Why UT is Focused on Grand Challenges

What are Grand Challenges and why UT?

Grand Challenges represent complex, interconnected, large-scale issues that if left unaddressed would continue to create uncertain futures for Tennesseans. These are issues such as the opioid addiction crisis, teacher shortages, low student performance in school, health and mental care scarcities and others. While challenges like these are becoming more common across the U.S., accepting their normalization is not something the University is willing to do. 

UT and its partners are aiming to create a future where every Tennessean can thrive. To do so, we are focusing initial efforts in three key areas:

Advancing K-12 education, strengthening rural communities and overcoming addiction. Our campuses and institutes are already making an impact across these domains where we have established resources and experience. 

5 Reasons Why for Tennessee

5 reasons why overcoming addiction is important for Tennessee:

  1. Productivity and workforce development: Addiction can reduce an individual’s ability to work, leading to lost productivity and reduced workforce development. This can have a significant impact on a local, state and national economy.
  2. Crime reduction: Addiction can contribute to criminal behavior, including drug-related crimes and other forms of criminal activity. Overcoming addiction can help to reduce crime rates and improve public safety.
  3. Family and community stability: Addiction can have a profound impact on families and communities, leading to social and economic instability, as well as emotional and psychological distress.
  4. Public health: Addiction can contribute to the spread of infectious diseases, including HIV and hepatitis C, through behaviors like drug use and unsafe sexual practices. Overcoming addiction can help to reduce the spread of these diseases and improve public health outcomes.
  5. Economic costs: Addiction can have significant economic costs, including healthcare costs, criminal justice costs, and lost productivity. Overcoming addiction can help to reduce these costs and improve economic outcomes. Addiction can also put great stress on public services and resources such as first responders, hospitals, social services and other public resources.

5 reasons why strengthening rural communities is important for Tennessee:

  1. Economic stability: Rural communities can provide important economic stability. Rural areas have natural resources like minerals, timber, and water that can be used to generate income and create jobs.
  2. Food production: Rural communities are the primary source of food production. Farms in rural areas provide the majority of the food we eat, including crops, livestock, and dairy products.
  3. Cultural heritage: Rural communities have a rich cultural heritage. These communities can preserve traditional music, artistry, and other cultural assets that help to define the identity of a region.
  4. Environmental conservation: Rural areas provide important environmental benefits. These areas can serve as natural habitats for wildlife, parks and recreational activities, provide clean water, and support ecosystems that are essential for the health of the planet.
  5. Energy production: Rural areas play an important role in energy production. Power plants and other facilities are often located in rural areas because of the availability of space and natural resources.

5 reasons why advancing K-12 education is important for Tennessee:

  1. Equality of opportunity: K-12 education provides access to education for all children, regardless of their background, income, or ability level. This helps to promote equality of opportunity and reduce disparities in educational achievement.
  2. Workforce development: K-12 education is foundational for workforce development by preparing students for future careers and providing them with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed.
  3. Economic growth: K-12 education can contribute to economic growth by developing a skilled workforce that is able to compete in a global economy. Strong schools also make communities attractive to businesses that are looking to grow and attract talented employees.
  4. Social development: K-12 education can help students develop important social skills, such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving, that are essential for success in both personal and professional settings.
  5. Citizenship: K-12 education can help prepare students to be informed and engaged citizens by teaching them about government, civics, and social responsibility.

UT’s Mission Toward Change

From the UT System Administration perspective our purpose is twofold: Amplify the existing work and facilitate new connections and collaborations across the state. The ultimate aim being to help those in need find partners for solving Grand Challenge related problems. 

Addressing Grand Challenges has been a priority since the revision of the University’s strategic plan in 2021. Two pillars of the strategic plan, Outreach and Engagement and Advocating for UT, have embedded goals to support this effort. 

Outreach and Engagement set an objective to transform Tennessee’s critical challenges into strengths and increase Tennessee’s rank into the top 50% of U.S. states. Advocating for UT seeks to elevate the public understanding of UT’s value. 

These pillars, supported by a foundation of creating environments of safety and connection, are essential pieces for building the greatest decade in University history. 

By harnessing the collective power of human relationships, research, science, technology and imagination, not only can we transform the future of Tennessee, but also the nation and world.