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Gift Taps Students' Knowledge and Idealism, to Change the World

Werner WeingartnerWerner Weingartner has lived long enough to see a disturbing sameness - and disappointing results - in how policymakers address world problems.

"As a mathematician, I can tell you that if we want different outcomes, we have to change the elements in the equation. Some potential disasters affecting humankind are unavoidable. Others can have their outcomes affected in positive ways if we infuse new ideas and new energy into the usual mix of players. By empowering student voices, by bringing their knowledge and idealism to the table, I believe we can achieve better outcomes than we've seen in the past."

Weingartner's family emigrated in 1939 from Germany to the United States. He describes their experiences across two generations in One Plus One (2002), a collection of stories about "people caught in political and technological changes, which markedly alter the direction of their lives."

For many years Weingartner taught mathematics at the Bronx High School of Science. After first retiring to Hilton Head, S.C., he and his wife moved to Williamsburg and immediately became involved in the life of the College. Now he's bringing his life experiences and vision for the future together through a gift, creating the Weingartner Global Initiative.

The initiative is funded with a commitment of $1 million and consists of three programs, each of which complements and supports the others:

Professor TierneyWeingartner Professor

Professor Mike Tierney has been named the first Weingartner Professor and serves as mentor and guide to the Weingartner Student Fellows. As a professor of government, director (currently on leave) of the International Relations Program and co-director of the Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations, Tierney is well placed to advocate the Weingartner Global Initiative and coordinate collaborations with other campuses.

Peter BergenAshley Ingram
Weingartner Student Fellows

Selected in a competitive process, these students gain knowledge about global challenges and develop a research agenda focused on a specific topic. They are encouraged to work with and form meaningful relationships with students at other colleges and universities, and to share their research findings broadly. Peter Bergen '10 and Ashley Ingram '11 are the first students named as Weingartner Fellows. This past summer they gained practical knowledge working with Professor Tierney on Project-Level Aid (PLAID), a groundbreaking interdisciplinary project whose objective is to create a web-accessible database on development finance. Peter and Ashley are now working on projects in Senegal and Madagascar, respectively.

Weingartner Seminar in Global Challenges

What are the major policy questions of today, and how are they being addressed? How could they be addressed differently? With a strong emphasis on critical thinking and independent learning, this seminar will offer students a rich learning experience that features guest policy experts and travel to Washington, D.C., to attend policy sessions and meet with leading policymakers. Students taking the seminar will learn about how research is conducted and how their own work can bring about changes in policy. They are also likely candidates to become Weingarter Student Fellows. The first of these seminars will be offered in Spring 2010.

Why William and Mary?

According to Weingartner, the College forms a natural fit with his ideas for the global initiative. "Thomas Jefferson, a great proponent of the principles of the Enlightenment, was a student here. Geographically the College is located near Washington, D.C., the center of world policymaking. The faculty is excellent. And the College is small enough that a financial commitment of this kind can be leveraged into real change."

And then, of course, there are the students.

"William and Mary students are in a privileged position where they can effect change. Younger people are not yet entrenched. We can catch the right students at just the right time, where they have developed useful knowledge and still retain their vision and idealism. Ultimately they can help create a student voice that reaches across campuses and around the world."

Students on the Move: 2009 Weingartner Fellows
Weingartner Professor Tierney consults with Fellows Peter Bergen '10 and Ashley Ingram '11

After their summer's work with Professor Tierney, Peter and Ashley headed in different directions. Peter is now examining the intersection of culture and micro-finance in relation to traditional female and family roles in Senegal. Ashley is volunteering with an NGO that combines forest conservation and development work in Madagascar. Here are some of their thoughts as they continue their Weingartner Fellowships.

Ashley: When I began my fellowship, I thought that I would do research about health and the environment. Over the course of the summer my focus shifted to studying aid cutoffs. Donor governments and organizations are spending a lot of money to help address some of these problems in developing countries. As I became more involved with the PLAID project I realized that international aid giving is more than the flow of money from rich countries to poor countries. In order to address issues like health there needs to be a comprehensive understanding of donor motivations, where aid is flowing to, and when it is most effective. I had been following the news in both Nicaragua and Madagascar, and in the past months both have had their aid from the United States cut off. This sparked my interest in aid cutoffs, and under the guidance of Professor Tierney, I developed a research question about how donors use cutoffs as signals of their political and development goals, the level of aid substitutability, and ultimately how this affects the populations of developing countries.

Peter: Micro-finance has always held a certain allure for me, for the fundamental principle it embodies: empowerment is the key to development. Micro-finance organizations do not provide patronage through patriarchic international institutions strongly rooted in Western values; they provide business services that enable disenfranchised people to handle their money efficiently - whether that means keeping that money in a bank and earning interest or investing that money in working capital. At the same time, micro-finance provides a platform from which one can observe the intersection of culture and finance, and the ways in which different cultures are responding to globalization and the spread of Western economic values. For the typical Senegalese woman, the extended family is the most powerful resource at her disposal, one that has steeped her in the values that she will live by and one that will support her through hard times. Micro-finance programs emphasize group dynamics, as well as individual responsibility and economization. Does the arrangement of the Senegalese family promote or detract from the typical Senegalese woman's performance in a micro-finance program? I hope to analyze whether microfinance programs are fundamentally based on the Western concept of female empowerment, or whether they adapt well to local gender boundaries.

Ashley: My interest in health was sparked by my involvement with the group Students for Healthy Communities, which is a Spring Break International Trip to a rural community in Nicaragua. One of our goals is to use ethnographic research to address underlying health issues in the community, focusing so far on the availability Ashley with fellow students in Nicaragua, working with Students for Healthy Communitiesand quality of drinking water. I also did a class project with another PLAID research assistant last semester on how state policies and cultural and economic factors affected the well-being of AIDS orphans. Health is a basic human right, but so many people are still suffering from preventable illnesses that I find it's a hard topic to ignore. I fell in love with the NGO program in Madagascar because it combines conservation and development work, and I don't think you can separate the deforestation of Madagascar from the poverty of its people. In order for any conservation project to be successful it has to address the direct needs of the people who rely on the forest for their livelihood.

Peter: Students have an outlook on society that is quite different from that of the nation's current leaders. Our vision has not come to fruition yet, but we are optimistic about our ability to enact change in the future. Of course, we live in a diverse society whose values are often irreconcilably split, but it never hurts to bounce your ideas off of somebody. Because students are the future leaders of the country, it is essential that we share our unique experiences of the world and develop new dreams for the future of our society.

Ashley: I never ceased to be amazed by the dedication and ability that my peers bring to any project. Maybe this is just my idealism showing, but I think that as more students become aware and actively engaged in global issues they collectively do have the energy and creativity to ask hard questions and, more importantly, to search for the answers.

Carl Strikwerda, Dean of Arts & Sciences, has been closely involved in the Weingartner Global Initiative. "Peter's work in micro-finance holds the potential to change how aid organizations consider gender and family roles as they structure programs to assist developing countries. Ashley's focuses on health, the environment, and the roots of poverty take close account of how policies affect practical considerations in people's everyday lives. With these first two Weingartner Student Fellows, we see an excellent beginning to the global initiative. I expect to see similar results as we involve additional students, through the Weingartner Seminar and future faculty-mentored research projects, and grow the Fellowship program to its full complement of six students."