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How will we meet the most pressing demands of our time?

The Global Grand Challenges Symposium brings together the Cornell community and international partners to discuss the most urgent challenges around the world and how we can work together to address them.

The symposium has three key objectives:

  • To open a campuswide dialogue on emerging Global Grand Challenges.
  • To generate ideas for the next Global Grand Challenge(s), which Global Cornell will support with resources for partnerships, collaborative research, cotaught courses, field experiences, and communications.
  • To be inspired by the depth and breadth of global expertise at Cornell and our Global Hubs partners for the benefit of communities around the world.

Video of the five symposium panels is available on the Global Cornell YouTube channel.

Symposium Schedule


Wednesday, November 16

4:30–6:00 ET, Klarman Hall, Rhodes-Rawlings Auditorium

Welcome, President Martha Pollack
Panel 1: Knowledge: What Counts, for Whom, and to What Ends?

A panel of Cornell faculty and Global Hubs partners discuss innovations in higher education, social media, and legal frameworks; new forms of knowledge production and inequalities in access; and security, privacy, disinformation, and the role of knowledge in democracies.

Panelists: Colleen Barry (moderator) | Anne SikwibeleGenaro Zavala-Enríquez | Frank Cogliano | Vanita ShastriC. Raj Kumar | Chantal Thomas

Remarks, Provost Michael Kotlikoff
Reception, 6:00 ET, Klarman Hall Atrium

Thursday, November 17

8:00–5:00 ET, Clark Hall, room 700 (7th floor)

Breakfast, 8:00 ET

Panel 2: Water: Worldwide Challenges and Approaches, 9:00–10:30 ET

Faculty from Cornell and partner universities explore the most critical challenges related to changing global water conditions, including access to clean drinking water; water governance, norms, and customs; trade-offs between drinking water, irrigation, and hydropower; rising sea levels and water-dependent communities; and new solutions for wastewater, ocean plastics, and pollution.

Panelists: John Albertson (moderator and speaker) | Alex Flecker | Victoria A. Beard | María Cristina Mateus CórdovezRay Craib | Lindsay Beevers | Erastus Mwanaumo | Todd Cowen

Panel 3: Health: An Integrated Global Perspective, 11:00–12:30 ET

Faculty from Cornell and partner universities explore vital issues related to health, including equity, nutrition, mental health and well-being, disease, communication, new technologies, sociocultural norms, One Health, sustainable agriculture and ecosystems, elder care, and the business of medicine/health.

Panelists: Alex Travis (moderator) | David Erickson | Isabel Perera | Peter McCormickRachel Bezner Kerr | Claus BeierAndrew Willford

Lunch, 12:30 ET

Panel 4: Space: In a Galaxy Not So Far Away, 1:30–3:00 ET

Faculty from Cornell and partner universities explore urgent topics related to our global engagements with outer space, including intergovernmental collaboration and defining a new space policy; private space travel and exploration; historical lessons for colonization; new technologies, materials, and visualizations; intelligent life; resources and extraglobal markets; and access and inequalities.

Panelists: Rachel Bean (moderator) | Jonathan Lunine | Lars BuchhaveAnindita Banerjee | Mason Peck |Jaideep Chatterjee | Lisa Kaltenegger

Panel 5: International Collaboration: Taking Action for Our Global Future, 3:30–5:00 ET

In this final session, panelists discuss opportunities and challenges for creating truly collaborative and mutually beneficial partnerships in an unequal world. Faculty from partner universities share ideas for collaborating on the four themes introduced earlier in the symposium, and participants explore the tension between respect for local cultures and universalisms implicated in scientific inquiry.

Panelists: Wendy Wolford (moderator) | Eric Osei-AssibeyAnika GaujaReuben Wong | Natcha Thawesaengskulthai | Rachel Beatty Riedl



John Albertson, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Cornell: Albertson's work is generally directed toward the development of a comprehensive understanding of the exchange rates of mass (e.g., water, CO2, pollutants), energy, and momentum between the land and atmosphere. The primary applications of his work are in hydrometeorology and air quality. He is particularly focused on the fusion of measurements and models for optimal prediction.

Anindita Banerjee, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature, Cornell: Banerjee’s research focuses on science fiction and technocultural studies, environmental humanities, media studies, and migration studies across Russia, Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and Latin and African Americas.

Colleen Barry, Founding Dean, School of Public Policy, Cornell: Barry’s research focuses on how health and social policies can affect a range of outcomes for individuals with mental illness and substance use and communities at risk for violence. She also studies how communication strategies can increase public support for evidence-based policies to improve the health and well-being of people with mental illness and substance use disorders and reduce stigma.

Victoria A. Beard, Professor of City and Regional Planning; Director, Cornell Mui Ho Center for Cities, Cornell: Beard's research and teaching focus on comparative urbanization, international development planning, and how planners address urban inequality and poverty. In response to the limitations of community-based planning, Beard has expanded her work to focus on the city perspective and access to basic services, particularly water and sanitation, and the broader processes that create and sustain city-wide transformation.

Rachel Bean, Professor, Senior Associate Dean for Math and Science in the College of Arts & Sciences, Cornell: Bean's work centers on extracting information about cosmological theories using observations of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) and large-scale structure (galaxies and clusters of galaxies), in particular working to understand the nature of dark energy, the properties of gravity on cosmic scales and the fundamental origins of primordial inflation.

Lindsay Beevers, Chair of Environmental Engineering and Head of Research Institute, University of Edinburgh, Scotland: Beevers has worked both in industry as a civil engineer as well as in academia, focusing on climate change uncertainty and impacts on water resources around the world.

Claus Beier, Head of the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen, Denmark: Beier's research concentrates on ecosystem responses to air pollution and climate change—in particular, impacts on ecosystem functioning and feedback to the atmosphere.

Lars Buchhave, Professor of Space Research and Technology Astrophysics and Atmospheric Physics, Technical University of Denmark: Buchhave's main research interests are in planets, astrophysics, astronomy, exoplanet, and stars. His Planet research is multidisciplinary, incorporating elements of the light curve, radial velocity, and transit.

Jaideep Chatterjee, Dean, O. P. Jindal School of Art & Architecture, O. P. Jindal Global University, India: Chatterjee is an architect, historian, and anthropologist. With a doctorate in History of Architecture and Urbanism and another in Socio-cultural Anthropology from Cornell University, Jaideep’s academic inquiries traverse questions of design, visual culture, techno-politics, social formation of expertise, popular culture, and nationalism.

Frank Cogliano, Dean International (North America); Professor of American History University of Edinburgh, Scotland: Cogliano's research is mainly concerned with the political, cultural, and diplomatic history of revolutionary and early national America.

Todd Cowen, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Cornell: Cowen's research interests are in environmental fluid mechanics, renewable energy, and sustainability. He pairs laboratory-based research with full-scale observational field campaigns to understand the physics of natural and anthropogenic flows in the environment.

Ray Craib, Marie Underhill Noll Professor of American History, Cornell: Craib's research and teaching interests are eclectic but generally revolve around the intersections of space, politics, and everyday practice. He works with graduate students on the history of modern Latin America, the histories of anarchism and the dissident Left, and geography and social theory.

David Erickson, S.C. Thomas Sze Director of the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Cornell: Erickson's research focuses on mobile and global health technology, medical diagnostics, microfluidics, photonics, and nanotechnology. He has helped to found numerous start-up companies commercializing: high-throughput pharmaceutical instrumentation, biomedical diagnostics, and energy technologies, including Halo Labs, VitaScan, and Dimensional Energy.

Alex Flecker, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell: Flecker's research is at the interface between community and ecosystem ecology and aims to understand the functional significance of biodiversity. Much of his research focuses on stream ecosystems in both the tropics and temperate zone, addressing questions pertaining to the importance of species diversity and identity for ecosystem functioning.

Anika Gauja, Associate Dean (Research), Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Sydney, Australia: Gauja’s research interests broadly center on the comparative analysis of political institutions and participation in representative democracies. Her work to date has looked at the operation of political parties, assessing the continuing relevance of these institutions as mechanisms for citizen participation in politics and their ability to represent diverse and conflicting interests.

Lisa Kaltenegger, Director of the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell and Associate Professor in Astronomy, Cornell: Kaltenegger's research focuses on exploring new worlds orbiting other stars, especially rocky planets and super-Earths and their atmospheres in the habitable zone. She is a world-leading expert in modeling potential habitable worlds and their detectable spectral fingerprint, which can be detected with the next generation of telescopes.

Rachel Bezner Kerr, Professor and Co-Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of Global Development, Cornell: Bezner Kerr's research focuses on the historical, political, and social roots of the food system in northern Malawi; sustainable agriculture, food security, and social processes in rural Africa; social relations linked to health and nutritional outcomes; and local knowledge and climate change adaptation.

C. Raj Kumar, Founding Vice Chancellor, O. P. Jindal Global University, India: Kumar is an accomplished legal scholar and works in the fields of human rights and development, comparative constitutional law, terrorism and national security, corruption and governance, law and disaster management, legal education and higher education.

Jonathan Lunine, David C. Duncan Professor in the Physical Sciences, Department of Astronomy, Cornell: Lunine is interested in how planets form and evolve, what processes maintain and establish habitability, and what kinds of exotic environments (methane lakes, etc.) might host a kind of chemistry sophisticated enough to be called "life." He pursues these interests through theoretical modeling and participation in spacecraft missions.

María Cristina Mateus Córdovez, Professor, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador: Mateus Córdovez's research interests are analysis of the water resources management system; hydrodynamic modeling; river engineering and restoration, climate change programming and modeling, and surface and groundwater resource interactions; operation and management of hydroelectric dams.

Peter McCormick, Deputy Dean (International), Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London: McCormick's research interests include G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs), neurological diseases, obesity, and drug discovery. His work on heterodimerization between families of GPCRs has been published in PNAS, JBC, Journal of Neuroscience, PLoS Biology and Molecular Psychiatry. 

Erastus Mwanaumo, Senior Lecturer, School of Engineering, University of Zambia: Mwanaumo is an internationally recognized expert with the World Bank, European Union, NTU Strategic Development Consultants of Denmark, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (formerly DFID), AfDB, and AECOM with whom he consults. He is also one of the university’s representatives to the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization.

Eric Osei-Assibey, Dean of International Programmes, Prof of Economics, former Head of the Department of Distance Education, University of Ghana: Osei-Assibey's research interests are in monetary policy, banking regulations, and financial inclusion issues. He is also an expert in development macroeconomic and fiscal policy issues, international finance issues, poverty, and social protection issues.

Mason Peck, Stephen J. Fujikawa '77 Professor of Astronautical Engineering, Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Cornell: Peck's areas of academic expertise include next-generation space-system architectures, mission design, and GNC. His background represents a breadth of leadership experience in space technology across academia, the aerospace industry, and DoD. It extends from early-stage theoretical work through flight hardware and mission operations.

Isabel Perera, Assistant Professor of Government, Cornell: Perera studies how politics shape the social policies, labor markets, and overall economies of affluent democracies, focusing on the United States and Western Europe.

Rachel Riedl, Professor, Director of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, the John S. Knight Professor of International Studies, Cornell: Riedl’s research interests include institutional development in new democracies, local governance and decentralization policy, authoritarian regime legacies, and religion and politics, with a regional focus in Africa. Riedl is cohost of the podcast Ufahamu Africa, and her most recent book is From Pews to Politics, Religious Sermons and Political Participation in Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2019).

Vanita Shastri, Dean of Global Education and Strategic Programs, Ashoka University, India: Shastri is an educationist, entrepreneur, and artist. She has founded two nonprofit organizations, including the Meru Education Foundation in the U.S. and the Habitat Learning Center in Delhi in India.

Anne Sikwibele, Vice Chancellor, University of Zambia: As one of Zambia's first female professors, Sikwibele's thought leadership focuses on education policy, gender and poverty, human rights and social development in education, online and distance learning, and higher education in developing countries.

Natcha Thawesaengskulthai, Associate Professor and Chula Global Chief Innovation Officer, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand: Thawesaengskulthai's research and publications focus on quality engineering, technology, and innovation management. She leads the Chulalongkorn University Innovation Hub, which nurtures talents through cultivating creative thinking and entrepreneurial skills for students, professors, and alumni.

Chantal Thomas, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Radice Family Professor of Law, Cornell: Thomas focuses her scholarship on the relationship between international law, political economy, and global social justice in a variety of contexts, with a focus on international trade and international migration.

Alex Travis, Professor of Reproductive Biology, Department Chair of Public & Ecosystem Health, Director of the Master of Public Health Program, Cornell: Travis’s research explores a diverse set of subjects related to One Health, which is interdisciplinary work that links the functions and wellbeing of people, animals, and the environment. His interests include animal health and fertility as well as efforts to help alleviate poverty and hunger in developing countries, work that indirectly benefits local wildlife.

Andrew Willford, Professor of Anthropology, Cornell: Willford's work characteristically explores psychological and phenomenological aspects of selfhood, identity, and subjectivity within a matrix of power and statecraft. His previous research has focused on Tamil displacement, revivalism, and identity politics in Malaysia and India.

Wendy Wolford, Robert A. and Ruth E. Polson Professor of Global Development, Cornell: Wolford’s research includes work on the political economies of development, agrarian societies, political ecology, land dispossession and distribution, social mobilization, and critical ethnography, with a regional focus in Brazil and Mozambique. She is currently finishing a book on the politics of agricultural research and development in Mozambique.

Reuben Wong, Associate Vice President (Global Relations), National University of Singapore: Wong's main research area is European foreign policy. His other interests include regionalism and integration theory, human rights, security, and Asia-Europe relations.

Genaro Zavala-Enríquez, Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the School of Engineering and Sciences; Leader Interdisciplinary Research Group, Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico: Zavala's research interests are conceptual understanding, active learning, development of assessment tools, faculty development and studies in STEM.


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