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Extension > Family Matters > How Is the University — Including Extension — Uniquely Situated to Meet Grand Challenges?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How Is the University — Including Extension — Uniquely Situated to Meet Grand Challenges?

In October, I participated in first three of the five Grand Challenge Campus Forums hosted by University of Minnesota Provost Karen Hanson. The forums were centered on the following broad “umbrella” themes:
  • How will we ensure just and equitable societies?
  • How will we foster human potential and well-being across the life course in a diverse and changing world?
  • How will we advance human health?
  • How will we develop sustainable cities and resilient communities in a world of climate change?
  • How will we provide secure food, water and energy today and for the future?

Participants attending each forum were asked to find some intermediate ground between the specific challenges in the proposals and the broad umbrella themes synthesized by the committee. As noted, I attended the first three forums, choosing them based on the interests expressed in my own submission “Knowledge and Cross-Cultural Engagement.”

Posing these “grand challenges” asks us to look at how the University of Minnesota is uniquely situated to impact the thorny and persistent overarching problems of our time. The provost asks us to connect, network, and interact across college and disciplines to bring our best thinking to the work of framing grand challenges.

We in Extension have a long history of framing challenges, in part because of the nature of our outreach to communities. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by how often the themes and words of community engagement came up in the forum discussions. It is clear to me that many campus faculty, even non-Extension faculty, are recognizing that “the expert mode,” while necessary in some cases, is not in itself, the holy grail of meeting “grand challenges.” (For more on the limitations of — and an alternative to — the expert model, see the Journal of Extension article “Beyond the Expert Helping Model.”) Instead, we must tap into the knowledge of communities and interact with residents and stakeholder groups if we are to create effective and lasting solutions — if we are to meet grand challenges.

Add your voice to shaping these initiatives at this website: Strategic Planning Comments. This is an opportunity for Extension to offer leadership in bringing diverse stakeholders together to meet the grand challenges that our University of Minnesota is uniquely situated to address.

Craig Hassel
Extension Specialist, Food Science and Nutrition

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