Grand Challenges and Setting Ambitious Goals, with Michelle Popowitz – Ep #15

With the start of a new year, many Americans commit to resolutions and ambitious goals they hope to accomplish throughout the year’s end.

Many organizations have ambitious goals as well, but all too often they fail to make these goals specific and connected to a deadline. UCLA’s creation of so-called “Grand Challenges” is a bold departure from such fuzzy, timid-by-comparison initiatives. UCLA’s Grand Challenges are inspiring endeavours to solve the most difficult societal problems by a fixed date by harnessing the University’s deep, diverse resources across disciplines. Leading UCLA’s Grand Challenge program is Michelle Popowitz. 

Michelle is the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research and Co-Founder of UCLA Grand Challenges. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a Masters of Public Health at UCLA and her Doctor of Law degree from Loyola Law School. Under Michelle’s leadership, UCLA was the first university to commit to solving a specific societal grand challenge.

What You’ll Hear On This Episode of When Science Speaks

  • [1:10] Mark introduces his guest, Michelle Popowitz.
  • [2:50] What led Michelle to her work at UCLA?
  • [8:30] How Michelle ended up working on Grand Challenges.
  • [19:20] Why it’s important to know your audience and tailor your approach.
  • [25:20] Helping the public understand the resources that universities offer.
  • [28:50] How Michelle and her team have disseminated their approach to other universities.
  • [31:00] From general incentives to specific goals.
  • [38:00] Mark and Michelle talk about their professional goals for 2019.
  • [42:15] How the Grand Challenge is like a startup.
  • [44:15] Closing thoughts from Michelle.

Connect with Michelle Popowitz

Resources & People Mentioned

Grand Challenges are Moonshot Goals

Have you heard the term “Grand Challenges” before? Grand Challenges are also known as “moonshots” derived from President Kennedy’s moonshot goal to put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth. These ambitious goals have the potential to draw the public’s interest and fuel popular support for a positive societal change. Grand Challenges aren’t just for governments and universities; businesses are getting in on the positive publicity garnered by these ambitious goals. Recently, Mircosoft announced that they are investing $500 million to build affordable housing in the Seattle area.

In her work at UCLA, Michelle Popowitz is engaged in two specific and ambitious Grand Challenges. These two Grand Challenges are the biggest, most collaborative, and potentially most transformative efforts UCLA has undertaken to date. The Sustainable LA

Grand Challenge focuses on achieving sustainability in energy and water while enhancing ecosystem health in Los Angeles County by 2050. The Depression Grand Challenge is dedicated to understanding, preventing and treating the world’s greatest health problem. They plan to cut the burden of depression in half by 2050 and eliminate it by the end of the century.

Seize opportunities and explore the possibilities

Too often many professionals have this idea that opportunities will just fall in their lap. Has that been your experience? Did someone come along and roll out the red carpet for you or did you have to forge your own path? Nothing happens without a price, either you pay the price, or someone pays it for you. Don’t let this discourage you in your efforts; half the battle is knowing the rules to the game. How have you forged your own path in your career?

Michelle Popowitz didn’t have any plans to start the Grand Challenges initiative at UCLA when she entered her role as the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research. She went from putting out fires in her position as the Assistant Dean with the UCLA School of Dentistry to enjoying a significant amount of free time in the research office. Jumping into her role at the research department, Michelle set herself on a course she never would have imagined. Determined to make an impact and elicit positive change, Michelle started with small steps that eventually snowballed into founding the Grand Challenges at UCLA.

Connect With Mark and When Science Speaks

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