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Grand Challenges

Grand Challenges logo

Our local and global communities face complex, urgent, and persistent challenges.

The DU Grand Challenges initiative is a family of programs that will bring together university and community change-makers to address the most difficult and far-reaching issues facing our society today.

The theme for DU Grand Challenges is Thriving Communities. This theme presents a variety of opportunities to partner with communities to accomplish interdisciplinary, collaborative projects together.

Thriving Communities will address three issues: Living, Working, and Participating. Each issue area will be addressed in a 3-year cycle, allowing us to co-create Aspirations, Actions, and Achievement with community partners.

Thriving Communities

Our potential to thrive together is tied up in our ability to address interconnected issues
that affect living, working, and participating in our communities.


Meeting basic needs and ensuring safety. Advancing environmental sustainability and supporting healthy development.

Interconnected challenges affect daily living in our communities.

Together, we will improve daily living in our communities.


Expanding education access and improving infrastructure. Fulfilling employment rights and decreasing poverty.

Interconnected challenges affect working in our communities.

Together, we will increase economic opportunity in our communities.


Amplifying youth voice and deepening civic engagement. Preparing new leaders and strengthening our connections to each other.

Interconnected challenges affect participating in our communities

Together, we will advance deliberation and action for the public good in our communities.

the foundation for du grand challenges

The DU Grand Challenges initiative builds on DU's public good vision and long-standing commitment to community-university collaborations. DU faculty, staff, and students from across campus pursue research, creative work, teaching, and service with communities. These communities are diverse – involving individuals, groups, and/or organizations that are located regionally, nationally, and globally. Organizations include non-profits, schools, government agencies, and businesses.

Led by the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL), DU's community-engaged approach to building mutually beneficial and reciprocal partnerships with communities has been nationally recognized. For example, DU received the prestigious 2015 Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation.

Through community-university partnerships, DU scholars bring learning, research, and creative work to life, while also having an impact on all involved. DU's community-engaged work addresses important public issues, often with under-served communities. For example:

  • Professor Lynn Schofield Clark (Media, Film and Journalism Studies; Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences) has a long-standing collaboration with South High School. Together they have developed the Digital Media Club, which empowers South students to utilize digital media to bring about positive changes that are important to them and their communities. 
  • Since 2012, faculty and students from the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management (Daniels College of Business) have partnered with the Ethiopian Community Development Council/African Community Center (ACC) in Denver. Through this award-winning collaboration, DU students deepen the learning in their major. At the same time, ACC clients resettling in the Denver area acquire the skills and knowledge needed to obtain jobs in the food service industry.
  • For more than 25 years, Professor Matthew Taylor (Geography; Natural Sciences & Mathematics) has been working with communities in Latin America where he focuses on human-environment relationships. He works with undergraduate and graduate students on a variety of public good projects, such as teaching rural communities in Nicaragua how to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and addressing the impacts of climate change and water scarcity in Guatemala. 

These are only a few examples of DU's long tradition of collaboration with communities to develop shared aspirations and take bold action to achieve change. To read more about the history of community-engaged work at DU, as well as examples of programs and projects, check out CCESL's annual reports and newsletter archive

du impact 2025 and du grand challenges

In January 2016, the University of Denver approved its strategic plan, DU IMPACT 2025. From this plan, the Collaboration for the Public Good working group was established to lead the development and implementation of the DU Grand Challenges initiative. The working group is comprised of eight DU faculty and staff representing distinct disciplines and departments across campus. Updates on the working group's progress can be found here.

Ahead of the summer 2017 launch of the DU Grand Challenges initiative, the working group integrated information and stakeholder input to inform the design of the initiative. For example:

  • Drawing on the DU IMPACT 2025 planning process, the working group listened to input gathered from community leaders and change makers, as well as higher education leaders nationally.
  • During Academic Year 2016-2017, the working group hosted Public Good Forums organized around diverse topics - democracy, sustainability, and equity - to foster conversation about opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaboration. To promote broad engagement, Public Good Forums were live-streamed (as an example, check out the Scholarship for Equity forum stream here).
  • In Winter 2017, the working group surveyed faculty from across campus about their work with communities in research, creative work, teaching, and service. From this survey, we documented more than 700 community partners with whom DU faculty are working on a broad range of public issues.

Based on the kinds of efforts described above, the working group developed a plan for the DU Grand Challenges initiative that will harness the multidisciplinary expertise and interests of students, staff, faculty, and community members to pursue ambitious and achievable public good goals.

In July 2017, a call for input on grand challenge issues was launched. From that call, the Collaboration for the Public Good working group integrated more than 150 responses received in Summer 2017 with the background work done over the previous year. The working group identified synergies, overlap, and connections across ideas to identify the DU Grand Challenges theme and issues. The working group will prioritize issues that have interconnections across multiple years. This will ensure that the DU Grand Challenge initiative maximizes community-university partnerships over time and results in collaborative achievements for our communities.

Grand Challenge Scholars Grants

The 2017-2018 DU Grand Challenges Scholars Grant RFP is available here.

The 2017-2018 Grand Challenges Classes RFP is available here

DU Grand challenges

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