Global Challenges Series

Interdisciplinary Answers

Welcome into Honors’ interdisciplinary discussions about big, complicated issues.

The Honors Program brings curious, nimble learners into community at UW. People who are excited to learn across many fields and to combine deep inquiry with the practice of examining ideas and information from multiple perspectives. People who ask great questions and value difference.

Angélica Cházaro speaking while Megan Ming-Francis and Tom Ikeda listen
Angélica Cházaro speaks as Megan Ming-Francis and Tom Ikeda listen at Honors’ 2018 event on human rights.

While fulfilling UW’s general education requirements through interdisciplinary, experiential curriculum, Honors students also think together carefully about issues like poverty, human rights, and climate change. 

Each year we convene a public event driven by the questions that keep students up at night, connecting them with thought leaders and activists who are working on these issues. This event is a joint effort between UW Honors students, faculty, staff, alumni, and members of the broader community.

Learning at the UW is more than a means to a degree. It’s a launchpad into a life of purpose which can include opportunities to investigate and offer solutions to profound human problems. Students have cited Global Challenges as “fundamental” to their choice of majors and commitment to public good. Other guests are just as affected, describing the event as “a model for civilization.”

The University of Washington is committed to engaging our community in deep interdisciplinary discussion about big, complicated issues. The Honors Program is proud to be a center of collaborative thinking at this Top 10 public research institution.

Check out our most recent Global Challenges event: “Ways of Knowing”

Different disciplines, cultures, and individuals have distinct approaches to gathering information, interpreting it, and forming beliefs. This begs the question: “How do we know things and where else should we be looking for answers?”

On November 9, UW educators from very different backgrounds explored this topic with the help of Honors students and input from our broader community. Click this link for an overview of the event, a video recording, and more!

Subscribe to Honors News for invitations to Global Challenges and other public events.

Global Challenges Archives

Explore video and audio archives of our past Global Challenges talks, still relevant as our world’s biggest issues continue to evolve.

Ways of knowing, 2023

photo of all "Ways of Knowing" speakers at the event
Polly Olsen, Katie Davis, Samantha-Lynn Martinez, Tony Lucero and Stephanie Smallwood enjoying the great vibes on Nov. 9, 2023

Polly Olsen, Tony Lucero, and Katie Davis gathered to discuss different “Ways of Knowing”. As different individuals, cultures, and disciplines come together to tackle issues, it is important to think about how we form our ideas and where we gather information from. This conversation was moderated by Samantha-Lynn Martinez, a junior double majoring in marine biology and ecology, an artist, and a former peer educator in the Interdisciplinary Honors Program.

Thinking together about the power of place and care, 2022

Photo of Global Challenges hosts/speakers
Stephanie Smallwood, Megan Ybarra, Martine Pierre-Louis, Shannon Hong, Brandon Wu, LaShawnDa Pittman: Nov. 7, 2022

Hosted in a hybrid format, Martine Pierre-Louis, LaShawnDa Pittman, Megan Ybarra and Stephanie Smallwood explored the causal factors of displacement and how we can work together to address those challenges. For the first time ever, the conversation and Q&A were moderated by Honors students, Brandon Wu and Shannon Hong.

Learn More Watch Here

Youth political engagements constructing our world, 2021

Ben Danielson, Alexis Harris and Dean Spade discussed recent events and opportunities in youth-led political activism in our “Post 2020 World.” The conversation was moderated by disability rights activist, Christine Lew, centering perspectives from public health, legal systems and mutual aid, poverty and criminal justice institutions.

Communicating about crises across a divided public, 2020

From left to right: Clarence Spigner, Jeanette Bushnell, and Michelle Koutnik. Speakers at 2020 Global challenges.
From left to right: Clarence Spigner, Jeanette Bushnell, and Michelle Koutnik. Our speakers at 2020 Global Challenges event.

Hosted online in the interest of public safety, Jeanette Bushnell, Clarence Spigner and Michelle Koutnik brought perspectives from glaciology, indigenous philosophy, public health, and so much more to this community conversation about the concept of “crisis,” how activism and academia can work in tandem and also hold each other accountable.

Technology ethics and social change, 2019

Shankar Narayan makes a point, Vicky Lawson and other speakers listen closely
Shankar Narayan makes a point, Vicky Lawson and other speakers listen closely.

Society is scrambling to understand (and govern) the impact of paradigm-changing technologies like big data and artificial intelligence on our identities, systems, health and rights. What is currently happening and what’s predicted to happen at the intersections of “ethical” social change and technology? Speakers: Anna Lauren Hoffmann (UW iSchool), Ece Kamar (Microsoft Research) and Shankar Narayan (ACLU: Technology and Liberty Project).

The question of rights, 2018

Global Challenges panelists consisting of Tom Ikeda, Megan Ming-Francis, and Angélica Cházaro, joined by moderator Vicky Lawson
Global Challenges panelists consisting of Tom Ikeda, Megan Ming-Francis, and Angélica Cházaro, joined by moderator Vicky Lawson.

Tom Ikeda (Founder/Director of Densho), Megan Ming-Francis (Political Science) and Angélica Cházaro (Law) at the intersections between historical Japanese-American experiences and current systems and political decisions to disenfranchise/displace and dehumanize.




Nationalism, “fake news”, and the power of culture, 2017

2017 Global Challenges speakers from left to right: Reşat Kasaba, Randy Engstrom, and Kate Starbird.
2017 Global Challenges speakers from left to right: Reşat Kasaba, Randy Engstrom, and Kate Starbird.

Kate Starbird (Human-Centered Engineering and Informatics), Randy Engstrom (Public Servant in Arts and Youth Advocacy) and Reşat Kasaba (International Studies) held a dynamic conversation that helped to broaden perspectives on how to remedy or at least slow the progress of civic discord.



Talking about climate change, 2016

David Battisti, Jean Dennison, and Hanson Hosein discuss how activism and academia sometimes intersect at Global Challenges 2016.

Jean Dennison (Anthropology/Colonialism), David Battisti (Atmospheric Sciences) and Hanson Hossein (Communication Leadership) discussed why it is so hard for those most invested in the way things are to talk about, much less agree about, the science and social impacts of climate change.

“Our solution is storytelling…If you can come up with a really powerful narrative and tell stories in an effective way, you transcend some of the challenges we have right now. If you can find a narrative that both groups or identities can agree upon, then you can start agreeing upon what path you can take to make that change.”

Health and poverty, 2015

LaShawnDa Pittman, Steve Gloyd, and Chandan Reddy speaking to the audience that was twice the estimated amount.

LaShawnDa Pittman (American Ethnic Studies), Chandan Reddy (Gender, Women & Sexuality) and Steve Gloyd (Global Health/Medicine) spoke at our inaugural Global Challenges event with Honors Program Director and poverty researcher Vicky Lawson (Geography) on the very clear connections between poverty and poor health outcomes.