Child abuse, mental health, food and housing insecurity, and language endangerment — the issues facing New Mexicans everyday can be seen from the streets of Las Cruces to the doorways of Raton. But 10 research teams at The University of New Mexico are turning those challenges into opportunities, by pursuing long-term, sustainable solutions.

“The fact that we are here today, only three years later, looking to take on some additional challenges, is a testament to the vision and hard work of Lobo researchers everywhere.”  - UNM President Garnett S. Stokes

This week, UNM’s Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) hosted a kick-off event announcing the expansion of the University’s Grand Challenges program with 10 new Level 1 Concept Teams. Leaders from UNM main campus, branch campuses, and the Health Sciences Center gathered to discuss the reimagined program and introduce the 10 teams to more than 150 people who attended the in-person event.

“Starting from the ground up, and partnering with the communities affected, we hope to build sustainable teams focused on research topics and challenges of most importance to communities across New Mexico and led by researchers dedicated to overcoming these challenges,” said Ellen Fisher, UNM vice president for research.

GC 3 Kick-off 2022
Left to Right: Dr. Doug Ziedonis, UNM President Garnett S. Stokes, UNM VPR Ellen Fisher, HSC VPR Richard Larson

Level 1 Concept Teams

  1. STEM Education
  2. Sustainable Space Research
  3. Building Data Science Pathways for a Data Literate New Mexico
  4. Child Health
  5. Just Transition
  6. Housing Justice
  7. Basic Needs
  8. Indigenous Child Development
  9. Mental Health
  10. Culturally Responsive Literacy

“How are we going to improve the mental and physical health of all New Mexicans? How are we going to transform our research into new companies, innovation, and entrepreneurship? These are the questions I think about every day and these Grand Challenges will be the answer,” said Dr. Douglas Ziedonis, executive vice president for Health Sciences.

In 2019, UNM President Garnett S. Stokes announced the creation of three institutional Grand Challenges, Substance Use Disorders, Successful Aging and Sustainable Water Resources. Stokes said the University invested an initial $2.1 million into the first three teams.

“That may not seem like much, but just look what Lobo researchers have done with it,” she said. “These teams have developed pilot research programs to test ideas and generate data needed for larger grant awards. They’ve supported graduate and undergraduate students as they engaged in research programs. From there, research findings became posters, presentations, publications, and proposals.”

As of today, Stokes said UNM researchers have produced a return of more than $50 million from the initial $2.1 million investment.

“The fact that we are here today, only three years later, looking to take on some additional challenges is a testament to the vision and hard work of Lobo researchers everywhere,” Stokes said.

Moving forward, the reimagined Grand Challenges program will provide each team with funds for team development and the solidification of their ideas. Next year, the Level 1 teams will be eligible to compete for Level 2 status which will provide additional funds to seed their projects and build capacity for larger, team-based activities.

“We are at the start of an exciting time with interdisciplinary research at UNM,” Fisher said. “Our research teams cannot do the work that they do and will not reach the goals they set without true community engagement into the research process.”