Our local and global communities face complex, urgent, and persistent challenges. DU Grand Challenges is a family of programs that bring together university and community change-makers to address the most difficult and far-reaching issues facing our society today.

DU Grand Challenges addresses three inter-related issues in our communities: improving daily living, increasing economic opportunity and advancing deliberation and action for the public good. Each issue area is addressed in a 3-year cycle, allowing us, in partnership with our communities, to co-create Aspirations, Actions, and Achievements.

Issue Areas

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Improve Daily Living

DU Grand Challenges works in partnership with communities to tackle complex issues including food and housing insecurity, crime and safety, migration, and urban sustainability.

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Increase Economic Opportunity

Increasing economic opportunity includes expanding education access, improving infrastructure, fulfilling employment rights, and decreasing poverty.

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Advance Deliberation and Action for the Public Good

Advancing deliberation and action for the public good includes amplifying youth voice and deepening civic engagement as well as preparing new leaders and strengthening our connections to each other.


In spring 2013, the Obama Administration launched efforts to encourage government, companies, foundations, philanthropists and universities to pursue grand challenges. In 2017, as part of those efforts, the University of California convened nearly 20 higher-education universities to share practices related to establishing university-led Grand Challenges initiatives.

The model that was developed continues to serve as a framework that engages the university and community at multiple, intersectional levels. No single discipline has the capacity to address these challenges in isolation, which is why Grand Challenges initiatives are pursued with a deliberate focus on encouraging civic participation.

Opportunities to Affect Change

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    A Community Table

    A Community Table is an annual event that fosters public dialogues by encouraging groups of 8-12 to collaborate in their favorite community locations. This event is designed to uncover our most pressing challenges and generate action items for Grand Challenges to take on.

    A Community Table

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    Leaders in scholarship and practice give lightning talks to provide a spark for small-group discussion among participants on how the topic impacts our communities. Participants examine links between the topic and interrelated issues to identify entry points for broad cross-sector collaborations. Building off ideas, thoughts, and suggestions gathered during the forum series, DU Grand Challenges identifies actions to take related to increasing economic opportunity in the 2019-2020 academic year. 


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    DU Grand Challenges invests in community-engaged research and creative work projects that address our three issue areas: improving daily living, increasing economic opportunity, and advancing deliberation and action for the public good. Grants are available to both students and faculty.


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    Collective Impact Cohorts

    Collective Impact Cohorts bring together community and university voices to develop and implement collaborative work to create measurable change to improve daily living.

    Collective Impact Cohorts

How We Work

DU Grand Challenges addresses each issue area in a 3-year cycle, allowing us to co-create Aspirations, Actions, and Achievement with members of diverse communities here on campus and around the globe.

  • Aspirations: We work across departments, disciplines, and communities to co-determine shared aspirations to guide our work in the Action phase.
  • Action: Inspired by our Aspirations, we take collaborative action through community-university partnerships.
  • Achievement: We demonstrate our success toward shared goals and share our findings broadly.

Our efforts to identify grand challenge issues prioritized issues that were:

  • Multidisciplinary in nature, with a goal that each issue would have the potential to engage every academic unit on campus in some way;
  • Broad enough to engage many disciplines and communities while specific enough to allow us in the “aspirations” phase to identify attainable goals with community partners. 
  • Relevant to the community;
  • In areas where we have depth and breadth of faculty expertise as well as connections to both scholarship and teaching. 

We used multiple sources of data to inform the issue selection, including (but not limited to):

  • Input gathered at Public Good Forums and during the DU IMPACT 2025 strategic planning process;
  • A review of Grand Challenge issues selected by other universities; 
  • Data from faculty benchmarking survey to identify problem areas where faculty are already working with community organizations in research, creative work, and teaching; 
  • Data gathered by the Community-Engaged Fellows on capacity for university-community partnerships across diverse issue areas;
  • Input received from the July 2017 call for ideas;
  • A review of the topic areas on which student organizations focus;
  • A review of priority areas detailed by the Mayor of Denver and the Governor of Colorado.

To illustrate how we used these data to inform our decision making, we draw an example from the faculty benchmarking survey. Faculty who indicated that community organizations (including government agencies, nonprofit organizations, business/industry) were already involved in their teaching, research, and/or creative work were asked to provide keywords to describe the problems addressed in that work. We coded those keywords to develop a picture of both narrow topics as well as broad problem areas in which faculty are working across campus. We used those data, then, to examine different configurations of topics to identify multidisciplinary issues for which we have depth and breadth of faculty expertise. 

Below please find illustrative examples of the range of topics that can be included under these three issue areas. These particular terms come from the coding we did of the faculty benchmarking data, and therefore indicate areas in which DU faculty are already doing research, creative work and/or teaching.

LIVING (Improving Daily Living)


Health and Healthy Development




Basic Needs

Disease, Illness, & Injury


At-Risk Youth




Climate Change 

Food Access



Disaster & Emergency





Homelessness, Hunger, Poverty

Health Equity

Gender-based violence



Water Access 

Older Adults

Interpersonal violence


Environmental Stewardship/Conservation/Preservation 



International Security


Natural Resources/Park/Protected Area 


Parenting and Family


Mass violence


Sustainability/Environmental Justice


Physical Health



Urban Renewal



WORKING (Increasing Economic Opportunity)

Employment Rights

Access to Work





Criminal Justice

Early Education

Business Development & Improvement 


Employment Rights


Education Equity

Business Marketing

Economy & Financial

Ethics & Law

Homelessness, Hunger, Poverty

Higher Education

Career Development


Gender Equality



Human Resources


Human Rights

Juvenile Justice

STEM Access

Professional Relationships


Legal Assistance

LGBT Rights 


Social Entrepreneurship



Military & Veteran


Professional Relationships





Human Resources



Homelessness, hunger, and poverty





PARTICIPATING (Advancing Deliberation and Action for the Public Good)


Diverse Connections

Community Action

Awareness & Collaboration

Campus Climate

Culture & Diversity

Civic Engagement


CE Research & Scholarship

Interfaith Connections / Religion



Higher Education

Race & Ethnic Identity

Political Systems 

Media Tools 

Writing & the Public Good


Social Entrepreneurship




Youth Voice

Professional Relationships

Using the above topics connected to these three issue areas, we used data from the faculty benchmarking survey to assess the degree to which these three issues have the potential to engage faculty across campus. Through this process, we determined that:

  • DU has faculty expertise in these issue areas;
  • The issues are relevant to the community insofar as there is already broad engagement of community organizations with faculty scholarship and teaching in these areas;
  • The issues can and do touch on faculty expertise and interest in all divisions, and the interest/connection is likely under-estimated insofar as these data relied on faculty who responded to the survey and are already working with community organizations. 

The issues touch on topics around which students are doing co-curricular work.