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History, Mission & Values

“The Institute exemplifies the best of William & Mary. Creativity, entrepreneurship, and intellectual risk-taking are rewarded. By investing in the power of student-faculty teams, the Institute is helping position W&M as a leader for world-class, applied research.”

Former Secretary of Defense, Robert M. Gates ‘65, LHD ’98


The Global Research Institute (GRI) empowers teams of students and faculty to make a difference in the world. The Institute is a multidisciplinary hub that applies research to real-world problems, investing in outstanding scholars to catalyze new insights and train the next generation of global leaders.

  • Ideas are powerful: Curious, passionate problem-solvers with big ideas can create new knowledge and make a difference in the world.
  • Don’t underestimate an undergrad: Students are our intellectual partners. All GRI research teams benefit from students’ passion, creativity, and hard work. When students and faculty collaborate, they can produce extraordinary results.
  • We look beyond the ivory tower: We work to bridge the gap between academia and the real world, helping our ideas to shape outcomes beyond the campus.
  • Diversity drives innovation: We increase our impact by engaging people from a variety of intellectual, disciplinary, geographic, and personal backgrounds.
  • Our whole is greater than the sum of our parts: By bringing people together to collaborate around problems, we go faster and farther.

"For problems that need data that has yet to be discovered or methods that have yet to be invented, there is no better place for the world to come to than the Global Research Institute."

W&M President, Katherine A. Rowe


The Global Research Institute’s roots go back to 2003, when two separate students approached professors Mike Tierney and Sue Peterson with questions about how research is applied beyond the university. One student observed the difference between how his professors taught and how they studied international relations, asking why so much research was aimed at other scholars rather than practitioners doing the work of international relations in the policy world. Another student was working on his honors thesis and discovered that the data needed to answer his research question on tracking environmental aid didn’t yet exist.

These student questions became two research projects, led by the students in collaboration with faculty and external practitioners: TRIP (Teaching, Research, and International Policy) and AidData. The outcomes were game-changing: students worked alongside faculty as equal participants in the research process, learning through research in ways that cannot be replicated in the classroom, and the data collected and analyzed in these projects had clear policy relevance, generating interest beyond the university.

As these initial projects grew, the student-faculty teams realized their approach to research needed a home that could support externally funded projects led by collaborative teams of undergraduate students and faculty researchers. In 2008 Mike Tierney and Sue Peterson established that home (originally called the Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations, it was rebranded in 2018 as the Global Research Institute). The Institute’s directive was to enhance W&M’s teaching and research profile by investing in student-faculty research teams that create new knowledge and make a difference in the world. Those two research projects have become nine (we now call them “labs”), and ITPIR became GRI.

But our motivations and approach have mostly remained the same.

Since the Institute’s founding in 2008, over 50 unique external partners have invested more than $70 million in GRI. Today, more than 60 faculty and staff and over 200 students conduct applied research with project collaborators such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of NY, the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, the World Bank, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Department of Defense, the United Nations, among others.

GRI insights help guide the policy and strategic approach of its partners, and its findings are discussed at the highest levels of government. Analysis from GRI research labs are routinely published in elite media outlets (The Economist, Foreign Policy, The Washington Post, BBC, Reuters, WSJ) and research papers are published in the leading outlets in their fields (Nature, International Organization, Oxford University Press).

Our digital brochure with more information about GRI and its 10 research labs and 40 unique, integrated student/faculty research teams is available here.

Read about 20 years of GRI