After a highly competitive process, University of New Mexico President Garnett S. Stokes has announced the three newest multi-disciplinary teams to join the Grand Challenges program as Level 2 teams, Child Health, Just Transition to Green Energy, and Sustainable Space Research.

“The launch of our Grand Challenges initiative was a transformative moment for The University of New Mexico—and for our state,” Stokes said. “Addressing these big issues requires us to work together as one university, reaching across campuses and across disciplines to ask tough questions and develop and implement creative answers. Grand Challenges take on big problems that, once solved, have a significant positive impact on our citizens, our state, and our society.

“And now,” added Stokes, “new Challenges await.”

The challenges are large in scale, ambitious in scope and multi-disciplinary. Each has carefully developed goals that enable multiple paths toward solutions that are relevant across varied disciplines and communities.

UNM’s Grand Challenges program is a presidential initiative that was launched in 2019 with three original Level 2 teams: Substance Use Disorders, Successful Aging, and Sustainable Water Resources. Since its launch and $2.1 million initial investment, the program has generated more than $54 million in new funds, engaged more than 1,500 students, and included more than 350 faculty and staff researchers from across campuses.

Last year, the UNM Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) reimagined the program launching 10 Level 1 concept teams that received funds for team development, community engagement, and the solidification of their ideas. The teams spent the last year working with members of the OVPR, Health Sciences Center (HSC) Office of Research, and other university offices to further develop their research plans. All Level 1 teams were eligible to compete for Level 2 status which will provide additional funds to seed their projects and build capacity for larger, team-based activities.

“Teamwork and collaboration are powerful tools for innovation; the merge of expertise and knowledge guarantee the best outcomes for the well-being of all New Mexicans. We work together to advance science,” said Hengameh Raissy, HSC interim vice president of research.

A request for proposals (RFP) for the Level 2 competition opened last winter to all main campus, branch campus, and health sciences research teams interested in working collaboratively with researchers in different disciplines to address some of New Mexico’s most pressing challenges. The steering committee received 12 competitive proposals from research areas that spanned across all UNM campuses.

“In reviewing the 12 Level 2 proposals, we were incredibly delighted to see what the reimagined Grand Challenges program produced,” UNM Vice President for Research Ellen Fisher said. “UNM researchers are exceptionally innovative and creative; all the proposals spoke to the needs of New Mexicans and had a deep-rooted sense of place. Our Grand Challenges program truly embodies our institutional values, and I am very proud of everyone who participated in the process.”

The University community will have the opportunity to meet all Level 1 and Level 2 teams during Grand Challenges Day on Thursday, Sept. 14. Teams selected for Level 2 status were expected to demonstrate and meet the following criteria considered by the steering committee:

  • The Grand Challenge is aligned and supports the broader UNM Grand Challenges program and UNM 2040 Goals.
  • Identify interdisciplinary key research questions and aspirational goals
  • Demonstrate creativity and potential for significant impact
  • Show data and information leading to suggest now is the right time to pursue this challenge
  • Define short term goals, and a clear and realistic research plan with activities to be conducted during the two years of the Level 2 program and beyond, including outcomes or metrics
  • Show a funding plan, including a 2-year budget, budget justification, and identification of anticipated internal and external funding sources
  • Explain how the team is expected to benefit from Level 2 activities, services, resources, and provided support
  • Demonstrate credibility, experience, and sufficient background with selected research areas, including members with a track record of securing research funding

Introducing the newest Level 2 Grand Challenges

Child Health | Rebecca Girardet, Professor, Pediatrics (School of Medicine); Sara Nozadi, Assistant Professor, Pharmaceutical Sciences; Xi Gong, Assistant Professor, Geography & Environmental Sciences

The Child Health Grand Challenge Team was formed to address child maltreatment in New Mexico. The team’s mission is to develop and operationalize the systematic, data-driven approach needed to empower child maltreatment prevention across New Mexico.

The team encompasses UNM researchers representing the health sciences, public health, environmental sciences, communication and journalism, geography, neuroscience, and child development.

Just Transition to Green Energy | Gabriel Pacyniak, Associate Professor, School of Law; Shannon Sanchez-Youngman, Assistant Professor, College of Population Health; Gabriel Sanchez, Professor, Political Science; Robert DelCampo, Rutledge Professor of Management, Anderson School of Management

The goal of the Just Transition to Green Energy Grand Challenge Team is to create economic opportunities and equitable pollution reduction for disadvantaged communities in the transition to clean energy and climate resilience. The convening team has a shared vision around conducting policy-relevant research that advances social justice goals aligned with a just transition.

A key focus of this team is to serve as a resource to community organizations and government entities. The team includes researchers from political science, population health, and UNM's law school.

Sustainable Space Research | Maryam Hojati, Assistant Professor, Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering; Charles Shearer, Research Professor, Earth and Planetary Sciences; Kristina Yu, Professor, School of Architecture & Planning

The Sustainable Space Research Grand Challenge Team plans to support a broad university, commercial, and national laboratory collaborative effort to enable New Mexico the opportunity to participate in a scientific, explorative, and economic adventure. The team will contribute to the development of new technologies, materials, and approaches that can improve space exploration and research, while providing opportunities for student engagement and education.

This team has created interdisciplinary collaborations within the University to include architecture, biology, chemistry, earth and planetary sciences, engineering, and physics and astronomy experts.


The Level 1 teams not selected for Level 2 status will remain part of the UNM Grand Challenges program and will continue to receive information, updates, and potential mechanisms for additional resources and funding opportunities. Additionally, all Level 1 teams are eligible to participate in the Grand Challenges process through future RFPs for either Level 1 or Level 2 competitions.

All teams that submitted a proposal will receive reviewer feedback, help to identify other mechanisms and opportunities for support, and the opportunity to participate in a Q&A session with representatives from the OVPR and the Faculty Research Development Office who will answer any questions the teams have about the process.