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UW Selects First Recipients of Grand Challenges Initiative Planning Grants

June 28, 2021

Five collaborative projects aimed at providing multidimensional benefits to the University of Wyoming and the state are moving forward with funding from a new program in UW’s Office of Research and Economic Development.

The first UW Grand Challenges Initiative Planning projects address issues ranging from rural health to developing next-generation, secure, digital platforms that promote sustainable energy production, transport and consumption.

The selected projects were drawn from transdisciplinary teams across multiple UW colleges and departments.

“We are able to take this exciting step with the Grand Challenges because of the fantastic campuswide response in identifying great problems most appropriate for this university to tackle, and through which we can organize and exert statewide and national leadership. Given the high quality of the proposals and their rigorous review, we are now at the stage of getting down to the hard, creative work of making Grand Challenges work impactful realities,” says Vice President for Research and Economic Development Ed Synakowski. “The success of the Grand Challenges enterprise is central to President Seidel’s vision for a university that generates impact by embracing the toughest problems of the day. The quality and range of these proposals show that the passion and intellectual resources on this campus are up to this great task.”

The selected projects are:

-- “The Democracy Laboratory at the University of Wyoming” -- The Democracy Laboratory is a dynamic, interdisciplinary, intergenerational space that incubates research projects; germinates new capacities; and initiates collaboration to address one of Wyoming’s and the nation’s grandest challenges: making liberty and justice for all a fact of life rather than a distant dream.

The Democracy Lab is building a pipeline for rising leaders -- a structure that channels the innovation and energy of students; deploys the wisdom of senior researchers and public servants; and builds from the talents, skills and needs of community members to improve the quality of democracy and equality throughout Wyoming and the world. 

Collaborators are: Scott Henkel (lead), Wyoming Excellence Professor in the Humanities and director of the Wyoming Institute for Humanities Research; Stephanie Anderson, School of Politics, Public Affairs and International Studies, College of Arts and Sciences; Adam Blackler, Department of History, College of Arts and Sciences; Cathy Connolly, School of Culture, Gender and Social Justice, College of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives; Sara Flitner, Flitner Strategies, former mayor of Jackson and lead facilitator of the ENDOW Initiative; Jennifer Harmon, Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources; Melissa Morris, Department of History, College of Arts and Sciences; Shawn Reese, executive director of the Wyoming Humanities Council and policy director to former Gov. Matt Mead; Shannon Sheridan, UW Libraries; Riley Talamantes, former president of the Associated Students of UW; Samantha Vandermeade, School of Culture, Gender and Social Justice, College of Arts and Sciences; and Chen Xu, Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center.

-- “Adapting Pandemic-Driven Technological Advancement to Expand Ecosystem Service Reach and Virtual Access to Wyoming’s National Parks” -- This project aims to integrate digital technology with social media-driven and crowd-sourced conservation fundraising to build global and virtual, livestreamed access to Wyoming’s world-class but remote wildlife viewing experiences.

Collaborators are: Emma-Jane Alexander, director of the Shell 3D Visualization Center in the School of Energy Resources; Jacob Hochard, the Knobloch Assistant Professor of Conservation Economics in the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources; Amiee Reese, director of development with the UW Foundation; and Abby Sisneros-Kidd, an assistant professor of outdoor recreation and tourism management economics in the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources.

-- “IMPACT -- Innovative Methods to develop Adaptive Capacity through Transdisciplinarity” -- This project aims to transform UW’s approach to research, and enhance public trust in research and information, through a cross-cutting, institutionally empowered, transdisciplinary approach in which science, technology, engineering, mathematics, arts, humanities and social sciences are equal partners.

Collaborators are: Bethann Garramon Merkle (lead), Department of Zoology and Physiology, College of Arts and Sciences, Biodiversity Institute and director of the UW Science Communication Initiative; Maggie Bourque, Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources; Anna Chalfoun, Department of Zoology and Physiology, Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, and Program in Ecology curriculum chair; Katie Christensen, UW Art Museum education curator; Ellen Currano, Department of Botany, College of Arts and Sciences; Mariah Ehmke, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources; Rick Fisher, Department of English, College of Arts and Sciences, and Communication Across the Curriculum Program director; Brandon Gellis, Department of Visual and Literary Arts, College of Arts and Sciences, and co-director of the Center for Design Thinking; Alyson Hagy, Department of Visual and Literary Arts, College of Arts and Sciences; Randa Jabbour, Department of Plant Sciences, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources; Kelly Kinney, Department of English chair, College of Arts and Sciences; Corrie Knapp, Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources; Kristen Landreville, Department of Communication and Journalism, College of Arts and Sciences; Jeff Lockwood, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, College of Arts and Sciences; Elizabeth Minton, Department of Management and Marketing, College of Business; Sylvia Parker, Science and Math Teaching Center director; Janel Seeley, Ellbogen Center for Teaching and Learning director; J.J. Shinker, Department of Geology and Geophysics, College of Arts and Sciences; Corey Tarwater, Department of Zoology and Physiology, College of Arts and Sciences, and Biodiversity Institute; Karen Vaughan, Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources; and Rachel Watson, Science Initiative, Queer Studies Minor Program director and Department of Chemistry, College of Arts and Sciences.

-- “The UCHAT Project -- Unlocking Community Health Access Together” -- This project seeks to build community support for health improvement strategies through an inclusive, deliberative process, with the ultimate goal of increasing health access and outcomes in rural communities.

Collaborators are: Juliet Daniels, UW Extension community development field educator; Mariah Ehmke, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources; Health Equity Circle; Tim Robinson, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, College of Arts and Sciences; Feliciana Turner, Wyoming Department of Health performance improvement manager; Anders Van Sandt, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, UW Extension community development specialist, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources; WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) Medical Education Program; Wyoming county health departments; Wyoming Department of Health; and Wyoming Rural and Frontier Health Unit.

-- “Next-Generation Secure Digital Ecosystems at the Nexus of Climate and Energy” -- This project aims to develop next-generation, secure digital platforms and promote sustainable energy production, transport and consumption via secure, decentralized monitoring and control systems.

Collaborators are: Mike Borowczak, Department of Computer Science, College of Engineering and Applied Science; Christelle Khalaf, Center for Business and Economic Analysis; Fred McLaughlin, School of Energy Resources; Alison Mercier, School of Teacher Education, College of Education; Bradley Rettler, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, College of Arts and Sciences; and Soheil Saraji, Department of Petroleum Engineering, College of Engineering and Applied Science.

Further details of the five Grand Challenges projects, including project descriptions and team members from across campus, will be available on the Office of Research and Economic Development website at www.uwyo.edu/research.

The Grand Challenges program promotes transdisciplinary, cross-college, Wyoming-wide collaborations addressing five themes: biodiversity and Earth system change; energy transition and economic diversification; rural health issues; public trust in research and information; and quality of democracy and equality.

Each of the successful planning grant teams had to develop collaborative research projects based on the Grand Challenges themes and presidential priorities. These planning grants are intended to help multidisciplinary teams of researchers build new areas of distinction and to develop further capacities for current projects.

Each team showed high promise for attracting external funding; for serving as the basis for broad, impactful partnership; and for rising to the moment in addressing Wyoming’s urgent societal and economic needs.

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