UNM sees great success on Grand Challenge initiative

The UNM Grand Challenge focused on sustainable water resources is seeing great success in its first two years of establishment – cultivating collaborative partnerships across campus and increasing visibility of research.

“It’s incredible to see the depth of understanding, collaboration and innovation that comes from our researchers here at UNM and their community partners,” said Kerry Howe, Distinguished Professor in the Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering Department and director of the Center for Water and the Environment at UNM. “The researchers, faculty, staff and students have done an outstanding job of sourcing grants and building the vision of what this Challenge will address over the coming years. So far we’ve had a great response to the foundational work.”

Howe is part of the leadership for the UNM Grand Challenge on Water Sustainability, in addition to Mark Stone and Anjali Mulchandani (Civil, Construction, & Environmental Engineering), Laura Crossey (Earth and Planetary Sciences), Marcy Litvak and Alex Webster(Biology), Ben Warner and Mindy Morgan (Geography and Environmental Science), Adrian Oglesby (Utton Center), Jingjing Wang (Economics), Sang M. Han (Chemical and Biological Engineering), and Kathy Kambic (Architecture and Planning). The team has also hired Sydney Donohue as an outreach coordinator.

In November 2018, UNM’s President Garnett S. Stokes launched The University of New Mexico Grand Challenges initiative. The purpose is to strategically bring together interdisciplinary researchers to collaboratively tackle New Mexico’s most pressing challenges of sustainable water resources, substance use disorders and successful aging. In February 2019, the teams were convened, and work commenced.

“We hit the two-year mark and, so far, have achieved quite a lot towards our short-term activities and goals in the Sustainable Water Resources challenge,” Howe said.

Those short-term activities include hosting development workshops, establishing a system of water sustainability modeling and data analysis, increasing advocacy, outreach and communications, and broadening participation.

One of the largest accomplishments of the group to date is the securement of a $15 million, five-year project funded by the National Science Foundation. UNM researchers are leading the project, which will engage communities in the American Intermountain West to collaboratively address the impacts of climate change, including drought, wildfires, and community well-being. Lead by Mark Stone, the UNM team represents the voices of biologists, architects, community planners, designers, economists, and engineers – as well as environmental and organizational researchers.

“In addition to that huge accomplishment by Mark Stone and his group, we’ve successfully initiated pilot studies from several seed grants and hired positions to support and oversee those projects,” Howe explained. “We’ve also incorporated graduate students through course work that addresses real-world problems, providing insight to state agencies and nonprofits.

In several upcoming stories from University Communication and Marketing, these successes will be explored more in-depth.

Howe says the successes have been inspiring and encouraging, but the Grand Challenge is not without – well – challenges.

“We’ve also learned a lot about what we need to do differently – which mainly is that we need to have better communication across campus and branch campuses in order to reach water-focused researchers we haven’t connected with yet,” How said. “By getting the word out, we can not only find more areas of impact and study, but also can improve the visibility of this Grand Challenge so that the outcomes can be useful and accessible to communities.”

“Sustainable water use is Grand Challenge for UNM, and also a substantial challenge for our society as a whole,” Howe concluded. “We all must work together to ensure the future is viable and hydrated for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.”

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