Provost Karen Hanson in fall 2016 announced the first round of grants totaling $3.6 million to seed and foster Driving Tomorrow research initiatives addressing critical challenges of Minnesota and the world. The awards will fund collaborations by 29 interdisciplinary teams--involving nearly 200 faculty from across the University and 30 external partners--to strengthen food sustainability, close health disparities, mitigate water pollution, promote healthy child development, and address other complex challenges.
Selected through a multi-tiered faculty-based review process, the investments include $1.48 million for 21 Grand Challenges exploratory research grants and $2.15 million for 8 collaborations by interdisciplinary work groups launched to build on a campuswide "Call for Ideas" process last year. Provost Hanson announced the awards in September 2016 as one milestone in the ongoing implementation of the campus strategic plan to accelerate excellence and impact in research, teaching, and outreach. The work will bring together experts from diverse fields to find innovative solutions to society's most complex and vexing challenges, complementing work already under way through MnDRIVE and other efforts.
The grants are intended to jumpstart new research collaborations, enabling faculty to take their work to the next level and successfully compete for resources to sustain larger efforts of high potential. The investment by the University reflects reallocation of existing University resources through annual academic planning with college and school deans, augmented by funding from the Global Programs and Strategy Alliance to support projects joining global relevance to local impact.
The slate of funded projects draws on the expertise of faculty from every college and school as well as Extension, the Institute on the Environment, the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute, and Athletics. The funded collaborations were selected by the provost from nearly 100 proposals submitted by faculty from all corners of the campus. Evaluation of proposals was guided by eight criteria detailed in the strategic plan, including local relevance and global impact, disciplinary diversity, interconnection with education, and sustainability over time.
Building on UMN Strengths
The 29 collaborations are intended to build current University research strengths while also breaking new ground in addressing the University's five interrelated Grand Challenges of special focus:
•Assuring clean water and sustainable ecosystems
•Fostering just and equitable communities
•Enhancing individual and community capacity for a changing world
•Feeding the world sustainably
•Advancing health through tailored solutions
The Grand Challenges were identified through a campus-wide process to identify areas where the University is positioned to have major impact, building on recommendations contained in the report of the GC Research Strategies Team. This advances recommendations in the Strategic Plan to seed and support Grand Challenges research collaborations through a bottom-up, inclusive process that builds on existing faculty strengths and leadership.
Note: Phase 2 of the Driving Tomorrow research initiative was announced in early 2017; a second round of GC Research grants was awarded in fall 2017.