Addressing Grand Challenges

In an effort to bring together faculty, staff, and community members to address critical problems that span education, health, and the arts, the School of Education launched the Grand Challenges initiative in 2017.

The Grand Challenges team initially held a series of informal meet-ups, at which faculty, staff, and community members with similar interests could come together to make new connections. The team then organized more than 20 small-group breakfasts and lunches, as well as several “spark dinners” that brought together teams with varied sets of expertise to pitch ideas and develop proposals.

In September 2017, the inaugural Grand Challenges Engage initiative selected eight teams to receive a combined $200,000 in grants to carry out the Wisconsin Idea on behalf of the School of Education over the next two years. These award winners were selected from 14 proposal teams representing 55 faculty, staff, and community members.

Projects receiving funding include efforts to:

  • create a digital children’s library to enhance diversity-related scholarship
  • develop an interactive theatre performance for students through the use of video gaming technology
  • support rural special education teachers
  • explore the efficacy of glassblowing as a therapeutic intervention for individuals with Parkinson’s disease

In May 2018, Grand Challenges awarded four aptly named Transform grants — worth up to $250,000 each — to back an impressive set of proposals, including one that’s designed to advance mental health for children in rural Wisconsin and another to mobilize and amplify youth voices for racial justice in Dane County.

“I am so excited about how the Grand Challenges initiative has provided support for our faculty and staff to work in collaboration with community organizations and others from across UW–Madison to develop new interdisciplinary teams,” says Dean Diana Hess. “These teams have created exciting programs that will have real impact on the lives of people across Wisconsin.”

“Grand Challenges is helping the School of Education unleash the power of its most promising research and programs to transform lives,” says Richard Halverson, the associate dean for innovation, outreach, and partnerships who helps direct the Grand Challenges efforts.

Supporting the new Grand Challenges Fund is vital to the school’s efforts to bolster support for these innovative and interdisciplinary projects.

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