center, and the Nebraska State Climate Office. These units collect and maintain metrics on climate and drought that are critical to monitoring, planning, preparing, and developing strategies for climate change mitigation and adaptation in Nebraska and around the world.
Further, the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute has established a new Water, Climate, and Health program in collaboration with the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Focused efforts between animal scientists at UNL and University of Nebraska Omaha researchers interested in stress physiology of domestic and wild mammals influenced by climate change also are envisioned. Thus, there are possibilities to develop and expand research and educational activities across the University of Nebraska system, including the effect of climate change on the spread of infectious diseases and enabling a “OneHealth” approach. Additionally, UNL’s recently-formed Center for Resilience in Agricultural Working Landscapes works collaboratively to investigate the impact of climate on agricultural ecosystems. Educational opportunities include majors (and minors) in Applied Climate Science, Meteorology and Climatology, as well as Environmental Studies and Environmental Sciences that provide learning opportunities in climate resilience. The Nebraska Forest Service provides professional development for Nebraska’s pre-K to 12 educators focused on conservation education topics, including climate change, and alongside university and agency partners, it is currently creating a Nebraska-focused Climate, Water, and Resilience curriculum. Developing research and/or instructional programs in environmental law, crisis management, and behavioral health interventions also represent new collaborative opportunities in the area of climate resilience.
Some examples of mission-relevant activities related to climate resilience that UNL should consider are:
- Forging intentional partnerships with more Nebraska communities and state and local governments to increase awareness of and education about climate resilience across the state. This may lead to university experts helping to develop climate action plans for cities and municipalities, and it would provide a conduit for receiving direct feedback from external stakeholders on this topic.
- Expanding and investing in statewide education and outreach efforts by hosting workshops and events for communities and K-12 schools. One goal would be to help Nebraska schools develop integrated science curricula in response to the grand challenge climate resilience represents more broadly in society.
Coordinated efforts at UNL focused on climate resilience are expected to lead to the development, adoption, and application of tools that aid in mitigating risk and crises derived from drought, extreme weather, and changes in agricultural production and human health. In the short-term, this will result in increased public engagement and improved community vitality (two key institutional priorities). In addition, data-driven approaches to identify animal and plant genotypes that are better suited for the changing climate will help producers become more resilient to the effects of climate change and protect food security. Collectively, working with communities and policymakers to develop context-appropriate strategies will result in increased adaptation and mitigation capacities and outcomes.
Moreover, adoption of holistic approaches to fully utilize institutional and partner resources such as predictive models and other meteorological tools will be developed. Increased awareness and knowledge within communities will translate into better preparation, adaptation, and mitigation strategies at a community level. This will require education and resources as well as governance and political will to develop the necessary technical and leadership capacity to effectively build resilience toward climate change. UNL can help translate science into decision-making for public policy and community awareness/interest in the topic, for example, by emphasizing climate literacy within the university community and beyond.
Finally, Nebraska’s economy is highly dependent on agricultural production and trade. The university is a leader in providing solutions and science-based information for the state. UNL is already a regional leader in climate resilience and can become a global leader in translating science in ways that heighten societal benefits. Our economy, food production system, natural resources, urban planning, recreation, transportation, and culture is at stake, and UNL is in an excellent position to guide solutions for Nebraskans, and our neighbors around the globe, to help overcome this far-reaching challenge.
A Lakota proverb says, “The ones that matter most are the children.” The early childhood education and development grand challenge at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) places children at the center of society by transforming the various systems for whom responsibility is shared, including family, education, health, legal, economic, political, and social systems. Children’s early experiences – from birth to age eight – and the environments within which they learn and grow build the foundation for future life outcomes. The transformation expected to occur through this grand challenge focus will impact all aspects of society, which collectively are responsible for ensuring our children’s developmental trajectories are on a positive pathway. This is essential to nurture caring, capable, productive, and responsible citizens positioned for lifelong well-being, global vitality, and social good.
Scope and Significance
UNL’s early childhood education and development grand challenge centers children as our future and will help transform the various systems for whom responsibility is shared, including: family, education, health, legal, economic, political, and social systems. Such transformation is necessary for ensuring that our children’s developmental trajectories, and our futures, are on a positive pathway. Children’s experiences today allow us to predict the future. What happens in a child’s immediate interactions and environments today sets the stage for decades and generations to come. The quality of care and interactions they experience every day, physical and affective supports they are afforded by responsible adults, the equity with which opportunities and resources are dispersed, and a host of other malleable factors all predict their future, and thus, our future as society.
But the future of millions of children under age eight is severely compromised because of adverse conditions such as poverty, significant resource and opportunity inequities, and a host of toxic conditions and inept systems that damage their development. Failing to intervene in ways that change developmental trajectories all but assures negative life outcomes for millions of children at risk and greatly jeopardizes entire societies of the future. Current societal systems – including those commissioned to provide educational, healthcare, legal, and other social supports – are disjointed, inadequate, and structured in ways that yield them inaccessible or harmful to large groups of children and their caregivers. This is especially true among those who need them the most. Importantly, conventional systems are particularly ineffectual for minoritized groups who are negatively impacted at disproportionate rates. The result is an increasing divide between children who experience significant opportunity and learning gaps and those for whom mainstream systems are accessible and congruent.
The university’s focus on this grand challenge aims to transform virtually every aspect of society responsible for children – including those that provide education, healthcare, nutrition and well-being, legal services, arts and enrichment, and social supports – to ensure that the developmental trajectories of all children, and thus our future, are on equitable and positive pathways. Interventions that are grounded in research and delivered in ways that are culturally congruent have the potential to effectively modify systems of support for young children and can drastically improve outcomes. These support systems include early childhood mental health services, early childhood care and education, family engagement programs, and social service supports. Centering children challenges the status quo and upends current approaches that divide our society. It does so via intentional and interdisciplinary work aimed at:
- establishing a diverse and culturally competent workforce;
- recreating early childhood systems of care in ways that provide access and equity for socioeconomically, racially, ethnically, and other diverse groups;
- honing in on structures and processes during early childhood education to maximize the fit for all children and effective transitions across the early grades
- integrating effective and efficient services that support and empower young children and their families; and
- providing family partnership programs that ensure individualized goals and meaningful outcomes are realized.
Context and Rationale
The early childhood education and development grand challenge addresses several aims of the N2025 strategic plan, including advancing equity, preparing a diverse and culturally competent workforce, strengthening interdisciplinary work, increasing the impact of research, and enhancing partnerships.
UNL has the human, intellectual, and social capital to catapult this grand challenge. For more than 30 years, university researchers and educators have been leaders in the early childhood research, training, and evaluation arena, with at least $100 million in grants focused on early childhood. Experts from several colleges, units, departments, and programs have the knowledge, experience, track records, and relationships to have significant impact locally, nationally, and globally.
This work is hugely innovative in both content (what we will do) and process (how we will do it). Multidisciplinary teams already exist and can be leveraged to quickly launch large, competitive research, training, and outreach grants and programs. Relationships between UNL researchers and trainers; between basic (bench) and applied (field-based) researchers; and between researchers/trainers and practitioners/stakeholders in schools, agencies, and communities will be leveraged. Specific UNL units that will play a significant role in addressing this grand challenge theme include (but are not limited to): the College of Education and Human Sciences; College of Arts and Sciences; Extension; Center for Children, Youth, Families and Schools/Nebraska Academy for Early Childhood Research; Academy for Child and Family Wellbeing; Center on Children, Families and the Law; Minority Health Disparities Initiative; and the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior. Deep relationships with the Buffett Early Childhood Institute and stakeholders (schools, agencies, state departments and offices) already exist across the state. We also have excellent relationships with funding agencies and international partners (e.g., Brazil) in the early childhood space that set the stage for global impact.
The distinctive focus of this grand challenge theme on centering children in society invites a range of possible large-scale funding opportunities, including research and training grant opportunities across many federal and state agencies and private philanthropy. Its focus on systems and societies – and their shared responsibilities for children now and into the future – will attract large center-type funding and create the greatest opportunity for significant public impact.
Centering children in society will enable UNL faculty, post-docs, staff, students, and partners to position their research, teaching, and engagement activities on myriad factors impacting society and children’s healthy development. Activities will focus on transformative change by crafting a continuum of translational work from basic science to in-the-field application – and their interactions. Furthermore, UNL faculty and staff will engage with and strengthen intentional partnerships with key stakeholders in the practitioner community to collaboratively and cooperatively disentangle inequities, disseminate best practices, and advance developing research agendas.
UNL is well-positioned to solve issues related to the early childhood workforce and children’s social and developmental disparities. A highly qualified, diverse education and welfare workforce is the cornerstone of high-quality early care, education, and safety systems for children. Nebraska will identify and engage in workforce development and support strategies for early childhood educators and child welfare professionals, including development and improvements of effective and accessible interventions, professional development mechanisms, and financing methods to support staff retention and the delivery of evidence-based services. Additionally, this university is well-positioned to identify content and process elements that will reduce children’s developmental disparities and promote their positive outcomes in areas such as brain and biology, health and nutrition, family engagement, legal and welfare systems, mental health, early learning, and organizational improvement, to name a few. In addition, we can develop and test ways to enable these systems to work better together.
These priorities will be realized through a combination of educational programs, research, and evaluation activities and outreach into the community that applies the knowledge learned. UNL Extension is well-positioned to collaborate in the execution of engagement strategies across the state and beyond. Furthermore, consistent with the N2025 vision, research and partnership activities will contribute directly to the education of undergraduate and graduate students, practitioners, and other professionals within their fields.
By prioritizing this work on children, individuals whose work focuses on early childhood education and development may support UNL’s other grand challenges in ways that help maximize positive outcomes. For example, focusing attention on safety nets for vulnerable children and the ways in which centering on children will advance economic and community vitality can enable collaborations with the community and economic vitality grand challenge theme. Our focus on establishing equitable and accessible systems for children and families also squares with the anti-racism and racial equity grand challenge. Finally, focusing on conditions that are necessary to change developmental trajectories and ensure a prosperous future for children at risk is aligned with the health equity grand challenge.
In pursing solutions related to the early childhood education and development grand challenge, impacts will be realized for Nebraska and beyond. UNL and the state can emerge as leaders in building and supporting systems that will effectively support children’s healthy development in all domains. This will result in a highly qualified, diverse workforce in early childhood care, child welfare, and education that is effectively trained to work in high-quality, affordable early care and education settings. Increased access to childcare will support thriving communities and attract business investors, while families with young children will be drawn to the state, enhancing Nebraska’s economy. Prioritizing children’s safety and permanency decreases monetary and nonmonetary costs to individual families and society.
Developing Nebraska’s future, growing a well-qualified workforce, attracting new families to communities across the state, promoting business investment, and diversifying and strengthening the state economy are reasons why the public will care that UNL has chosen to focus its activities and resources on this grand challenge theme. Additionally, by exploring content related to brain and biology, health and nutrition, early learning, and family engagement, the long-term development of children will be positively impacted to ensure a progressive path for society. Importantly, these activities will impact Nebraska, and Nebraska will emerge as an exemplar nationally and globally for how to collectively and intentionally devote resources to children’s well-being.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) will help advance the health and well-being of diverse and marginalized populations by coalescing talent and resources spanning a continuum from “cells to selves to society.” This, in turn, will enable high-impact, coordinated research efforts across the biomedical, behavioral, educational, and social sciences. Health inequity appears in many forms—from food insecurity to environmental safety. Significantly, opportunities exist to close gaps in understanding, accessibility, treatment, and care across multiple dimensions with well-documented health disparities rooted in a variety of factors like race/ethnicity, urban/rural, immigration and related global health, Indigeneity, aging and the lifespan, LGBTQA+, socioeconomic status, disability, and the intersection of each dimension. By focusing university resources more intentionally on the foundations of health and the root causes of health disparities, we can more readily address the issues affecting residents of the state and beyond.
Scope and Significance
The wicked problems stemming from health inequity can be seen in the extreme variations in life expectancy, where race/ethnicity, sex, gender identity, neighborhood, poverty, and rurality can each add or subtract 10 years of life or more. These inequalities are replicated across Nebraska. The ingrained mechanisms leading to these inequities stem from the overlapping components of racism, sexism, heterosexism, healthcare access and quality, food access and safety, environmental exposures, and personal safety/violence exposure. Such mechanisms are inherently multi-layered and ameliorating them requires interdisciplinary approaches that cover the biological, individual, social, and structural determinants of health. Improving understanding of ingrained mechanisms underlying health inequality and creating and implementing interventions leading to demonstrable improvements in health equity outcomes will increase the healthy years of life for Nebraska residents and beyond.
UNL has the potential to help promote thriving communities across Nebraska and around the world by seeking to understand and leverage the micro, meso, and macro determinants of health to advance health equity. Making progress on this front clearly communicates to our Nebraska communities, global partners, and current and future students that “every person and every interaction matters.” Further, placing minoritized and marginalized communities at the center of our strategic vision shows that UNL cares about these communities through research that, by its nature, “emphasizes, prioritizes, and expands inclusive excellence and diversity.” Improving health equity can be achieved only by “broaden[ing] Nebraska’s engagement in community, industry, and global partnerships.” Meaningful progress on health equity also represents the pinnacle of “increasing the impact of research and creative activity.” Finally, given the intersecting and complex nature of the mechanisms leading to health inequality, the solutions for reversing these deeply rooted problems and addressing the causes of the causes of poor health and quality of life (e.g., policies, racism, xenophobia) will only emerge from interdisciplinary teams working collaboratively to “solve challenges critical to Nebraska and the world.”
Context and Rationale
UNL is poised to make significant and unique contributions to health equity challenges within the state and across the globe. Specifically, the university already houses many of the interdisciplinary units necessary for becoming an internationally-recognized leader in this area. We propose building upon and better connecting the already existing strengths and expertise of UNL in improving health equity through units such as the Minority Health Disparities Initiative (MHDI), Nebraska Food for Health Center (NFHC), Nebraska Center for Youth, Families, and Schools (CYFS), and Nebraska Extension. Additionally, we suggest bridging this important work with other key initiatives on campus to create innovative solutions in improving health equity by leveraging our strengths in addressing climate change, brain health across the lifespan, health and safety, biomedical engineering, food production and safety, nutrition, and health communication.
Relevant opportunities to address multi-dimensional inequities cut across those at the molecular level (e.g., virology, infectious disease, microbiome and host, “One Health” approaches, etc.), translational issues in healthcare provision and access (e.g., creating and disseminating new testing methods, healthcare technologies), and community-based and societal interventions (e.g., strategies that promote physical and mental well-being and safety/security, and health-promoting environments). To accomplish these goals, we suggest coordinated efforts to improve health equity across research, teaching, and service activities across four thematic areas:
- social and structural determinants of health and related policy,
- agriculture, food production, and natural resources,
- biological systems and engineering, and
- clinical training and outreach.
Given the university’s considerable resources in these areas, advancing work in health equity will have a clear path for immediate action that results in distinctive progress. The potential permutations and combinations of these resources to create life-altering research is vast, and the ability for such collaborations to advance health equity remains largely untapped. Several emerging areas lay at the center of these collaborations, including the translation of biological and food access/agricultural innovations into large-scale, equitable community interventions and creating a better understanding of the impact of the nature of the food intake with its interaction with the microbiome and the host. Across health equity more broadly, translational science has become solidified as the central component in moving from cells to selves to society. In short, it is the process by which we move innovations to yield a more equitable world, though it is only one example. In the realm of health equity, UNL has an opportunity to be innovatively interdisciplinary and, fundamentally, this is how the university can contribute to increasing the healthy years of life for marginalized peoples in Nebraska and beyond.
The types of activities suggested to advance UNL’s health equity grand challenge theme generally reflect translational and contextual approaches. Translationally, these activities answer the questions of how the institution can move innovations from cells to selves to society to enhance health equity. Contextually, the activities allow us to demonstrate how UNL can better incorporate interdisciplinary vantages of cells within selves within society. Centering our activities on these frameworks guides how we may maximize the health equity impact of innovations created at UNL while also advancing science that recognizes the multi-tiered impact of health inequity’s causes and solutions.
Research: Within research, we see four main opportunities for UNL to expand the impact of its health equity research: 1) building upon UNL’s already existing institutional research strengths, 2) innovative expansion of health equity collaboration across the NU system, UNL, and Extension, 3) building our infrastructure to support high-quality, equity-centered grant submissions, and 4) increasing and deepening community-based partnerships.
Education: Building on the expertise we have at UNL, we have the opportunity to move multigenerational understanding of basic tenants of equity in three key ways: 1) expansion of health equity courses in a minor/specialization, 2) expansion of our international and study abroad programs, and 3) increasing cross-disciplinary health equity training.
Engagement: The research and large-scale impact of UNL’s health equity efforts fully hinge on meaningful connection and partnerships with communities experiencing health inequities (e.g., indigenous communities, disability communities). In many instances, the future may build on the incredible community-focused work by UNL faculty, staff, and students. Still, creating observable improvement in equity will require new and stronger connections. Maintaining existing connections and expanding to new ones will require us to foster opportunities for meaningful connections across people in multiple university roles. For example:
- Among faculty, UNL may better leverage Extension and service roles to sustain meaningful health equity research and translation of this research into the long-term leverage of programs. This would include prioritizing Extension and service roles with organizations that work with populations experiencing health inequities.
- UNL may also benefit from continuing to support staff who work with community organizations and offer communication conduits for community-based research. Novel roles may allow for greater connections with local, state, and national governmental agencies. These novel roles may also allow for more direct routes for policy communication regarding health equity.
- Among students, UNL may integrate social determinants of health into experiential learning programs to equip students to improve health equity in a) community-based organizations that work with populations experiencing health inequities, b) rural and urban communities, and c) equity-focused industry partners from start-ups to large companies.
Prioritizing health equity in the work of UNL will directly translate into tangible and meaningful impact. Specifically, the desired outcomes will be to improve equity in the healthy years lived and well-being in Nebraska and around the world. By necessity, this can only be achieved by creating large-scale and visible change in the communities where we work. It must also incorporate the cells-selves-society framework. Examples of priority areas where UNL may have the highest potential for enhancing equity in healthy years lived and well-being include, but are not limited to: reducing society-wide inequalities in chronic disease prevalence and outcomes; increasing equitable access to healthy foods and creating large-scale dietary shifts to better incorporate these foods; reducing racism and other forms of discrimination across multiple layers of society; reducing the unequal exposure to and effects of stress; and increasing access to healthcare services. Achieving goals such as these will build upon and improve resilience and resources across settings. Community engagement across the state from migrant, immigrant, and indigenous communities and with local organizations can catalyze efforts and further the outreach by Extension across the counties. It will also require UNL to bring to bear all disciplines represented under the cells-selves-society umbrella.
Over and above the vitally important impact for the communities with which UNL works, even attempting to make progress toward health equity will dramatically alter the university landscape. It opens UNL to a broader world of external funding through federal, state, and local agencies, foundations, nonprofit organizations, and private sector partners. Moreover, the interdisciplinary work required for this expansion will fundamentally alter the connections and research performed at the university. The holistic approach across colleges, centers, thematic areas and programs, and campuses will unify several academic fields under a single health equity umbrella, ideally leading to a greater cross-disciplinary understanding. Moreover, this kind of collaboration will create new connections among units and investigators that did not previously exist. These kinds of connections alter the way investigators think and approach problems, leading to a cascade across their teaching, research, and service even outside the context of collaborations toward health equity. An additional benefit for the university is that these connections create stronger networks across its faculty, staff, and students. They also create an even more distinctive university brand by communicating our values and principles and attracting a more diverse student body through new opportunities. Thus, progress toward health equity will positively impact the university at every level.
Quantum mechanics has been successful in fundamentally describing atoms, molecules, and many types of condensed matter. It is the foundation of virtually all technological applications that define our modern way of life, including the computer, lasers, telecommunications, and advanced medical imaging such as MRI. Although the foundational theories of quantum mechanics were introduced more than a century ago, a new “quantum revolution” is imminent. Cooperative feedback between rapidly evolving theories and experimental results has led to a radical shift in our understanding of many-body quantum phenomena. This understanding has been implemented through tremendous advances, including the manipulation of matter on the atomic scale and control over light-matter interactions. The new era of quantum technologies has sparked worldwide competition for supremacy in potentially transformative quantum-based applications. For example, the new or second quantum revolution is expected to transform the fields of information processing, sensing, communication, imaging, and complex simulation. These advances will ultimately enable the investigation of more complex quantum systems, among them the intersection between the quantum phenomena and classical worlds, including sophisticated biological systems.
Scope and Significance
The second quantum revolution is based on quantum concepts including superposition, coherence, entanglement, topologically protected states, and control of electron, photon, and spin states. The emergence of these fields is qualitatively distinct from foundational quantum mechanics, which uses relatively straightforward approximations to describe interaction phenomena in terms of an effective single particle. Despite this “simplistic” approach, single particle theories, together with the concept of spontaneous symmetry breaking, gave rise to scientific and technological breakthroughs that include the understanding of conventional superconductivity and technological advances resulting in scalable transistors and modern information technology. The second quantum revolution is expected to dwarf the societal and economic impact of the first one.
Soon, quantum technological applications are expected to come online that advance MRI-like medical diagnostic tools, enable compact clocks for navigation independent of satellite-based GPS, quantum cryptography for safer data transfer (wirelessly and on the internet), and modeling of complex systems, with implications in drug design, food production, and security. Generally included will be a better understanding of complex biological systems where the behavior of molecules at the atomic level is connected to the macroscopic scale of organisms. These outcomes have tremendous implications to improve the lives of Nebraskans and our global neighbors. The universal impact of this revolution will touch everyone. Therefore, advances in this field will necessarily require engagement of a diversity of scientists, technologists, humanitarians and stakeholders to create the proper environment for inclusive excellence. UNL can be a nexus for the quantum revolution.
Context and Rationale
Meeting the challenges and responding to the opportunities associated with quantum science and engineering has the potential to generate significant rewards for society. Some of these challenges and open questions include:
- How can we use widely counterintuitive concepts of quantum mechanics to develop and build next-generation devices that will have large-scale impacts on society, public health, and the economy?
- How can we routinely use quantum effects, such as entanglement, superposition, tunneling, and topology, to improve our everyday life?
- How can we advance the understanding of the connection between subatomic phenomena and the macroscopic world?
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) is well positioned to address these challenges and make major advances in the field of quantum science and engineering. As leaders in nano and materials science with two decades of experience with interdisciplinary Materials Science Research and Engineering Centers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), UNL has a long history of fostering synergy among multiple science and engineering disciplines. Together with the Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience (NCMN) and the NSF-supported Nebraska Nanoscale Facility (NNF), there is a growing trend to extend the transdisciplinarity to organizations such as UNL’s Public Policy Center, which will be key to exploring social, legal, and ethical implications of potentially disruptive new quantum technologies.
Research, scholarship, and creative activity related to quantum science and engineering can build on an impressive base of existing programs and centers – many of which already are collaborating with Nebraska industry. A prominent example is the collaboration with Monolith Materials, which manufactures carbon nanoparticles. In addition to NCMN and NNF, UNL’s long-standing Programs of Excellence in Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics and Nanoscale Science and Technology may be brought to bear. Faculty from several science, engineering, and social and behavioral science departments, as well as the Broader Considerations of Technology (BCT) student organization, will underpin scientific and technological progress while elucidating potential positive and harmful implications for society. The transdisciplinary nature of this enterprise will create a climate at Nebraska that emphasizes, prioritizes, and expands the number and diversity of constituents participating and enables effective workforce development with economic and societal benefits. UNL’s quantum science and engineering initiative is ideally positioned to help secure Nebraska’s economic well-being which, to a large extent, will depend on a qualified workforce with an understanding of the second quantum revolution and its application in quantum materials, quantum optics, and nanophotonics.
A pending $24M NSF-funded center for emerging quantum materials and technologies presents Nebraska with a leadership opportunity in quickly advancing fields of quantum phenomena. This path has been cleared through a decades-long institutional investment in nanomaterials science and engineering, quantum optics, and nanophotonics, as well as extreme light sources for ultra-short and ultra-intense photon and electron pulses. Innovations of international significance are expected in the fabrication, characterization, simulation, and application of quantum materials where proven experimental and theoretical tools of nanotechnology and quantum chemistry complement advancing materials characterization techniques, including UNL’s extreme laser light sources. The quantum science and engineering initiative is in line with the stated vision for UNL to continue its leadership in cutting-edge research across a comprehensive range of fields and against the background of a hyper-competitive research environment. The impactful and creative activity of the quantum initiative will be a significant driver in increasing the number of STEM students, tenure-track faculty, and research funding, as well as providing innovative and interdisciplinary learning experiences through leading edge facilities and programs in accordance with the N2025 Strategic Plan.
Science and engineering centers at UNL, with their tremendous experience, background, and human capital, will enable growth in UNL’s outreach and engagement mission, together with the Nebraska Extension office and in collaboration with Nebraska 4-H. The pending EPSCoR center for emergent quantum materials and technologies will coordinate outreach programs on quantum science and engineering. This center will utilize the resources of UNL’s EPSCoR office and NCMN, as well as established and new collaborations. These collaborations include the State Museum; a partnership with the Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts, which is creating a quantum-themed augmented virtual reality exhibit; and Nebraska EPSCoR’s long-standing partnership with tribal colleges. The quantum science and engineering initiative will promote progress toward UNL’s long-term strategic objectives by driving economic growth, fulfilling federal priorities, focusing excellence to enhance the university’s reputation, and supporting diversity, internationalization, and intercampus collaborations.
Success of the initiative will be defined by metrics that include the aims of the N2025 Strategic Plan. First and foremost is the quality and quantity of the workforce development coupled with a student experience that fosters innovation and interdisciplinarity and prepares graduates to be life-long learners. Nebraska and the nation will rely on well-trained and diverse quantum scientists and engineers ready to grow the economy through cooperation between technology-driven industries and innovation stimulated by academic institutions. International competition in the field of quantum science and technologies is poised to increase dramatically within the next few years, and it is critical that UNL remain at the forefront of research and education. Such leadership will secure tomorrow’s economic well-being, which will depend on educating a qualified workforce.
Well-trained and diverse quantum scientists and engineers can grow the economy through cooperation between technology-driven industries and innovation stimulated by academic institutions. This symbiosis will set the stage for the development of consumer products based on quantum technologies with significant economic benefits, including job opportunities in Nebraska’s local technology sector, often referred to as the “Silicon Prairie.” Entire new industries based on quantum technologies are anticipated. Acceptance and success of these technologies will be fostered by increasing the general public’s knowledge, skills, and awareness of quantum science and engineering. Special emphasis will be placed on including underrepresented groups, such as rural and tribal communities, to secure individual and community growth commensurate with scientific and technological growth in this rapidly evolving field.
Science, engineering, and technology profoundly impact human and societal health and well-being. Yet recent events, including the COVID-19 pandemic, have highlighted problems at the science-society interface. Increasingly, scientific and engineering advancements raise ethical questions or are perceived as at odds with religious or political beliefs, making space for individuals to question the credibility of science and be susceptible to misinformation/disinformation. Scientists and engineers have an opportunity to address these issues at the science-society interface through education and communication that advances scientific and technological literacy. Such efforts are ongoing and effective but ultimately incomplete. Leadership in this domain from those on the frontlines of these issues could facilitate a sea change in the relationship between science and society.
Scope and Significance
In Nebraska, agricultural production, environmental protection, and community vitality overlap, sometimes in contradictory ways. The optimal balance is a grand challenge approach that enables solutions with local, national, and international implications for issues like sustainable food, water security, human health, and climate change, among many others. Reconciling the inherent contradictions among these fields will require innovative solutions imagined through transdisciplinary efforts involving scientists, engineers, economists, artists, and humanists. Because it is on the frontlines of these contradictions, Nebraska is uniquely positioned to be an international leader in the development of solutions toward an optimal balance, for it is at the nexus of food, landscapes, and society that opportunities for communication, education, and innovation are possible.
UNL has an excellent foundation in research and creative activity with capability and demonstrated willingness to engage across multiple domains to develop, harness, and advance critical/novel technologies from discovery to commercialization. Solutions to wicked problems identified within the domains of the university’s other grand challenge themes — along with optimal solutions where contradictions exist at their intersection — require transdisciplinary efforts that build upon this foundation. While many of these efforts will be led under the auspices of other grand challenge themes, success at each stage requires the following:
- A scientifically literate body politic, including policymakers, is necessary to ensure that funding is available to support discovery and knowledge advancement critical to early stages of the innovation pipeline and for creating an appropriate regulatory environment within which research is conducted and resultant technological innovations are used.
- Researchers and developers must have opportunities to engage directly with experts across the spectrum of disciplines to facilitate the convergence of the humanities, the law, and the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines for the necessarily interdisciplinary solutions.
These two edicts serve as the collective lodestar for the science, engineering, and technology for society grand challenge theme. This grand challenge theme will facilitate innovative strategies that broadly address education and communication and specifically aim to increase scientific and technological literacy of the general public and policymakers and enable transdisciplinary efforts among UNL researchers and developers.
Context and Rationale
The need to navigate and balance the priorities of agricultural production, environmental protection, and community prosperity in the state, as well as the university’s status as a land-grant institution and its record of scholarly activity, uniquely position UNL to respond to this grand challenge theme. The efforts laying groundwork and foundational research that will help solve grand challenges are housed in UNL’s diverse research centers and departments, many of which already foster cross-disciplinary partnerships. But to support the N2025 Strategic Plan’s aim of ensuring “every person and every interaction matters,” the UNL community needs to commit to fostering continuous dialogue to promote a “think tank” where, for example, agricultural production experts can work with environmental protection scientists, farmers, and lawmakers to find solutions that balance the economic vitality of Nebraska with a sustainable food system and promoting climate resilience. These efforts should result in the generation of knowledge efficiently translated into usable technology that may be commercialized and employed by stakeholders, and they should include strategies to support science literacy.
These challenges can be addressed through the creation of a meta-center and integrated STEM extension education network across UNL. The meta-center would be an expanded network of outreach coordinators, desks or new positions, within the different centers and colleges that would function as catalysts for communication among the different infrastructures and disciplines. The meta-center would serve as the hub for STEM extension educators who coordinate outreach and engagement to non-UNL sectors (e.g., alumni, nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations, staff of policymakers) and advance scientific literacy among the body politic. It would facilitate convergence of the humanities, law, social science, and STEM for the transdisciplinary efforts within the other grand challenges themes and toward optimal solutions where contradictions exist at their intersection. The meta-center would build upon best practices evident in UNL centers and departments currently doing important work (e.g., the Center for Science, Mathematics, and Computer Education, Nebraska Center for Child, Youth and Family Studies, Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience, and the Social and Behavioral Research Consortium). Key to such efforts would be the coordinated offering and delivery of teacher workshops and courses and communication with K-12 teachers, school districts, and Nebraska’s network of Educational Service Units, including maintaining databases of activities and people distributed across UNL colleges.
The meta-center required to advance science, engineering, and technology for society at UNL could capitalize on existing infrastructure and expertise and build upon the well -established and highly successful agricultural extension education system at the university and throughout the state. Exemplar activities proposed below exhibit complementary contributions to building scientific literacy and advancing knowledge within the other grand challenge themes and at their intersections:
- Develop resources that assist in the implementation of Nebraska’s College and Career Ready Standards for Science (NCCRS-S)
- Develop formal partnerships between faculty and staff in science literacy and faculty and staff working in science communication
- Regularly review progress and future direction of UNL work in science, engineering, and technology for society
- Establish a campus-wide network of multidisciplinary researchers who are interested in partnering with science, engineering, and technology research teams for transdisciplinary research
- Extend the proposal evaluation work of SBSRC/MERC to all proposals to assist in execution of Grand Challenge research
- Formalize a process to support, recognize, and reward faculty engagement in research, teaching, service, and outreach activities related to science, engineering, and technology for society
- Affirm and sustain a commitment to diversity and inclusion of humanist perspectives in STEM fields
- Enable the research and partnerships to ensure rural broadband connectivity
Successful implementation of research, education, and engagement solutions developed in response to the science, technology, and engineering for society grand challenge theme will result in a number of gains. Some potential examples include:
- Expansion of the Extension ethos across the entire UNL campus;
- Increased enrollment of well-educated, STEM-literate students;
- On-campus courses extending K-12 student trajectories from the Nebraska College and Career Ready Standards for Science framework and integrating experiential learning opportunities, where possible;
- Informed and engaged graduates entering the workforce;
- Enhanced community vitality among UNL faculty, staff, and students;
- More efficient and comprehensive use of institutional resources;
- Increased competitiveness for and success securing external funding;
- Recognition for excellence maximizing the societal impact of university-led work;
- An informed and connected network that mentors and supports new faculty;
- Partnerships with Nebraska Educational Telecommunications (NET), the University of Nebraska State Museum, state and county-level 4-H Programs, after school programs, Nebraska Department of Education, and the Nebraska Office of the CIO/NITC;
- Translation of campus research and activities in effective science modules developed and provided to 9-12 teachers.
The state of Nebraska is recognized as a world-leading agricultural contributor and a “living laboratory” that enables research, teaching, and engagement across a range of environmental and climatic conditions. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) is uniquely positioned to characterize and harmonize our interconnected food, energy, and water systems in ways that advance environmental health and resiliency while ensuring a safe and abundant supply of food, given the state’s abundant groundwater and surface water resources and longstanding agricultural tradition. To secure our global leadership in this space, we will support efforts to transform and optimize agricultural systems; design and deploy new methods, tools, and technologies; integrate social science; and advance policy and law to maximize water and environmental health. This will require a systems approach spanning genetics, environment, production, economics, management, data, and society. By leveraging historical strengths in the environmental and agricultural sciences, capitalizing on the engagement role of Extension, translating emerging practices and technologies, and innovating education and research training approaches to develop the next generation workforce, UNL will help strike a balance between the competing demands involved in growing more and safer food with less water while preserving economic and ecosystem resilience and societal stability.
Scope and Significance
The world is facing a growing demand for plant, animal, and freshwater resources to meet the needs of an estimated 10 billion people by 2050. Agriculture is the largest consumptive user of freshwater resources. This challenge is integral to the other grand challenge themes identified by UNL. Climate change, urbanization, and increased standard of living create a grand challenge to sustainably increase global food supplies while conserving water and soil quality and quantity. In addition to production and conservation, equitable distribution of food and water services is a longstanding challenge in urban and rural settings across developed and developing countries. Childhood nutrition, public health, and cultural traditions hang in the balance. Sustainable water and food security are a global problem that must be solved through commitment at all scales and through every part of the agricultural production chain, from production of farm inputs to food transportation and storage.
Context and Rationale
At UNL, we have the research and educational leadership necessary to respond to the challenge of sustainable food and water security. In addition, Nebraska boasts one of the most progressive agricultural industries in the world. This is supported by plentiful natural resources and the ingenuity and hard work of our agricultural producers. Nebraska’s climate and natural resources provide opportunities to serve as a model for agricultural diversity to adapt to climate change and production needs moving forward. Nebraska is a world-leading agricultural state and “living laboratory” with strong ties across public universities, industrial partners, and government agencies.
We are uniquely positioned to harmonize interconnected food, energy, and water systems while advancing environmental health and resiliency leading to a safe and abundant food supply for all. Specific challenges include the need to: 1) increase production per unit area through development of new genotypes and implementation of new digital and sensing tools, 2) improve nutritional profiles and processing methods to improve food quality, 3) increase soil health and protect soil and water resources during agricultural intensification, 4) evaluate food safety and labeling laws and regulations, 5) use in-season precision management tools for increased nutrient and water use efficiencies, 6) reduce water needs for production and processing, and 6) recycle and conserve water.
There also are opportunities to recycle agricultural waste, reduce food losses due to pests and spoilage, improve plant and animal resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses, advance weed control, develop alternative food production methods (e.g., tall greenhouses, land-based aquaculture, cloning), use data- driven tools and technologies to increase the efficiency of production and reduce environmental foot print, develop a market for carbon, educate the next generation of scientists and developers, and communicate with the public about safety and new production methods. Other diversification of food production systems can be explored: direct marketing, regenerative agriculture, circular agriculture, and others. Finally, the university is poised to work with commercial entities who develop new products that influence food safety: mycotoxins, allergens, celiac proteins, microbes for safety and for safe fermentation, genetically modified organisms and gene edited organisms, and development of non-traditional food organisms/sources.
Relevant UNL resources include educational curriculum for public schools, community colleges and other universities to develop new STEM recruits and to deliver improved extension programs and services locally and globally. This includes international and national collaborations for economic and legal resources, as well as communications and technical support for agriculture. We already have international efforts in Central and South America, Africa, and Asia, as well as international food trade agreements, programs on trade barriers and safety requirements for commodities and processed foods, federally-funded opportunities for educational exchange and capacity building, the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute, and collaborative educational and degree programs with Chinese and Rwandan institutions.
Solutions to the grand challenge of sustainable food and water security will require a data-driven systems approach spanning genetics, the environment, agricultural production and management, and society. UNL can secure a global leadership in this space by:
- supporting efforts to intensify diverse, profitable, and sustainable agronomic and animal production systems;
- designing and deploying innovative methods, tools, and technologies to increase land stewardship and prosperity;
- integrating social science into the development of solutions; and
- advancing policy and law to maximize human, water and environmental health.
Nebraska is a natural laboratory for water quality and quantity and air-groundwater-surface water interaction. It is a global magnet for researchers in basic and applied water science. Our rural-urban dynamics and unique management system – Natural Resources Districts – complement our natural resources to position us at the forefront of water research. UNL has the potential to contribute solutions to water quality threats in rural and urban communities, such as nitrate contamination. Ecosystem management includes natural processes that can be leveraged to improve agricultural soil and water resources, such as wetlands management and nutrient cycling.
We foresee increased incentives and opportunities for interdisciplinary water and food security research collaboration, increased opportunities to work with industry, nongovernment organizations, governmental agencies, and others to translate research and ideas into practical sustainable solutions and intellectual property. Additional expertise in critical disciplines will be needed, including data science, digital agriculture, sociology, entrepreneurship, environmental justice, water and waste management, complex systems, plant protection alternatives, and food supply chain analysis.
The future of food will balance current methods and foods with innovations in animal, plant, and microbial protein resources and production methods. We must strive to integrate diverse expertise across academic units and programs at UNL and develop and maintain collaborations with the private sector. Implementable solutions will promote agribusiness entrepreneurship and value-creation in agricultural and food systems to translate discoveries into innovations and business opportunities. This activity will include experiential learning programs at UNL and throughout the state to identify promising applications and ventures. It also includes social entrepreneurship to innovate for more equitable food and water access and help reduce food waste.
Activities related to advancing sustainable food and water security will leverage Nebraska’s comparative advantage in agricultural and food production and allied manufacturing industries. They also will bring to bear UNL’s leadership in research, teaching, and extension in associated fields of inquiry, leading to the development of rigorous but practical multi-disciplinary solutions to sustain and improve food security and water resources in the state and beyond. Collectively, we have the potential to help realize a paradigm shift by creating the agriculture and food system of tomorrow, integrating innovations based on soil biome, big data, biotechnology, precision agriculture, and food technology and nutrition sciences to promote sustainable food systems.
Sustainable food security is the most important building block of equitable economic development. Access to a nutritious food system is foundational. Sustaining the natural resource base of the state will benefit all current and future generations of Nebraskans. While Nebraska’s population is trending toward urbanization, they become more detached from agriculture. At the same time, their demand for sustainable and healthy food is increasing (although these increases are sometimes driven or thwarted by misinformation). Technical innovations in agriculture and food are essential to stay the course improving resource allocation in agriculture and food systems. Sustainability includes economic, social, and political dimensions such as societal acceptance of science promoting sustainability. A “science and society” dialogue and education effort promoting public education and political acceptability of sound science will be essential to help UNL appropriately infuse sustainability in cultural contexts.
Adopting a systems approach to solving this challenge will result in translation of new knowledge from the STEM fields to entrepreneurship and social justice. This will generate economically, socially, and technically feasible solutions to sustain productivity gains in agriculture, food production and distribution. It also will help make agriculture and affiliated industries resilient, adaptable, and profitable in order to improve the quality of life of all Nebraskans, as well as others across the U.S. and around the world. Indicators of success will include various benchmarks and metrics related to knowledge creation (i.e., funding, articles, and citations); economic and ecological performance in agriculture; water quality measures; total factor productivity gains to measure resource savings; food and income security indicators; and measures of value creation (i.e., number of patents, new ventures based on created knowledge, etc.).
The following university faculty, staff and students contributed to the process of identifying the Grand Challenge themes. Those with an asterisk (*) listed after their names also participated in writing the theme descriptions. We are grateful for their time and dedication to this collaborative effort.
|First name||Last name||Department|
|Tarik||Abdel-Monem *||Public Policy Center|
|Sylvana||Airan||Agriculture and Natural Resources Undergraduate Scholars Program|
|Heather||Akin *||Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication|
|Craig||Allen||School of Natural Resources|
|Ryan||Anderson||Office of Research and Economic Development|
|Jennifer||Auchtung *||Food Science and Technology|
|Tala||Awada *||Agricultural Research Division, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources|
|Carolyn||Barber||Glenn Korff School of Music|
|Shannon||Bartelt-Hunt||Civil and Environmental Engineering|
|Herman||Batelaan||Physics and Astronomy|
|John||Beghin *||Agricultural Economics and Yeutter Institute|
|Hunter||Bergman||College of Business|
|Christian||Binek *||Physics and Astronomy|
|Ken||Bloom||Physics and Astronomy|
|Matthew||Boring *||Lied Center for Performing Arts|
|Eileen||Boswell *||Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education|
|Eve||Brank *||Center on Children, Families, and the Law|
|Tami||Brown-Brandl||Biological Systems Engineering|
|Kelly||Bruns||West Central Research and Extension Center|
|Cheryl||Burkhart-Kriesel *||Agricultural Economics, Panhandle Research and Extension Center|
|Erin||Burnette||Nebraska Business Honors Academy|
|Mark||Button||Arts and Sciences|
|Edgar||Cahoon||Biochemistry, Center for Plant Science Innovation|
|Jeff||Chambers *||Center on Children, Families, and the Law|
|Sree Krishna||Chanumolu *||Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering|
|Byron||Chaves *||Food Science and Technology|
|Daniel||Claes||Physics and Astronomy|
|Grace||Danao *||Food Science and Technology|
|Kiyomi||Deards *||Research and Instructional Services|
|Melanie||Downs *||Food Science and Technology|
|Brittany||Duncan||Computer Science and Engineering|
|Dan||Duncan||Nebraska Innovation Campus|
|Bradley||Ekwerekwu *||Child, Youth, and Family Studies|
|Megan||Elliott||Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Arts|
|Ece||Erdogmus||School of Architectural Engineering and Construction|
|Kathy||Farrell||College of Business|
|Lucia||Fernandez-Ballester||College of Engineering|
|Jean Ann||Fischer *||Nutrition and Health Sciences, Nebraska Extension|
|Charles||Francis||Agronomy and Horticulture|
|Tracy||Frank *||Earth and Atmospheric Sciences|
|Nkenge||Friday||Office of Diversity and Inclusion|
|Dana||Fritz||Art, Art History & Design|
|Matthias||Fuchs *||Physics and Astronomy|
|Eliana||Gaitan-Solis||Agriculture Research Division|
|Timothy||Gay||Physics and Astronomy|
|Yufeng||Ge||Biological Systems Engineering|
|Loren||Giesler *||Plant Pathology|
|Richard||Goodman *||Food Science and Technology|
|Dave||Gosselin||School of Natural Resources and Environmental Studies|
|Patricio||Grassini||Agronomy and Horticulture|
|Emily||Gratopp *||Nebraska Extension Lancaster County|
|Erin||Haacker||Earth and Atmospheric Sciences|
|Frauke||Hachtmann *||Advertising and Public Relations|
|Leslie||Harms||Glenn Korff School of Music|
|Jerri||Harner||Office of Diversity and Inclusion|
|David||Harwood *||Earth and Atmospheric Sciences|
|Michael||Hayes *||School of Natural Resources|
|Michael||Herman||School of Biological Sciences|
|Rachael||Herpel *||Nebraska Water Center|
|Johanna||Higgins *||Special Education and Communication Disorders|
|Jack||Hilgert *||Nebraska Forest Service|
|Mark||Hoistad *||Landscape Architecture|
|Cody||Hollist||Child, Youth and Family Studies|
|Soo-Young||Hong *||Child, Youth and Family Studies|
|Adam||Houston *||Earth and Atmospheric Sciences|
|Jerry||Hudgins *||Electrical and Computer Engineering|
|Jacques||Izard *||Food Science and Technology|
|Jay||Jenkins||Engagement Zone 2|
|Andrew||Jewell||Digital Initiatives and Special Collections|
|Philip||Johnson *||Food Science and Technology|
|Libby||Jones||Civil and Environmental Engineering|
|Sherri||Jones *||College of Education and Human Sciences|
|Seunghee||Kim||Civil and Environmental Engineering|
|Surin||Kim *||Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design|
|Bryan||Kinnan||Information Technology Services|
|Lisa||Knoche *||Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools|
|Natalie||Koziol||Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools|
|Katie||Krause *||Nebraska Extension|
|Clint||Krehbiel *||Animal Science|
|Abdelghani||Laraoui *||Mechanical and Materials Engineering|
|Kejin||Lee||Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families, and Schools|
|Ben||Lennander *||Business & Finance Shared Services|
|Charlotte||Lewis *||Center on Children, Families and the Law|
|Dalhia||Lloyd *||Child, Youth, and Family Studies|
|Kathleen||Lodl||Nebraska Extension – 4-H|
|Mei||Lu *||Food Science and Technology|
|Elsbeth||Magilton *||Nebraska Governance and Technology Center|
|Rezaul||Mahmood *||High Plains Regional Climate Center, School of Natural Resources|
|Martha||Mamo||Agronomy and Horticulture|
|Christopher||Marks||Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts|
|Brent||Martin||Center for Entrepreneurship|
|Bismarck||Martinez Tellez||Food Science and Technology|
|Jacqueline||Mattingly||Glenn Korff School of Music|
|Patrice||McMahon||University Honors Program|
|Mesfin Mergia||Mekonnen||Water for Food Institute|
|Yulie||Meneses Gonzalez||Food Science and Technology, Water for Food Institute|
|Mark||Moore||Lied Center for Performing Arts|
|Amanda||Morales *||Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education|
|Daniel||Moser||Office of Research and Economic Development|
|Max||Mueller *||Classics and Religious Studies|
|Carl||Nelson *||Mechanical and Materials Engineering|
|Claire||Nicholas *||Textiles, Merchandising & Fashion Design|
|Jenny||Nixon *||Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources|
|Bradley||Nordell *||Physics and Astronomy|
|Charles||Nwaizu *||Food Science and Technology|
|Amanda||Ottersberg *||UNL Children’s Center|
|Angela||Palmer-Wackerly *||Communication Studies|
|Angie||Pannier||Biological Systems Engineering|
|DongJin||Park *||Food Science and Technology|
|Kathryn||Partlow||Office of Research and Economic Development|
|Katie||Pekarek||School of Natural Resources|
|Lisa||Pennisi||School of Natural Resources|
|Jessica||Petersen *||Animal Science|
|Santosh||Pitla||Biological Systems Engineering|
|Larkin||Powell||School of Natural Resources|
|Crystal||Powers||Nebraska Water Center|
|Lisa||Pytlik Zillig||Public Policy Center, Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Consortium|
|Byrav||Ramamurthy||Computer Science and Engineering|
|Jordan||Rasmussen||Extension-Rural Prosperity Nebraska|
|Emily||Rau||Center for Digital Research in the Humanities|
|Chittaranjan||Ray||Nebraska Water Center|
|Martha||Rhoades||School of Natural Resources|
|Deba||Ridge||Agronomy and Horticulture|
|Mark||Riley *||College of Engineering|
|Clint||Rowe *||Earth and Atmospheric Sciences|
|Babak||Safa *||Water for Food Institute|
|Cary||Savage *||Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior|
|Mario||Scalora||Public Policy Center|
|Timothy||Schaffert *||Creative Writing, English and Women’s and Gender Studies|
|Eva||Schubert||Electrical and Computer Engineering|
|David||Sellmyer *||Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience, Physics|
|Brad||Shadwick||Physics and Astronomy|
|Susan||Sheridan *||Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families, and Schools|
|Jeff||Shield *||Mechanical and Materials Engineering|
|Wendy||Smith *||Center for Science, Mathematics & Computer Education|
|Daniel||Snow *||Nebraska Water Center|
|Jordan||Soliz *||Communication Studies|
|Matthew||Spangler *||Animal Science|
|Colleen||Steele *||School of Natural Resources Conservation and Survey Division|
|Cody||Stolle||Midwest Roadside Safety Facility, Mechanical and Materials Engineering|
|Amy||Struthers||Journalism and Mass Communications|
|Gary||Sullivan *||Animal Science|
|McKinzie||Sutter||Agronomy and Horticulture|
|Eric||Thompson *||Economics, Bureau of Business Research|
|Julie||Tippens *||Child, Youth and Family Studies|
|Julia||Torquati *||Child, Youth and Family Studies|
|Heidi||Uhing||Office of Research and Economic Development|
|Donald||Umstadter||Physics and Astronomy|
|James||Van Etten||Plant Pathology, Nebraska Center for Virology|
|Rossana||Villa Rojas *||Food Science and Technology|
|Lisa||Vonfeldt||Center for Plant Science Innovation|
|Mehmet Can||Vuran *||Computer Science and Engineering|
|Matthew||Waite||Journalism and Mass Communications|
|Harkamal||Walia||Agronomy and Horticulture|
|Kaitlyn||Waller||Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources|
|Sergio||Wals||Political Science and Ethnic Studies|
|Bing||Wang *||Food Science and Technology|
|Bryan||Wang||Journalism and Mass Communications|
|Madoka||Wayoro||Modern Languages and Literatures|
|Karrie||Weber *||School of Biological Sciences|
|John||Westra||Eastern Nebraska Research and Extension Center|
|Kirstin||Wilder||Nebraska Alumni Association|
|Callie||Wilhite *||UNL Children’s Center|
|Mark||Wilkins||Biological Systems Engineering|
|Lindsey||Witt-Swanson||Bureau of Sociological Research|
|Marilyn||Wolf||Computer Science and Engineering|
|Xiaoshan||Xu||Physics and Astronomy|
|Colette||Yellow Robe *||TRIO Programs and Anti-Racism Co-Leaders|
|Joe||Zhou||Nebraska Center for Virology|