U of M invests $3.6 million in research addressing Grand Challenges

September 29, 2016
U of M sign outside Northrop

The University of Minnesota will invest $3.6 million to fund a slate of research collaborations addressing critical challenges of Minnesota and the world—a key component of the Twin Cities campus strategic plan, Driving Tomorrow.

The collaborations, announced today by Executive Vice President and Provost Karen Hanson, will bring together nearly 200 researchers and scholars across 17 U of M colleges and schools for expanded collaborations to strengthen food sustainability, close health disparities, mitigate water pollution, promote healthy child development and address other complex challenges.

The investment includes $1.48 million for 21 exploratory research grants as well as $2.15 million for eight collaborations developed by interdisciplinary work groups that built on an earlier campus-wide process. Nearly 100 project proposals were submitted by faculty, with funding determined through a multi-tiered faculty-based review. This investment 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 Grand Challenges research grants are one milestone in the implementation of the campus strategic plan to accelerate excellence and impact in U of M research, teaching and outreach. This advances recommendations in the plan, developed by campus-wide teams in 2014, to seed and support such collaborations through a bottom-up, faculty driven process. With a theme of “Driving Tomorrow,” the plan builds on the exceptional breadth and depth of the campus as a globally engaged research university and recognizes the special opportunities and responsibilities the campus has to bring its resources to bear on the most pressing and complex challenges facing Minnesota and the world.

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 collaborations, which will provide student learning opportunities and involve external partners, will complement publicly engaged work already under way at the University, such as MnDRIVE initiatives on food and the environment, Academic Health Center initiatives and interdisciplinary collaborations to foster vibrant communities.

The slate of funded Driving Tomorrow research projects draws on the expertise of faculty from every Twin Cities college and school as well as Extension, the Institute on the Environment, the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute and Athletics. The projects are clustered under 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

More information about the Driving Tomorrow research collaborations is posted online.

The Grand Challenges research grants are one of many actions the campus will take over the next decade as it implements Driving Tomorrow. The plan’s four key goals are to leverage exceptional research and curricular strengths to address society’s Grand Challenges, to foster an invigorated campus culture of ambition and innovation, to make Minnesota a magnet for diverse high achievers and innovators and to build strong reciprocal partnerships that capitalize on the campus’s dynamic location and global reach.

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