U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia knew enough about the work being done at AidData, the influential student-faculty global research initiative at William & Mary, that when he had the chance, he just had to see it for himself.
That opportunity came on Dec. 5 when Kaine visited AidData, housed at the Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations (ITPIR), for a conversation with students, faculty and staff about research initiatives. Helping to organize the visit were William & Mary Director of Federal Relations Michael Connolly and Associate Vice President for Government Relations Fran Bradford. Other university attendees included Provost Michael Halleran, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Henry Broaddus and Vice Provost for International Affairs and Director of the Reves Center for International Studies Stephen Hanson.
Kaine told those gathered that he became aware of AidData’s work from Raj Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Aid (USAID), and felt compelled to visit. He was equally impressed by Hanson’s remark that William & Mary ranked first among public universities in undergraduate study abroad participation.
“The fact that the USAID Administrator, Raj Shah, leader of our country's premier international development agency, specifically told Sen. Kaine that he needed to visit William & Mary and AidData to see the research lab in action, makes me proud to be part of this college community,” said AidData Director of Operations David Trichler. “Our students and faculty on campus are truly engaged in work that is impacting the world.”.
The program began with three student presentations from AidData research associates, followed by individual question-and-answer sessions with each student. Rob Marty MPP ‘16 spoke to Kaine on how AidData’s geocoded data can be used to examine allocation and effectiveness in new and innovative ways. Lu Sevier ‘16 discussed how thinking spatially delineates the boundaries of new territories and further transparency and open government aid efforts. Justin DeShazor ‘15 described his experience working on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and with Transparency International in Uganda.
“Sen. Kaine talked about how policy-makers look to empirical evidence of aid effectiveness to inform development policy and to justify aid budgets— so this made it clear that using AidData's geocoded data to examine subnational aid dynamics goes far beyond an interesting academic question,” said Marty. “Talking with Sen. Kaine was refreshing in that it showed how ITPIR really helps to catalyze the Ivory Tower to have an impact on the world beyond."
“AidData students have presented to leaders at USAID, Capitol Hill, the State Department, the World Bank and others,” Trichler said. “We think they are the best spokesmen and women for the College - they are smart, savvy and passionate about critical issues.”.
In addition to the student presentations, ITPIR Director Mike Tierney and AidData Co-Executive Director Brad Parks spoke to Kaine on how ITPIR and AidData help to bridge the research and policy gap at William & Mary. The institute is comprised of five projects: reform incentives, project on international peace and security, violent international political conflict and terrorism, teaching, research, and international policy and AidData.
Following the presentations, Kaine toured the three-story building, stopping to meet and speak with students and staff on each floor. While on the third floor student workspace, Kaine took time to speak with a number of AidData research associates, including Kelvin Abrokwa-Johnson ‘17. When the student attempted to take a selfie with Kaine, the senator gathered together a group for a photo, along with a William & Mary-themed donut.
“He expressed genuine interest in what we were all studying and appreciated our diverse academic pursuits and roles here at AidData,” said Abrokwa-Johnson. “He was warm and cordial, readily agreeable to the suggestion of a selfie, and he insisted we include the donut in the photo.”