DU, Community Partner to Tackle Grand Challenges
Researchers and scholars unite with the community to solve global problems
Preventing and treating global health problems. Addressing social issues to improve people’s lives. Advancing efforts around creating environmentally sustainable cities. These are all challenges facing our local and global communities.
Kicking off this week is the University of Denver’s Grand Challenges initiative, an effort to make measurable progress toward addressing significant issues facing our community. This idea originated during the exploratory work the University conducted as it developed DU IMPACT 2025, the University’s strategic plan.
“This notion that we could do something really big together kept coming through,” says Anne DePrince, a professor and director of DU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL). “This is really about trying to find some big public issues that we can unite around by working together with our community.”
Implementation of the Grand Challenges initiative is being led by the Collaboration for the Public Good working group. With help from CCESL, a new website has launched calling on DU students, faculty, staff and the Denver community to share their aspirations for making a difference in our world. The idea is to be bold and courageous in identifying challenges that no one person or discipline can solve by itself.
“This idea of problem-based learning is a good way for students to learn and do work,” DePrince says. “By focusing on grand challenges as a university, we have a chance to involve students, staff and faculty across disciplines as well as the community in projects that try to address that complex issue.”
Crucial to the success of the Grand Challenges initiative is having that community involvement. DePrince says the solutions generated by experts on the DU campus provide only one perspective. She believes only by collaborating with the community will all the necessary problem-solvers be around the table to solve the biggest of issues.
This marks the beginning of what will be a much larger undertaking by the University of Denver. Challenges will roll out in three-year cycles. In the first year, a challenge will be selected and aspirations will be identified. In year two, collaborative actions will be taken to address the challenge. For example, faculty and students might work with communities on research projects or creative work that addresses the challenge. The final year will be spent demonstrating achievements toward the public good goals.
“We want messy problems,” DePrince says. “We want big problems that the community cares about, that our campus cares about and that we have expertise on campus to add to the problem-solving process.”