3-Level Program Structure

President Garnett S. Stokes launched The University of New Mexico Grand Challenges initiative on Nov. 14, 2018. This initiative was strategically designed to be interdisciplinary, inclusive and transparent, and to tackle the most important challenges faced by New Mexico.

At the inaugural launch event, UNM President Stokes outlined her vision for the program and invited UNM researchers to submit proposals for UNM’s three challenges. This event attracted more than 180 participants from across UNM and from our many community partners. On January 17, 2019, fourteen Grand Challenges proposals were received, representing the creativity, dedication and collaboration of more than 160 faculty and staff members from 60 distinct UNM departments, schools and colleges. From these 14 outstanding proposals, President Stokes utilized reviews and the recommendations of the Grand Challenges Steering Committee to select three teams: Sustainable Water Resources, Substance Use Disorders, and Successful Aging.

An initial investment of $2.1 million into these three teams, has returned over $50 million in external research funding, led to research faculty hires for each team, and engaged researchers, students, and the community in outreach, communications programs, scholarships, and undergraduate research programs.


graphic depicting the different concept teams

Level One: Concept Teams

In 2021,UNM wanted to re-envision the Grand Challenges program to have even broader representation across the University and to increase our focus on using Team Science fundamentals to assist in launching additional interdisciplinary research teams that have the potential to become Grand Challenges Teams.

From a pool of 13 proposals, an internal review committee recommended 10 teams to enter the Level 1 phase. Over the 2022-2023 academic year, these 10 teams will receive training, mentoring, and other support to develop their teams, build strategic plans for reaching their chosen Grand Challenge goals, and to develop an implementation plan that includes funding goals. This ‘ground up’ approach supports researchers as they work to define the challenges and the solutions that are most impactful to them and to the state.

The 10 selected teams include faculty and staff from all UNM’s campuses, with Health Sciences and branch campus representatives serving in multiple leadership positions. The teams include STEM Education, Data Science Education, Child Health and Maltreatment, Just Transitions (to Green Energy), Housing Justice, Basic Needs in Higher Education, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Culturally Responsive Literacy, Sustainable Space Science, and Indigenous Child Development. Topics were brought forward by researchers who share a desire to solve some of the large societal challenges that most impact New Mexico and New Mexicans.

Level Two: Grand Challenges Teams

In Spring 2023, the Level 1 teams and any additional interdisciplinary research teams will compete for Level 2 status. In this level, teams will be provided with significant funding to jumpstart their implementation plans. The type of support provided will depend on the needs of the selected teams, but may include faculty hires, program management, research development, equipment, or other resources internal or external to the University. Teams will be encouraged to engage their community stakeholders and to broaden the impact of their research through dissemination of their research, engagement of students and community members directly into their research, and other methods that are suitable to their team and topic. Level 2 will last approximately 3 years.

Level Three: Leveling Up

The initial UNM Grand Challenges teams are either moving toward Level 3 or are holding steady in their implementation. In Level 3, teams are supported in an additional year of planning towards larger alliance, institute, or large center structures. These larger structures might be UNM-based or might have significant interactions with other state, regional, or national entities. At the conclusion of Level 3, the team is expected to be at the implementation stage for large-scale research teams.

Graceful Transitions: On and Off Ramps

The 3-level structure is meant to support those teams that are on track to build capacity and grow interdisciplinary research in their chosen area. However, the Grand Challenges program is not the only mechanism to support interdisciplinary research at UNM, nor is every team in need of fast-paced growth. Throughout the program there are intentionally designed on-and-off ramps that allow teams to exit the program when it no longer suits their needs or loop back around for additional team building when a team fundamentally changes membership or focus. Teams will be supported during these transitions, with assistance provided to identify mechanisms of support that match their unique needs.

When teams have progressed as far as desired through the structures of the Grand Challenges program, they have the option to move to Emeritus Status. Emeritus teams will continue to connect to the resources and reporting structures of the Grand Challenges program.

Email us today and ask how we are making progress on any element(s) of this plan at: grandchallenges@unm.edu