University of New Mexico’s President Garnett Stokes launched the Grand Challenges Initiative in the Student Union Building on Wednesday Nov. 14.

Stokes, along with other speakers of the Grand Challenges Initiative, addressed what UNM is doing to foster a more dynamic economy.

Grand Challenges are problems of global, national and regional significance that require researchers to work together across disciplinary boundaries to develop and implement solutions, according to UNM’s Grand Challenges website.

“Launching the UNM’s Grand Challenges Initiative today is not only about advancing our research capacity, but also about our value proposition — that is how UNM adds distinct value to higher education and the state that sets it apart from other institutions in New Mexico,” Stokes said.

In Spring 2019, UNM will select three Grand Challenges Conceptual Goals — two lead by UNM Main Campus and one led by UNM Health Sciences Center — to fund planning grants for each, according to their website.

“The UNM Grand Challenges Initiative will unite researchers, educators, students and community members in this type of really big thinking,” Stokes said.

With the combination of the states national laboratories and research institutions, New Mexico has been home to research and innovation across many fields that attract talent and resources to the state, Stokes said.

Stokes said the current challenge is assuring that New Mexico can generate an ecology of innovation that fosters a flourishing economy.

“We’re exploring at UNM, climate prediction, the politics of agriculture water use, how to modernize New Mexico’s electrical grid, and one day we expect to revolutionize the way mental illness is diagnosed, perhaps we already are,” Stokes said.

Health research addresses current needs in New Mexico, the Southwest and globally, Stokes said.

To identify these challenges UNM will publish a Request for Proposals in November 2018 for early next year, according to the website.

“We must harness the dynamic and diverse research power at UNM to seek out and provide solutions to what stands in the way of intellectual, social and economic health and prosperity in our state,” Stokes said.

The initiative will address problems followed by facilitated discussions meant to ignite big thinking that will lead to new technologies, treatments and evidence to create change, she said.

“Research and innovation have never been more important, never been more needed to better understand and improve the world in which we live,” Stokes said.

Also set to participate in the Grand Challenges Initiative is Executive Vice President and Chancellor for Health Sciences Paul Roth.

“I’m really looking forward to finding more joint programs between the Health Sciences Center and main campus,” Roth said.

New Mexico is driven to improving the health and equity of New Mexicans through partnerships that will catapult these efforts to a new level, Roth said.

“In order to really carry out and achieve that vision we have to partner with all of you on main campus,” he said.

Professor of Sociology, Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Richard Wood spoke of diverse areas of expertise and experience that would be needed for the Grand Challenges Initiative.

“One way sociologists would think about this is every major challenge facing the state involves not just technical challenges, for which we need technical expertise, but also needs to change human behavior for which we need a different kind of expertise across humanity, social sciences and other fields,” Wood said.

Changing human behavior with what people find meaningful and across different platforms will change habitual thinking, Wood said.

“You may not know all the areas of expertise that you need to pursue your Grand Challenge, so let’s have that conversation,” Wood said.

Proposals will be reviewed by faculty, external reviewers, Grand Challenge Steering Committee and the final decision will be made by Stokes and announced in February 2019.

Alyssa Bitsie is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @Albitsie.