Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a list of frequently asked questions regarding UNL’s Grand Challenges Initiative and the associated request for proposals (RFP). This information is supplementary to that contained in the Grand Challenges Catalyst Competition RFP. If you have questions after reviewing the RFP and FAQs, please send an email message to

About Grand Challenges

What is the expected start date for Grand Challenges projects? 

A Sept. 1, 2024, start date is expected for Cycle 3 projects funded through the Grand Challenges Catalyst Competition. 

What are Grand Challenges?  

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 oftransformative, interdisciplinary approaches to solve. Descriptions of UNL’s seven grand challenge thematic areas are available here.

Who is involved in this process?  

The Grand Challenge themes were identified through a collaborative process involving over 500 UNL faculty, students, staff, and emeriti in 2020. After the challenges were identified, more than 100 volunteer faculty, staff, and students formed writing teams to prepare theme descriptions. 

A 21-member steering committee was formed in summer 2021 to guide the design of the Grand Challenges Catalyst Competition and to advise on its implementation through 2025. 

Why is the university engaged in this effort?  

Universities have historically been organized by departments. Today’s problems are complicated, requiring an interdisciplinary approach to solve. Leveraging our community’s talents across departments and other units will provide new opportunities for UNL to help solve some of the biggest challenges facing Nebraska, our country, and our world. 


How can individuals get connected to teams that might be forming?  

Is participation in Grand Challenges community-building and ideation events required to submit a proposal?  


For UNL’s Grand Challenges, which fields/disciplines represent the arts and humanities? 

In their proposals, teams should define how they are operationalizing a definition of arts and humanities and demonstrate substantive integration of the personnel and expertise being brought to bear. At UNL, relevant arts and humanities expertise may be found beyond engineering, mathematics, and the behavioral, educational, life, physical, and social sciences (e.g., within architecture, fine and performing arts, law, policy, etc.). 

How do we integrate arts and humanities colleagues? 

Start early. Make meaningful connections and involve artists and humanists in the co-creation of project plans from the outset. This integration will provide opportunities to think about Grand Challenges in new and impactful ways. 

Can arts and humanities faculty lead a planning grant or catalyst award? Are proposals led by arts and humanities faculty required to involve other disciplines?

Yes. All proposals are required to reflect substantive interdisciplinary engagement and collaboration.

May we name multiple principal investigators in our proposal? 

The RFP does not restrict multiple principal investigator (MPI) plans. Such plans may be described within the page limit allowed for full proposals. Teams will need to identify one individual to serve as the PI of record (or contact PI), because only one PI is identifiable in NuRamp. Proposers may wish to refer to National Institutes of Health guidance on MPI plans, including example plans, available at

Can partnerships be international? 

Yes — teams may involve international partners in their projects. Be mindful that all partners may invoice UNL for project-related costs; however, sub-awards will not be issued. 

Can ORED staff participate in Grand Challenges proposals? 

ORED staff can participate in proposals submitted to the Grand Challenges Catalyst Competition. However, they may not be designated as essential personnel (e.g., principal investigator, co-investigator, etc.), and they may not draw salary support from Grand Challenges funding. The level of effort of ORED staff participating in Grand Challenges projects must be reasonably scoped and will be contributed as in-kind support. ORED staff wishing to participate in a Grand Challenges effort should secure the permission of their supervisor to do so. Affiliates of university-wide research centers and auxiliary units reporting to ORED are exempt from this policy. 


How do we know if our proposal should be for a planning grant or for a catalyst award? 

Review the award category descriptions and closely consider the expected outcomes associated with each. These are summarized here. Planning grant proposals are likely to be most appropriate for project teams or plans that are nascent in their formation. Teams that can provide a substantive response to the majority of questions comprising the “Heilmeier Catechism” are likely best positioned to submit a catalyst award proposal. 

If the planned project will require compliance approvals (e.g., by IACUC, IBC, IRB, etc.), do these need to be in place prior to proposal submission? 

Compliance approvals are not required at the time of proposal submission, but they must be in place prior to award. 

Is there a format required for proposal budgets and budget justifications? 

There is no format required beyond the page limits described in the RFP. However, proposers may wish to consider and make use of the budget template and budget justification samples curated by the Office of Sponsored Programs on its forms and template webpage.  

What costs are allowable in Grand Challenges proposal budgets? 

All requested direct costs will be permitted provided they are well justified. This includes, but is not limited to, support for partnership development, course buyout(s), costs for faculty hiring (e.g., cluster hiring or recruiting research track faculty), instrument acquisition or development, project management, and laboratory renovation or construction. Projects that include faculty hiring plans may request salary support for up to five years to cover the costs associated with the research apportionment of any proposed hire(s). Facilities and administrative (F&A) costs, also known as indirect costs, are not allowed. 

Are sub-awards allowed?

No. However, external partners on any project may invoice the university for project-related costs. 

How will University of Nebraska partners be supported? 

Project-related expenses incurred by collaborators at another University of Nebraska campus (i.e., University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska Medical Center or University of Nebraska Omaha), should be invoiced and will be reimbursed through budget (cost object) transfer. 

Do I need to route my Grand Challenges Catalyst Competition proposal? 

Proposals should be submitted through the Internal Competitions module in NuRamp. They do not need to be routed through the Office of Sponsored Programs module in NuGrant. 

Who should author letters of commitment?  

Letters of commitment should be provided by individuals or organizations making substantive contributions essential to project success that are not included as direct costs in the proposal budget (e.g., additional personnel or equipment, facilities, cost-share, services, etc.). 

May I request a deadline extension or permission to deviate from the proposal preparation guidelines? 

No. Requests for deadline extensions or permission to deviate from published proposal preparation guidelines will not be granted. 

How will Grand Challenges Catalyst Competition proposals be reviewed? 

Planning grant proposals will be reviewed by members of the university community. Catalyst award proposals will be reviewed by external experts.  

If proposals are submitted that are very similar, will there be an attempt to merge teams?  

No—a top-down strategy for merging teams is not an effective approach for advancing meaningful interdisciplinary work. We encourage individuals and teams to take advantage of the events and resources designed to support connectivity around UNL’s Grand Challenges so they may discover others interested in complementary efforts. 


If my catalyst award proposal is not funded, will I be offered a planning grant? 

Proposals will be considered only for the type of support for which they were submitted and will not be shifted across support categories following review.  

How will funding be distributed across themes and across award types? 

Nothing is presupposed. The number of awards will be determined by the quality of proposals received and available funding. 

Will Grand Challenges Catalyst Competition funds that remain unallocated carry over? 


Can I resubmit an unfunded proposal in a future submission cycle? 

Yes. More details are available in the 2024 request for proposals

Will there still be funding mechanisms in ORED to seed efforts that are not related to UNL’s Grand Challenges? 

Yes. Click here to explore the current internal funding opportunities administered by ORED.