As a business executive with decades of experience working in insurance, financial services and investment around the world, Genworth Financial President and CEO Tom McInerney sees a need to cultivate effective leaders who have a strong global perspective.
McInerney’s commitment to that effort recently led him to make a $1.5 million gift establishing a new postdoctoral fellowship at William & Mary’s Global Research Institute that will advance GRI’s international study and research collaborations.
His strong belief in higher education and his family’s connection to William & Mary — through one of his daughters, veterinarian Erin McInerney Smith ’07, and her husband, Chris Smith ’07, co-founder of The Virginia Beer Co. — inspired McInerney to support the university through his philanthropy. He also had a nudge from fellow Richmonder Jim Ukrop ’60, L.H.D. ’89, who encouraged him to become more involved with William & Mary, resulting in McInerney’s service on the Reves International Advisory Board, which he joined in 2021.
“I support 100% the broad push from the president, the provost, deans and department leaders to have more people from different parts of the world being engaged with W&M,” McInerney said, referring to the goal in William & Mary’s Vision 2026 strategic plan to expand W&M’s reach by addressing global challenges, forging dynamic partnerships to fuel positive change and modeling democratic ideals to extend its influence around the world.
The first postdoctoral fellow funded through McInerney’s gift is expected to arrive at William & Mary next fall for the 2023-24 academic year.
GRI’s postdoctoral fellows add expertise from diverse academic backgrounds to William & Mary’s classrooms through teaching and mentoring. They also broaden the scope of research conducted by the university and provide new avenues for students to gain experience working on national and international projects.
“Our postdoctoral fellows are true ambassadors for the university,” said GRI Director Mike Tierney, ’87, M.A. ’88, P’15, who is also the George & Mary Hylton Professor of Government. “They bring the world to William & Mary and they help spread the word about W&M to the nation and the world. “Our postdoctoral program provides opportunities for underrepresented scholars and students, and these fellows, in turn, make contributions that dramatically increase our ability to produce research that matters in the world.”
One current GRI postdoctoral fellow, spatial epidemiologist Julius Nyerere Odhiambo, started a two-year position with William & Mary in August 2021, after completing his doctorate at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa. He moved to Williamsburg from Kenya in January.
Odhiambo has been working in the Ignite global health research lab. Alongside Carrie Dolan, lab director and assistant professor of kinesiology, and student researchers, he is reviewing the methods used to quantify the spread of COVID-19 in Africa, where people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Their research looks at how African countries’ pandemic response, including testing and vaccine distribution, has been hampered by a lack of reliable data on reported cases and by limited resources. An outline of their findings was published in BioMed Central Systematic Reviews in July and they have submitted a full research paper for publication.
“In the era of evidence-based practice, you need to anchor what you do on data that is reliable,” Odhiambo says. “We looked at efficiency and equity and allocation of limited resources in ways that will optimize outcomes.”
Last spring, he taught a seminar kinesiology class at William & Mary on methods in health development, during which he discussed with students the public health responses to the pandemic in the U.S. as compared to Africa.
“They gave me their perspectives on what is happening and how things are being done, and I could also tell them about my background. We could marry these two perspectives to see how best to handle issues when we are faced with pandemics such as COVID-19,” he said.
Another of Odhiambo’s research projects builds on findings about China’s overseas development spending by the AidData lab within GRI. Assisted by student researcher Aaron Tavel ’24, he discovered that Chinese efforts to control and eventually eliminate malaria include sending medical teams to Africa, providing drug therapies and building hospitals.
He presented these conclusions in June at the inaugural William & Mary China Convening conference: Separating Fact from Fiction: China’s Growing Global Influence and its Implications, hosted by the Global Research Institute. Odhiambo is also preparing to submit a related paper for publication by the end of the year.
“I envision myself playing a critical role in trying to better understand health patterns and prepare solutions that are going to improve health outcomes, especially to the vulnerable populations in Africa,” he said. “My training here is one way to help me advance work that ultimately will help a sick child, or will help a sick mother somewhere in rural Africa.”
While Odhiambo has brought his experience from Africa to William & Mary students, Anna Glass ’24 had her first opportunity to travel outside the United States as part of her research collaboration with a postdoctoral fellow.
Last summer, Glass spent two months in Uganda as a GRI summer fellow studying how access to smartphones affects women’s livelihoods. She worked with Tanu Kumar, a postdoctoral fellow in digital technology and development at GRI and a faculty affiliate in W&M’s Department of Government — along with Philip Roessler, the Margaret Hamilton Associate Professor of Government and co-director of the Digital Inclusion and Governance Lab, and program manager Laura Schwartz.
In partnership with three other organizations, they distributed phones to women who are part of a network of village savings and loan associations and they will follow up within the next year to find out what the impact has been. Their partners include KEIPhone, a woman-owned tech company; Opportunity Bank and Innovations for Poverty Action.
Glass said she found the experience rewarding and eye-opening.
“Being on the ground and working with people from Uganda provided a wonderful baseline to understand how we could approach this research project with sensitivity,” she said. “I had a much better sense of the social and cultural context behind our research.”
Glass first worked with Kumar in the fall of 2020 on a project through GRI’s Global Cities and Digital Democracies Initiative to assess how municipal government officials in Mumbai, India, responded to complaints related to the water supply.
She said Kumar helped her to learn coding, run a machine-learning model and categorize data, leading Glass to pursue a major in both government and data science. In addition, Kumar provided advice and letters of recommendation that helped Glass obtain a summer internship and continuing consultant work with the Global Environment and Technology Foundation, a nonprofit with a mission to accelerate sustainable development.
“Even without a class structure behind it, her mentorship was really valuable,” Glass said. “I already had a subject area interest in government. And then my work with Dr. Kumar helped encourage my interest in data science and showed me some of the incredible research initiatives that involve both fields. She gave me the tools to follow the career path that I want.”
The new fellowship established by McInerney joins four others created through two separate grants: one from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and another from the Charles Koch Foundation in partnership with former W&M Board of Visitors member Paul C. Jost ’76, J.D. ’88 and Laura Holmes Jost, longtime benefactors of the university.
The Carnegie Corporation’s support will ensure the continuation of GRI’s Post-Doctoral Fellowship for Academic Diversity, launched as a pilot program in 2020, which brought Odhiambo and Kumar to William & Mary.
The postdoctoral fellows funded through the partnership between the Charles Koch Foundation and the Josts will help William & Mary to diversify and expand research and teaching in the areas of international security and U.S. foreign policy.
“I think William & Mary is a fantastic school, one of the best in the country and the world,” McInerney said. “GRI and the Reves Center are enormously important to position William & Mary toward its vision of being a much more global institution, and these postdoctoral fellows are going to have a significant impact.”