Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is a Big Idea?

A: Big Ideas are transformative and transdisciplinary solutions to society’s grand challenges. Faculty-led research teams comprised of colleagues and community members submit bold, interdisciplinary ideas that require university-wide collaboration. Big Ideas include areas where SDSU is emerging as a leader, distinguish SDSU and the San Diego region and link to the emerging Strategic Plan.

Q: What is the SDSU Big Ideas Initiative?

A: The Big Ideas initiative is faculty-focused and driven, harnessing the ambitions of SDSU researchers and scholars as they imagine, identify and initiate solutions with a focus on addressing our greatest societal problems. Out of this initiative, we may see new solutions related to global education, environmental sustainability, arts and culture, human health, food security and the preservation of natural resources such as water, and more. The Big Ideas Initiative formalizes a partnership across Academic Affairs, Graduate and Research Affairs, and University Relations and Development to evolve efforts seeking private support for faculty scholarship and research on a grand scale. Big Ideas Initiatives have been launched by a number of universities, including Purdue, Rutgers, Texas State, UC Davis, UC Irvine, and the University of Nebraska. These initiatives provide a structure for the university community to engage collectively in developing visionary ideas that draw upon distinct strengths and capabilities.

Q: Why Big Ideas?

A: Big Ideas presents a new approach to supporting faculty researchers and scholars as our university sees significant growth in its research enterprise and philanthropy. Our faculty secured $148.5 million in grant funding in 2018-19, the second-highest amount in university history. Coupled with this important growth are increases in philanthropy. SDSU drew nearly $116 million in gifts that same year, a significant increase over the prior year. And this fall's Day of Giving resulted in a record $304,000 in donations in one day alone.

Q: How is the Big Ideas Initiative related to the Strategic Plan?

A: Big Ideas is closely aligned with SDSU’s strategic planning initiative, which includes a draft priority focused on the promotion of faculty research. The planning initiative will invigorate transformative solutions to improve the success of our students, faculty and staff, and our regional and global impact. Additional information, including descriptions of the five proposed strategic priorities, is available on the Reimagining the Future: A Strategic Plan for SDSU site. Accordingly, Big Ideas proposals are encouraged to be multidisciplinary, multi-organizational and/or multi-campus. Ideas should be transformative, and endeavor to change our understanding of an important concept or practice, address a major challenge, or create a new paradigm or area of inquiry. 

Q: How do Big Ideas Initiatives differ from traditional research initiatives?

A

Big Ideas Initiatives

Traditional Research Initiatives

  Leverage faculty expertise widely to positively impact society’s grand challenges Positions individual faculty for extramural funding
  Positions SDSU to be a world-renowned university Enable pillars of research excellence across the campus
  Transformational funding from private sources Well defined extramural funding opportunity
  Distinguish SDSU and San Diego region as a hub for addressing local and global societal problems Distinguish SDSU and San Diego region as a hub for addressing local and global societal problems
  Large multi-disciplinary and diverse teams Selected partners and collaborators

Q: What support will the university provide?

A: The university will provide all teams selected for the first round with support to prepare a poster and a short promotional video for the project. A Big Ideas poster session is planned for April 2020. Final round submissions will be due August 1, 2020 for the selection of the five Big Ideas that best distinguish SDSU and provide the greatest potential for impact. Support for the final five teams will be available and can include grant-writing, travel, course buyout, research assistantships, training, marketing and communication. First round teams not selected will continue to receive support to pursue funding opportunities outside of the Big Ideas structure. The university will also foster opportunities to create direct connections between faculty teams and potential funders such as private foundations, philanthropists and government agencies.

Q: Why are we doing this now?

A: Funding for Big Ideas will enable impactful scholarship for which SDSU will become a national exemplar. The Big Ideas initiative provides unique opportunities to weave multidisciplinary, multi-campus and multi-organizational teams together to address problems of great interest to private funders, both foundations and individuals. In 2017, private sources gave $410 billion for programs in education, health and human services, arts, culture, humanities, international affairs and other areas. The majority of the funded efforts reflect broad, interdisciplinary expertise and community engagement that requires institutional commitment for their cultivation. SDSU is well positioned to pursue large investments from private sources, but has limited institutional experience. Thus, SDSU must identify and coalesce areas of global and societal impact to compete for these resources and leverage strategic investments. The Big Ideas Initiative is envisioned to accomplish this purpose, and secure funding to overcome obstacles to impactful scholarship and realize our institutional potential. Finally, Big Ideas will inform our current Strategic Plan, enabling synergy between setting institutional priorities and integrating transformative scholarship.

Q: I am a faculty member with a Big Idea. What should I expect if I submit a proposal?

A: Big Ideas begin with faculty-led teams who submit proposals that are evaluated for their potential to attract private funding. Teams selected in the first round will be provided support for developing promotional materials and encouraged to engage donors and other stakeholders to evolve their idea. Please refer to the Process and Timeline for more details. 

Q: I am not a faculty member. Can I get involved? 

A: Yes! As Big Ideas themes emerge and teams are formed, workshops and forums will be convened to explore different dimensions and expand the teams across the campuses, including the Imperial Valley campus. These events will be listed on the Big Ideas website.

Q: I am a student. Is there a way for me to get involved? 

A: Yes! As Big Ideas themes emerge and teams are formed, workshops and forums will be convened to explore different dimensions and expand the teams across the campuses, including the Imperial Valley campus. These events will be listed on the Big Ideas website.

Q: Is there a cost to participate in this initiative? 

A: There is no financial cost, we want your brain power!

Q: Will the university no longer support research initiatives defined as “traditional”? 

A: The university will continue to support and grow all research initiatives, traditional and non-traditional. The Big Ideas Initiative complements these traditional efforts by providing a larger umbrella and a focus on private funding.

Q: Where can I see a timeline for the initiative?

 A: You can see a timeline here

Q: I have an idea and would like to hold a workshop, what should I do?

A: The President’s office will assist with scheduling, finding a room, and providing light refreshments for any group that wishes to hold a workshop. Please contact Karen May-Newman at [email protected].

Q: Were the workshops held in December the only themes that are being supported?

A: No, the workshops were the first effort to bring together small groups of interested individuals that wanted to begin conversations around possible Big Ideas themes. The topics were selected to align with the strategic plan, but are only potential themes at this stage. There is no limit on the type of idea that can be submitted, and if a workshop would help to gather support then more workshops will be held.

Q: What is unique about how this initiative works?

A: This effort is a partnership among Academic Affairs, Graduate and Research Affairs, and University Relations and Development (URAD). Faculty will provide the ideas and URAD will develop them.

Q: What does “transformative” mean in this context?

A: Transformative research involves ideas, discoveries or tools that radically change our understanding of an important existing concept or practice and leads to the creation of a new paradigm or field of study. Such research typically involves multidisciplinary teams collaborating to improve the lives of humankind.