Faculty proposals invited that build on NU’s strengths; solve today’s challenges
November 28, 2018
What makes a great university? When this question was explored by faculty across the university system, they identified a list of distinguishing characteristics – including a focus on student success, diversity, collaboration and local and global relevance.
The question now: how to accomplish this? The answer: with Big Ideas. On November 9th, hundreds of researchers from across the University of Nebraska gathered at Innovation Campus for the annual Collaboration Initiative retreat to talk about their big ideas – and to collaborate on proposals, which are due January 11th, 2019.
The Big Ideas Initiative is a collaboration between the University of Nebraska and the University of Nebraska Foundation. The initiative asks faculty to identify and develop proposals that build on Nebraska’s strengths – to solve today’s grand challenges. The Big Ideas Initiative provides a platform for faculty to propose bold, innovative ideas that are interdisciplinary in nature, requiring new levels of collaboration and likely an investment of $25 million or more.
“The initiative asks faculty to identify and develop proposals that build on Nebraska’s strengths – to solve today’s grand challenges.”
What exactly does a Big Idea look like? The scope of a Big Idea will typically focus on work that is relevant locally, but has the potential for global impact. It will draw from across disciplines and campuses. It will focus on areas where the university has a unique capacity to lead. And it will evolve over time.
For many years, Dr. Andrew Benson, Food for Health Presidential Chair and Director, Nebraska Food for Health Center at UNL, and several of his colleagues were part of a group of researchers called the Gut Function Initiative (GFI). They shared a common interest in understanding the gut function and ecosystem. Over time, the vision grew beyond anyone’s imagination, and as more and more connections were made, it evolved into looking at how to grow crops with true health-promoting characteristics.
By sharing what the members of GFI had to contribute, identifying other researchers and departments across UNL, UNO and UNMC, bringing in outside viewpoints and perspectives and connecting it all to the overall vision, a transformative center whose concepts can be applied both locally and globally has been developed. The Food for Health Center did not go through a process like the Big Ideas Initiative, but it serves as an example of how a concept can be built out from a simple passion area into a transformative driving force for the university.
“The Gut Function Initiative wasn’t big enough to think globally,” Dr. Benson said. “By bringing in others – both within the university system and from the outside – we were able to connect it to a world problem that could be addressed.”
As faculty consider submitting proposals for the Big Ideas Initiative, it is important to remember that it is okay for the ideas to be conceptual in nature at this stage.
“Big Ideas rarely just happen. Instead they emerge from evolution and through processes.”
“Big Ideas rarely just happen,” Dr. Benson said. “Instead they emerge from evolution and through processes. Although global challenges, current knowledge, new ideas, new technology, etc. are indeed the currency of a Big Idea, the Big Idea itself emerges only after being shaped by the effects of outside forces.”
Many faculty already collaborate across disciplines and campuses, but the opportunities created through the Big Ideas Initiative can maximize the university’s strengths and potential and take it to a new level. Dr. Elizabeth Wellsandt, Assistant Professor, College of Allied Health Professions, has developed relationships and collaborated with many faculty across the NU system.
“This experience has demonstrated that our university possesses extremely talented individuals and exceptional resources across the four campuses that are not yet fully realized,” Dr. Wellsandt said. “The purposeful merging of expertise and resources can create unique opportunities to maximize the potential of individual faculty, increasing both research scope and distinction of the university as a whole.”
“The purposeful merging of expertise and resources can create unique opportunities.”
Dr. Wellsandt sees the Big Ideas Initiative as an opportunity to carry out their vision to create a Movement for Health Center. This would position the university as a leader in investigating the development of injury and disease that impedes movement and thus contributes to other health-related impairments.
A new center would accomplish this by leveraging the activities and research occurring at the Nebraska Athletic Performance Lab at UNL, while also establishing a second physical space at UNMC in which to study movement in non-athletic populations. With these pieces in place, a team of health and movement experts within the NU system could identify, develop and implement unique and comprehensive solutions to important health issues facing Nebraskans – and beyond.
“While some of this potential has been realized within the NU system,” Dr. Wellsandt said, “our team believes that the formation of a Movement for Health Center would create the physical location, administrative structure, shared goals and opportunities to promote development of individual faculty, departments and colleges across NU. This growth could help NU to take the next step in distinguishing itself from other institutions through transformative discovery while directly improving the lives of Nebraskans.”
After January 11th, 2019, proposals such as these will be reviewed within a donor-interest framework, and selected proposals will be used by the University of Nebraska Foundation to attract and inspire private giving in the years ahead. This fresh, ground-up approach represents a new, more inclusive approach to fundraising for the university – an approach that many faculty, such as Shane Farritor, Professor of Mechanical & Materials Engineering at UNL, are excited about.
“The Big Ideas Initiative is a new way to look at philanthropy and will allow some of our most innovative faculty ideas to move further down the field,” Dr. Farritor said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see things come out of this that no one’s expecting – which is precisely what’s exciting about the approach.”
Big Ideas Initiative proposals are due Friday, January 11th, 2019. Attendance at the November 9th Collaboration Initiative Retreat is not a requirement for submitting proposals. Visit the Big Ideas website for more information regarding the process, to watch an overview presentation, or to review the RFP. Questions or requests for more information can be directed to Ms. Angela Dibbert in the Provost’s Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-472-4994.
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