UNM's Grand Challenges

Original Three Grand Challenges

The University of New Mexico is committed to improving lives in New Mexico. UNM has identified three Grand Challenges that will require high levels of interdisciplinary research, community connection and scholarly innovation. Our collaborative response to these Challenges will help shape New Mexico’s future for decades to come. During the spring semester, research teams for each of these challenges will refine their plans & goals, and further clarify their message. Check back here regularly to see this ongoing research process unfold.

Sustainable Water Resources

By 2030, the Rio Grande Watershed will serve as an international example of a vibrant and resilient trans-boundary watershed that supports a thriving economy, healthy landscapes and aquatic ecosystems, and vibrant communities that celebrate the region’s unique culture and heritage.

Water management in New Mexico has always been a grand challenge. We have the fifth largest landmass of all the states but the least amount of available surface water. Our surface water supplies are fully allocated and we mine groundwater across the State. Water supplies vary tremendously from year to year. Furthermore, climate change, wildfires, forest dieback, aquifer decline, and other stresses are degrading ecosystem services and hence the sustainability of our water supply. Despite these challenges, New Mexicans are resilient and innovative people and UNM is poised to catalyze an alternative path towards a sustainable water resources future. UNM faculty, including dozens of faculty distributed across campus, possess the talent and experience necessary to secure New Mexico’s water future.

Lead Convener: Kerry Howe, PhD. Director, Center for Water and the Environment; Professor, Civil, Construction & Environmental Engineering

Successful Aging

By 2030, New Mexico is projected to have 26.5% of its population age 65 years and over, ranking 4th among all states, doubling the demand on our communities and healthcare systems. Through this Grand Challenge, UNM will leverage research and resources to shift the threshold of functional status at which a person can remain independent, allowing individuals to have the resources to age in place. To reach this goal, UNM will: engage senior residents in community activities to expand programs & services for vulnerable populations; support independent living (age in place); create lifelong education opportunities; address quality of life disparities; innovate in basic science and technology to support senior safety and autonomy; and improve effectiveness to promote healthy aging in our state. Four multi-disciplinary research thrusts will be pursued to achieve this goal: science & technology; organizational innovation & effectiveness; engaging multigenerational & diverse communities; and economic development.

Lead Convener: Janice Knoefel, MD. Professor, Internal Medicine, Neurology, School of Medicine.

Co-Convener: Barbara Rodriguez, PhD. Professor, Speech and Hearing Sciences; Interim Senior Vice Provost

Substance Use Disorders

By 2030, our goal is to reduce alcohol, opioid, and other substance mortality by 45%, substance-related consequences (including overdose, injury, and accidents) by 40%, crime, incarceration, and recidivism by 20%, adverse childhood experiences by 20%, and overall economic costs of substance related morbidity and mortality by 20%.

Substance use and substance use disorder (SUD) are leading causes of morbidity and mortality, and are associated with excessive social costs and human suffering. Many challenges facing New Mexico are associated with SUD. New Mexico leads the nation in alcohol-related mortality, has the lowest high school graduation rates, and ranks among the top five of US states for accidental death, suicide, underemployment, child poverty, and crime. The SUD GC is a coordinated, multi-systems approach to address substance use and SUD in New Mexico. Our conceptual goal will be achieved through evidence-based implementation projects and by systematic research that addresses the continuum of substance use to SUD, including:

  1. basic science research elucidating processes of substance use and SUD,
  2. primary prevention of substance use and SUD,
  3. secondary prevention of the progression of substance use to SUD, and substance-related harms, through early identification and intervention,
  4. improving treatment outcomes for individuals with SUD, and
  5. policy evaluation and implementation to address the continuum of substance use, SUD, and substance-related harms.