Maryland Today | “Meaningful, tangible real-world impact”

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

“We have nine semifinalists, and we need to narrow it down to three — but we don’t want to lose any of these incredibly promising, compelling ideas for tackling the world’s greatest challenges,” said Senior Vice President and Provost Jennifer King Rice.

The new Grand Challenge Impact Awards — up to $200,000 per year for two years with some additional college grants — will be announced along with institutional and project grants (both individual and team-based) near the start of the Spring 2023 semester.

To address the world’s greatest challenges, from racial justice to pandemic preparedness to climate change, the university will invest up to $30 million in the scholarship program: Institutional winners will receive a total of $3 million over three years, including the collegiate or School Matches, with up to 10 grants for team projects and 50 grants for individual projects, each receiving total amounts of $1.5 million and $150,000, respectively.

Rice spoke to Maryland Today to provide an update on the selection process and how the program will empower research in every UMD college and school — and potentially benefit all of humanity.

What is the status of the winner selection?
We had received 24 institutional grant submissions as of the July deadline, and in September we narrowed that number to nine. In early November, these project teams made presentations to university leaders, including President (Darryll J.) Pines, myself, and a number of key university administrators who could assist in both deciding finalists and finding additional sources of revenue for the projects, whether from state or federal agencies or from foundations and philanthropic sources. Now we’re about to narrow this down to three winners. The other six projects will be offered Grand Challenge Impact Awards.

As of the early October deadline, 111 project grant applications for team and individual researchers had also been submitted. At the end of January we will announce the final winners in all categories.

Looking at the full scope of the proposals, what impressed you the most?
Scope is exactly what I meant to say; I was impressed and fascinated by the range of topics covered. The President and I expected climate change-related proposals and projects that address pandemic preparedness, but there were other compelling topics that we did not expect, such as one addressing literacy and justice and another , which focused on value-based artificial intelligence.

This series of “Big Ideas” really underscores the importance of using this type of crowdsourcing approach to accelerate solutions to the grand challenges of our time, which is a key element of the university’s new strategic plan.

How is this scholarship program unique?
Other universities that have instituted Grand Challenge initiatives have tended to focus on the priorities set by the administration rather than tapping into the creativity and innovation in the academic community. Our approach, which held multiple tiers of grant contests, provided a mechanism for community members to submit their biggest and best ideas. The ideas all come from the faculty and staff and all our colleges and schools are represented. If you look at some of the institutional grant finalists, they represent more than six or seven different colleges. This is very impactful and reflects the type of interdisciplinary collaboration required to tackle these complex and enduring challenges.

We consciously value working interdisciplinary and bringing people together to break down the silos that can arise at any institution. We have also prioritized projects that offer innovative and new opportunities for student learning. After all, education is our core mission, and we aim to prepare the next generation of leaders who will continue to face complex and pressing problems.

The Grand Challenge Grants program was designed to advance key elements of our strategic university plan, Forward fearlesslywhich calls for investing in faculty, students, staff, alumni and partner capacities to collaborate across disciplines to address these enduring challenges and contribute to the common good in meaningful ways.

What is the committee looking for? What characterizes a proposal?
Influence. The whole idea of ​​these Grand Challenge Grants is to make a meaningful, tangible and real impact on our communities and society. One of the questions we asked all of our groups was, “If this project is successful in 10 years, what will have changed in our communities and in our world as a result of the work of this team?”

We want to leverage the incredible contributions and expertise of our faculty and enable these to be the building blocks for accelerating transformative change.

How could this change things at UMD?
These projects—the Institutional Grants, the Impact Awards, and the Project Grants—will make UMD a leader among universities committed to advancing the public good through our work. These grants will foster collaborations that build on all the important foundational scholarly and humanistic work already taking place on campus to increase our impact on the world.


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