Marquette University, industry partners announce President’s Challenge for COVID-19 response

May 11, 2020

Marquette Seal FlagsMILWAUKEE — In partnership with American Family Insurance, Marquette University has announced a special President’s Challenge to address needs in Milwaukee’s community that have been created or magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

American Family joins the ongoing support of Johnson Controls Foundation in developing this grant program, which provides funding for interdisciplinary teams of faculty, staff and students from the Marquette community for innovative and collaborative work that represents critical areas in the community’s recovery efforts. Partnerships with community organizations are highly encouraged from the ideation phase through the development of the proposal.

“When we announced the first President’s Challenge in 2018, the goal was to address areas of need for communities in Milwaukee.” Marquette President Michael R. Lovell said. “COVID-19 has had a major impact on all of us, but we are seeing some of our surrounding communities being hit disproportionately hard, and I’m proud that American Family has joined Johnson Control Foundation and Marquette University in our goal to aid in recovery efforts.”

The President’s Challenge will support proposals with up to $50,000 of grant funding for one year and will be selected from each of the following focus areas:

  • Mental health and wellness
  • Economic revitalization
  • Health services

“We’re pleased to build upon our existing relationship with Marquette by joining the President’s Challenge to focus on pressing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Leana Nakielski, strategic partnerships director at American Family Insurance. “American Family is committed to building authentic partnerships in Milwaukee that invest in and elevate its greatest asset: our people. This pandemic is forcing innovation and we want to be a part of finding solutions that lead in the recovery and continued positive social and economic impact in our community.”

Learning communities will be launched in each of the focus areas. Faculty, staff, students and community partners are invited to form teams around emerging proposal topics within the learning communities. Information on submitting a proposal, as well as timelines and updates for the program are available on the President’s Challenge website, hosted by Marquette’s Office of Research and Innovation.

“Johnson Controls is proud to partner with Marquette University and American Family to support this fast-paced initiative to serve those in Milwaukee who most need our help in this time of crisis,” said Grady Crosby, vice president of public affairs at Johnson Controls and Johnson Controls Foundation president. “The combination of Marquette faculty and community leaders is a powerful way to leverage the best minds in Milwaukee to create innovative solutions in response to the issues that have been exacerbated by COVID-19.”

The President’s Challenge, funded in part by Johnson Controls Foundation, was first announced in 2018. The Next Step Clinic, which brings mental health services to inner-city neighborhoods, was announced as the first recipient at President Lovell’s annual address in 2019. A 2020 President’s Challenge was announced this past January and the process for that grant program has been accelerated to meet the current needs of the community.

About the American Family Insurance Group

Based in Madison, Wisconsin, American Family Insurance has been serving customers since 1927. We inspire, protect and restore dreams through our insurance products, exceptional service from our agency owners and employees, community investment and creative partnerships to address societal challenges. We act on our belief in diversity and inclusion by constantly evolving to meet customer needs and preferences. American Family Insurance group is the nation’s 13th-largest property/casualty insurance group, ranking No. 306 on the Fortune 500 list. The group sells American Family-brand products, primarily through exclusive agency owners in 19 states. The American Family Insurance group also includes CONNECT, powered by American Family Insurance (formerly Ameriprise Auto & Home), The General, Homesite and Main Street America. Across these companies the group has more than 13,500 employees nationwide.

About Johnson Controls

At Johnson Controls, we transform the environments where people live, work, learn and play. From optimizing building performance to improving safety and enhancing comfort, we drive the outcomes that matter most. We deliver our promise in industries such as healthcare, education, data centers and manufacturing. With a global team of 105,000 experts in more than 150 countries and over 130 years of innovation, we are the power behind our customers' mission. Our leading portfolio of building technology and solutions includes some of the most trusted names in the industry, such as Tyco®, York®, Metasys®, Ruskin®, Titus®, Frick®, Penn®, Sabroe®, Simplex®, Ansul® and Grinnell®. For more information, visit or follow us @johnsoncontrols on Twitter.

About Kevin Conway

Kevin Conway

Kevin is the associate director for university communication in the Office of University Relations. Contact Kevin at (414) 288-4745 or