Driving Tomorrow Initiatives--Grand Challenges Research

The Provost's Grand Challenges Research Initiative is a campuswide effort to advance the research goals of the Twin Cities campus Strategic Plan. It builds on the recommendations of the Provost's Grand Challenges Research Strategies Team, which engaged the campus community in identifying five Grand Challenges research areas where the University is especially positioned for great impact.

To date, the GC Research Initiative has made research investments totaling $8.5 million to 41 interdisciplinary teams, spanning faculty and students from all colleges and schools. About $800,000 has been additionally invested in the GC Research Scholar Collaborative, supporting interdisciplinary work by 11 faculty.

Phase 1 of the GC Research Initiative was launched in 2016 to begin to seed and develop faculty collaborations consistent with the strategic research goals. Phase 1 included multi-tiered grants initiative that culminated in University research investments totaling $3.6 million. Grants were awarded in September 2016 to 29 faculty research teams addressing multifaceted issues.

Phase 2 of the GC Research Initiative was announced in January 2017. It included two new opportunities for faculty to collaborate across disciplines to address critical challenges of Minnesota and the world. Awards were announced in October 2017 to six interdisciplinary research teams and two five- or six-member GC Research Scholar Collaboratives.

Phase 3 of the GC Research Initiative was announced in March 2018. Awards were announced in December 2018 to six interdisciplinary research teams


Following is a summary of the Grand Challenges research process.

Campuswide process and forums

UMN Grand Challenges Research Forums participants, Oct. 2015

UMN Grand Challenges Research Forums participants, Oct. 2015

In fall 2015, five campus forums brought together faculty, staff, and students to discuss potential Grand Challenges ideas as well as ongoing strategies to deepen integrative research across the University. Organized by the Provost's Grand Challenges Research Strategies Team, the forums built upon a Call for Ideas that broadly engaged faculty in identifying areas in which the University could marshal many research strengths for great impact in addressing critical societal challenges. GC research forums were organized around themes overarching clusters of broadly related ideas from faculty.

The purpose of the forums was to cast prospective Grand Challenges in a clearer light and foster connections among distinct but potentially related disciplinary perspectives. Each forum included a short presentation by a team of faculty, followed by table discussions of about 40 minutes and a concluding comment period. Overall, the five forums drew nearly 600 participants, nearly three-fourths of whom were members of the faculty.

Click theme titles to see notes from each forum (along with agendas, overviews, and discussion questions that were posted in advance).

How will we ensure just and equitable societies? (10/12/2015)

How will we foster human potential and well-being across the life course in a diverse and changing world? (10/13/2015)

How will we advance human health? (10/14/2015)

How will we develop sustainable cities and resilient communities in a world of climate change? (10/16/2015)

How will we provide secure food, water, and energy today and for the future? (10/22/2015)

More on the forums

UMN Grand Challenges Research Forums participants, Oct. 2015Provost Hanson briefly introduced each forum. She emphasized that discussions would not only help to bring GC Research areas into sharper focus but also help to connect and strengthen integrative research more broadly across the campus. She noted that the University is committed to making investments in priority Grand Challenges areas embraced by the campus in ways that will leverage opportunities specific to those areas. She also underscored that integrative research goals would also be advanced through the normal budget processes “that will, for the forseeable future, be guided by the various elements of the campus strategic plan,” and through collaborations with deans, the OVPR, and the UMF “to expand the resources to realize our full potential.”

GC Research Team chair Raymond Duvall reviewed the agenda and structure for the forum and outlined three goals: 

  • To help the GC Research team identify potential GCs that take in a breadth of University strengths while being more sharply defined and focused than the broad forum themes;
  • To deepen awareness of existing research strengths—disciplinary or interdisciplinary—that could be more effectively mobilized toward solutions to complex societal problems; and
  • To foster connections among researchers and steps that could be taken to bring researchers together in new and productive ways. 

Call for Ideas process

The GC Research Team developed the Call for Ideas as part of a broader, faculty-driven process of consultation and deliberation with the campus community--in fulfillment of the charge given to the team by Provost Hanson. The Call sought faculty suggestions for complex, multifaceted Grand Challenges that capture areas of scholarship in which the University already has exceptional strength, in which it has the potential to have global impact and enhanced local relevance, and in which it also has potential to make a deeper connection with students and reciprocal partnerships with communities (among eight criteria in the TC Campus Strategic Plan). The Grand Challenge priorities will be in addition to robust work already under way across the University (including three prominent areas mentioned as examples in the Strategic Plan—related to food, industry/environment/climate change, and vibrant communities). (More about the GC Research process).

The 130 ideas submitted spanned a wide range of topics and disciplines, with 350+ faculty identified as leads or co-leads. Chair Duvall noted that the strong faculty response reflects both the great breadth and depth of expertise across the University and the commitment of faculty to further advance the excellence and impact of University scholarship benefiting the public. 

View or download short summaries of ideas submitted by faculty

Identification of Grand Challenges and initial investments

The Call for Ideas and campus forums shaped recommendations of five intereleated research areas in which the University was positioned to have major impact on critical societal challenges, as well as strategies to realize the broader vision of a more integrative and engaged research campus. These recommendations were contained in the GC Research Report released in January 2016.

Provost Hanson subsequently announced faculty opportunities and next steps to build on the recommendations. Phase 1 of the Provost's Grand Challenges Research Initiative culminated in a slate of Driving Tomorrow research investments announced in fall 2016. Grand Challenges Research—Phase 2 was announced in January 2017, with awards made in fall 2017. Phase 3 opportunities for faculty were announced in March 2018.

Driving Tomorrow Research Awards

GC Research Phase 1 awards (fall 2016)

GC Research Phase 2 awards (fall 2017)

GC Research Phase 3 awards (fall 2018)

GC Research Initiative: Feature Story

Finding New Ways to Collaborate Across Disciplines (INQUIRY, OVPR 1/18/2018)

GC Research Links

View the UMN's 5 Grand Challenge areas

View GC Research Report (Jan. 2016)

View broad GC Research Ideas submitted by faculty (summer 2015)

View notes from campus forums (fall 2015) (click main forum titles on this page).

Submit a question or comment.