William & Mary is embarking on a five-year pilot initiative this spring that will support multidisciplinary applied research — with increased student internships and work experiences as a primary goal – in an effort to better solve pressing local, national and global problems. The initiative will encourage collaborations throughout the university and engage outside partners.
Made possible with a $1-million gift from former W&M Foundation Chair Michael Foradas ’78 and Valerie Foradas, the Applied Research & Innovation Initiative (ARII) will be anchored by three core William & Mary units with proven success at working across disciplines: the Global Research Institute, the Institute for Integrative Conservation and the Office of Career Development & Professional Engagement.
The Innovation Initiative’s coordinators will seek proposals from across campus to develop or expand experiential learning projects that incorporate at least two of the four W&M strategic initiatives identified in the university’s Vision 2026 strategic plan — data, water, democracy and careers. Projects will address high-priority issues such as health care, education, economic resilience and biodiversity loss.
“We are grateful for Mike and Valerie Foradas’ vision and partnership that spur investment in the preparation of our society’s next generation of leaders,” W&M President Katherine Rowe said. “The Innovation Initiative will build on William & Mary’s strong traditions of teaching and student-centered research as we work toward solutions to some of the world’s most urgent challenges. By expanding our reach across disciplines to form new collaborations, we will accelerate our ability to make a positive impact far beyond our campus.”
Plans for the Innovation Initiative include:
- The development of three projects that bring disparate researchers together, have the potential to generate positive change in the world and the ability to attract or increase external funding.
- Two years of funding for each project, supported by three faculty fellowships, three undergraduate fellowships and $25,000 annually for research spending.
- The creation of 50 student internships, funded through the initiative and other resources secured by the core partners.
- A collaborative working environment and technology for multidisciplinary research teams.
- A universitywide speaker series and visiting scholars in connection with ARII projects.
Michael and Valerie Foradas played a significant role in William & Mary’s For the Bold fundraising campaign as steering committee members and hosts of W&M Weekend in Chicago and are members of the James Blair Society, which recognizes donors who have contributed $1 million or more to the university. Their prior philanthropy at William & Mary focused mainly on scholarships. To support undergraduate students with financial need, they established the Peter and Diane Foradas Scholarship Endowment in 1993 in honor of Michael Foradas’ parents.
The couple said the Applied Research & Innovation Initiative combines their interests in broadening access to education and providing opportunities for students to gain meaningful work experience. The Innovation Initiative ties in well with the Vision 2026 goals of educating for impact and expanding William & Mary’s reach, Michael Foradas said.
“This pilot, if successful, will help put William & Mary on the map and help reach out outside the boundaries of the university,” he said. “That’s always been, in my view, something that is the essential next step for us as a great global university.”
Valerie Foradas said an internship provided a pivotal experience in her own life. Financial circumstances had not allowed her to pursue higher education full time immediately after graduating from high school, and when she and Michael were married, she worked while he attended law school. Then when he graduated, she became a full-time student at Northwestern University at age 23. One of her professors there recommended her for an opening for a student researcher at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Department of Prints and Drawings.
“The opportunity to have that internship turned into a full-time job for me,” she said. “It’s hard to express my level of gratitude for having that kind of exposure. I still get emotional about it because it opened the door. Education does that.”
William & Mary’s Institute for Integrative Conservation (IIC) already provides opportunities for students to work with partners within and outside the university. For one such project, Bibiana Mirones ’23 and other students traveled last summer to Milpa Alta, Mexico, to work with community and university partners there on evaluating and monitoring plant species to better manage natural areas. Mirones, a first-generation student whose family emigrated from Bolivia to the United States, is a double major in environmental policy and gender, sexuality and women’s studies who plans to become an environmental lawyer.
Another project, which involved developing a business model for sustainable oyster aquaculture, teamed biology and environmental science major Grace Dho ’23 with biology professor and IIC Faculty Director John Swaddle and Bay McLaughlin ’06, M. Acc. ‘07, founder of the First Landing Seafood Co. William & Mary faculty experts from the Alan B. Miller Entrepreneurship Center at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and W&M Law School’s Virginia Center for Coastal Policy also took part in the effort.
“The Innovation Initiative will offer mechanisms and support for multidisciplinary teams of faculty and students to deliver on W&M’s vision — to think boldly and act humanely to address the most pressing issues of our time,” Swaddle said. “It is extremely exciting that we can bring people together across schools, departments and programs to work on societally important applied research while also launching undergraduates on to a broad diversity of career tracks.”
IIC Executive Director Robert Rose said that in addition to the potential for addressing global challenges, the ARII pilot program will allow William & Mary to rethink and redesign how multidisciplinary research can be motivated, conducted and improved.
“Built into the pilot is a careful examination of the process of conducting research, and we intend to take an entrepreneurial approach to improving the research and use the outcomes to further improve the way global challenges are addressed at William & Mary,” Rose said.
Like the IIC, William & Mary’s Global Research Institute engages collaborators on campus and around the world to solve pressing global challenges. GRI’s AidData research lab, for example, is working with two external partners on a new project called GeoField that will broaden the use of satellite imagery for studying agriculture and climate resiliency in developing countries.
Across the Institute’s 10 labs, student researchers such as Jiaya Echevarria M.P.P. ’22 help advance research with real-world consequences.
“You really learn a lot about how the world works, and also how to make changes in the world,” said Echevarria, a former research assistant for AidData’s Research and Evaluation Unit, where she analyzed gender roles within Ghanaian households. “The younger you are, the more you want to see the world change, and knowing that you can use a lab to help change the world is really important.”
As a GRI Summer Fellow, Henry Young ’20 collaborated with fellow research assistants and Professor Philip Roessler, director of the institute’s Africa Research Center and Digital Inclusion & Governance Lab, to conduct an impact evaluation for an academy in Liberia that combines high-quality education with professional football training and courses in life skills and leadership.
“GRI provides students unparalleled real-world experience dealing with pressing challenges. It not only gives students a taste of what is to come after college but instills students with the skills, network and confidence they need to go out and pursue a career,” said Young, who went on to work as a senior research assistant at the Federal Reserve Board and is now a Ph.D. candidate in economics and public policy at the University of Michigan.
Global Research Institute Director Mike Tierney, ’87, M.A. ’88, P ’15, who is also the George & Mary Hylton Professor of Government, said he is energized by ARII’s potential to integrate faculty from other William & Mary departments and schools into projects with GRI and IIC.
“We each have our strengths that can complement each other,” he said. “When we bring students and faculty together from across the university, we enhance our ability to conduct research that matters in the world. As we widen our network of external partners, we also attract new resources to support this work. ”
The Applied Research & Innovation Initiative will also leverage existing corporate, professional and alumni networks cultivated by the Office of Career Development & Professional Engagement.
“The Innovation Initiative will expand paid internship programs where students work with W&M researchers and external partners on activities identified during the project selection process,” said W&M Chief Career Officer Kathleen Powell. “This aligns well with our Vision 2026 goal of ensuring applied learning opportunities that will prepare our students for success in the workplace. We anticipate that the impact of this initiative will extend beyond the five-year pilot and become a model for collaborations that impact career readiness for other students well into the future. ”