Announcing the Second Grand Challenges Research Initiative

Indiana State Museum
650 W. Washington Street
Indianapolis, Indiana

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


Thank you very much, Fred [Cate].

And thank all of you for joining us this morning for this announcement of the second project chosen to be funded under Indiana University’s Grand Challenges Research Program, after an exhaustive process of evaluation and competition.

We are also joined this morning by a number of distinguished guests.

I am very pleased to welcome Harry Gonso, a former vice chair of the IU Board of Trustees and a current member of the Board of Directors of the IU Foundation and of the IU Research and Technology Corporation. Would you join me in welcoming him.

I would also like to welcome Stephanie Lawson of the McKinney Family Foundation. The foundation supports the McKinney Family Philanthropic Fellows in IU’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and recently made a generous gift that will help IU students gain real world experience working on sustainability projects. And, course, In December of 2011, the McKinneys made a landmark gift—one of the largest gifts anywhere in legal education—to name IU’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law. The McKinney Family Foundation has also played an important role in the life of our state and beyond through its steadfast commitment to advancing environmental conservation. Please join me in welcoming Stephanie Lawson.

Interdisciplinary Research to Address Humanity's Major Problems

This morning’s event once again emphatically underscores Indiana University’s standing as a national leader in research and as the home of internationally recognized scholars whose research and scholarship benefit the people of Indiana in countless ways.

For nearly 200 years, Indiana University has helped fuel an engine of prosperity for Indiana and the nation, led the state’s international engagement, sparked discoveries that have helped solve large-scale problems, and illuminated the boundless possibilities of human imagination and creativity.

Indiana University and the nation’s other leading research universities produce research that improves our health, grows our economy, and enhances our day-to-day lives in profound ways. 

Leading research universities are also well-positioned to have major impacts on society’s most critical challenges—challenges whose solutions require expertise drawn from across a full range of the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. University research has become increasingly interdisciplinary and more and more of it is based on teams of investigators focused on these major and large-scale problems—the “grand challenges” of our time. These challenges are daunting. Consider the challenges of environmental degradation and restoration; renewable energy; the security of the Internet—now essential to commerce; the supply of safe foods and fresh water; cures for diseases such as cancer and for infectious diseases such as the Zika virus and Lyme disease.

America’s colleges and universities, particularly its leading research universities, working in partnership with industry, government, and community organizations, will provide the people, ideas, and discoveries that will help us to meet and overcome these challenges.

The Grand Challenges Research Program is a major part of Indiana University’s commitment to doing just that.

As we approach Indiana University’s Bicentennial, the program reflects IU’s commitment to redoubling its efforts to find and implement solutions for the most pressing issues of our time—solutions that will improve the quality of life for the citizens of the state of Indiana who have helped support IU for nearly 200 years. 

Last June, I was very pleased to announce that the Precision Health Initiative, led by Principal Investigator Dr. Anantha Shekhar, was selected as the recipient of the first round of funding in IU’s Grand Challenges Program. Dr. Shekhar and his team have made a number of key hires and are hard at work on an initiative that will ensure that Hoosiers have access to precision medicine treatments—designed to provide the right treatment to the right patient at the right time—treatment based on each individual’s unique genetic make-up and environmental and behavioral factors. 

Announcing the Second Grand Challenges Project

This morning, I am delighted to announce that the “Prepared for Environmental Change” proposal—led by Principal Investigator Distinguished Professor Ellen Ketterson—has been selected as the recipient of the second round of funding in IU’s Grand Challenges Research Program.

Prepared for Environmental Change takes environmental change as a given – change that a majority of Hoosiers in every county in the state say they are witnessing around them. Its central focus is how communities in Indiana can anticipate the implications of and adapt to such change.

Some of those changes may have benign, or even beneficial effects—such as warmer winter temperatures that reduce demands on heating oil and electricity and hence decrease the nation’s carbon footprint, or increased or new agricultural productivity in some areas.

But some of those effects may be very problematic. Shorter, less intense winters have contributed to a four-fold increase in documented cases of Lyme disease since 2001. And sustained warmer temperatures may jeopardize the nearly $6 billion generated annually by corn and soybean production.

In the last five years alone, extreme weather events have cost the state of Indiana $6 billion. And we have all seen the effect of the record rainfalls of the last few weeks.

Whatever the effects of environmental change, we know they are complex, interrelated, and challenge the ability of industries, governments, and communities to adapt. 

We know the change we are witnessing extends far beyond weather to include shifts in natural habitats, human and animal migration, crop yield, demand for natural resources, disaster resilience, disease vectors, and animal and insect populations. 

And we know that the failure to understand, predict, and adapt to environmental change could threaten the vitality of Hoosier businesses, agriculture, jobs, and physical well-being.

There is an urgent need for communities in Indiana and around the world to prepare for change rather than simply react to it or assume the environment will always remain the way it is now. The world’s environment has changed repeatedly in the past, and will continue doing so in the future.

Indiana University will be investing $55 million in the “Prepared for Environmental Change” Initiative. The initiative will help communities around the state prepare for ongoing environmental changes in order to sustain economic opportunities, protect public health, and strengthen Hoosier communities.

On behalf of Indiana University, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Professor Ketterson and all of the members of her team, as well as all of the other finalists and all of the faculty members across the university who have submitted proposals. 

I also want to thank the representatives of a number of businesses and organizations that have joined as partners in the “Prepared for Environmental Change” initiative,  particularly the representatives from Cummins, Citizens Energy Group, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the USDA, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service who are with us today.

I also want to once again extend our most sincere thanks to the members of the faculty review committee who carefully reviewed the proposals and to all those who have joined with Indiana University as partners and advisors as members of the Grand Challenges External Advisory Board.

Now, I invite you to watch this brief video featuring Professor Ketterson and other members of the “Prepared for Environmental Change” team, highlighting the mission of the initiative and the major potential it holds for improving the lives of citizens of the state of Indiana and beyond.

Introducing Ellen Ketterson

Now, it is my pleasure to introduce the Principal Investigator of “Prepared for Environmental Change,” who will tell us more about this initiative.

Distinguished Professor Ellen Ketterson is an internationally recognized evolutionary biologist.  

She earned her bachelors and master’s degrees in Botany and her doctoral degree in Zoology, all from Indiana University.

Her research has been described by her peers as transforming “our understanding of the biological and evolutionary basis for behavior."

Key to Professor Ketterson’s work has been a 20-year population study of a songbird known as the 'snowbird' or dark-eyed junco. She co-produced the NSF-supported documentary film titled "Ordinary Extraordinary Junco: Remarkable Biology From a Backyard Bird," which premiered at the IU Cinema in 2012.

Professor Ketterson is the co-founder of IU’s Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior. She is also affiliated with the IU Center of Excellence for Women in Technology.

She has published more than 130 papers and has served as editor or associate editor of all the major journals in evolutionary biology, behavioral ecology, and avian biology.

Professor Ketterson is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Ornithologists' Union, and the Animal Behavior Society—and has received career achievement awards from the latter two organizations.

She is a Guggenheim Fellow and a former president of the American Society of Naturalists.

So, please welcome to the podium Distinguished Professor Ellen Ketterson.