The UW-Madison School of Education Assistant Dean for Student Diversity speaks with a state parliament member of Hessen, Germany about including multiple languages and cultures in schools at a Meet-up on Welcoming Immigrant Families and Learners. Four years ago, a bold new initiative was launched by then Associate Dean of Outreach and Partnerships Jack Jorgensen and School of Education Professor Rich Halverson to strengthen the UW-Madison School of Education’s commitment to the Wisconsin Idea. This is a philosophy that university expertise and resources should be applied to address problems and improve quality of life for all individuals in the state. The Wisconsin Collaborative Education Research Network (The Network) was created as a socially oriented, capacity building organization to move knowledge into active use by strengthening the School of Education’s translational research infrastructure and better bridging research and practice across the School and with our community partners.

The Network mobilizes people and knowledge in a vibrant, innovative group that identifies key problems and develops new partnerships to reinvent education, health, and the arts. We build connections among and mobilize the social capital of not only School of Education faculty, staff, and graduate students, but also practitioners, funders, policy makers, and community partners in order to connect research and practice to transform education.

Earlier this year, the Network was tasked with inspiring innovation across the School of Education, which not only includes traditional education-related departments such as Educational Leadership, but also houses the departments in the Arts (Art, Dance, Theatre and Drama) and in the Health Sciences (Kinesiology, Counseling Psychology, and Rehabilitation Psychology). Recognizing that the innovation is a byproduct of collaboration among diverse parties, the Network focused on an initiative designed to form interdisciplinary partnerships that can address critical problems which span education, health, and the arts.

The aptly named Grand Challenges is a grant program designed to pave the way for fresh ideas that can push the frontiers of knowledge, and lead to innovative new ideas and programs that will make a real difference in the world of scholarship and practice.

“Mitigating the problems we face in today’s society requires a multidisciplinary approach,” says Sarah Archibald, the associate director of the Network and the co-director of Grand Challenges. Through the diverse fields housed in UW-Madison’s School of Education, the School is uniquely positioned to address some of society’s most pressing needs.

Attendees at the Neuroscience, Well-being, and Learning Meet-up each introduced themselves and their work to facilitate conversation and connection with new colleagues during the time for networking that followed.“Through this initiative, we will unleash the power of our most promising research and programs to fulfill the Wisconsin Idea here and around the world,” describes Richard Halverson, a professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis who co-directs the Network along with Jack Jorgensen and co-leads the Grand Challenges initiative.

Grand Challenges officially launched on February 1st, when more than 200 faculty, staff, and students from across the School of Education attended a kick-off event. Those interested in formally getting involved then set up a meeting with the Network for a consultation on their ideas. To date, 27 teams representing over 80 people in all ten departments have met with the Network to discuss their ideas for making a difference.

To further build connections, the Grand Challenges team held three “Meet-Ups” where over 100 faculty, staff, and community members engaged around topical issues to make new connections over shared passions and work, and four “Spark Dinners” that provided an opportunity for teams of diverse expertise to move toward proposals. Some examples of the themes of these gatherings include rural education and healthcare, prison reform, and digital media & learning.

Teams taking part in Grand Challenges can apply for Engage Grants of up to $25,000 or Transform Grants of up to $250,000. 14 Engage Grant proposals were received on the August 1st deadline from teams comprised of faculty and staff across nine departments and five offices within the School of Education, as well as other campus entities and community organizations.

A sampling of proposals includes: Connecting Cultures & Building Responsive Relationships: Strengthening Academic Capacity to Enhance Supports for K-Graduate Tribal Students; Art for the 21st Century: Open Space Maker’s Lab at the Art Lofts; Exploring and Realizing the Equitable Inclusion of Immigrant Parents and Students in Educational Policy- and Decision-Making; and Glassblowing as Movement Therapy for Individuals with Parkinson Disease.

Attendees at the Neuroscience, Well-being, and Learning Meet-up each introduced themselves and their work to facilitate conversation and connection with new colleagues during the time for networking that followed.Engage grants were awarded early in the 2017-18 academic year while Transform proposals, designed for projects that are larger in scale, will be due in February and awarded in Spring of 2018.

The Network’s mission statement is Connect + Engage → Transform. By situating the Grand Challenges in the Network, we have been able to design a process that fosters connection and engagement both within and across departments in the School of Education and beyond. If the initial proposals are any indication, the transformation that is possible through these new interdisciplinary partnerships stands to mobilize knowledge to positively impact our world.

If you are interested in developing a similar initiative in your setting, please reach out to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



Rich Halverson: Co-Director of the Network and Grand Challenges
Jack Jorgensen: Co-Director of the Network
Sarah Archibald: Co-Director of Grand Challenges
Tony Chambers: Director of the Network Fellows
Katherine Hayden: Network Fellows Coordinator
Morgan Mayer-Jochimsen: Grand Challenges Coordinator
Elizabeth O’Callaghan: Grand Challenges Editor
Al Barnicle: Graduate Project Assistant - Data Analytics
Max Hautala: Graduate Project Assistant - Creative Direction