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2021 Report to Stakeholders

In 2021, we published our fist-ever stakeholder report to share out our successes and challenges. The Director's Note is excerpted below. The full report is available here.


Dear Friends,

Welcome to our first annual stakeholder report. GRI was founded in 2008 with support from William & Mary’s Dean of Arts & Sciences, VP for International Affairs, and the VP for Research. It was designed to help a small number of faculty-student teams manage externally-funded research projects. GRI now supports 10 research labs and reports to the Office of the Provost. Last year we made a commitment to improving the way we assess and report on our work. We think it is important that university leadership, financial supporters, research partners, and our faculty/staff can observe the outputs of our work and compare those to our goals. We also want to focus on the impact of our work. In this report, you will find both quantitative metrics, as well as qualitative descriptions of impact from our faculty, staff, and students. 

Last year (FY21) was a challenging one for all of us. But it also reinforced who we are at GRI. Our long-term perspective helped us navigate the pandemic -- not by retrenching, but instead by making targeted investments that we believe will lead to more and better applied research that has an impact in the world. 

Rather than pulling back in FY21, we invested. While we are now much larger than in 2008, GRI’s purpose remains the same today as at its founding: incubate, support, and scale research by student and faculty teams to make a difference in the world. These research efforts can take years to pay off, but when they do, insights from GRI labs and researchers can play a role in shaping the decisions of governments, NGOs, and private companies. 

Importantly, these research efforts include hundreds of students from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines that receive training and mentorship to develop as future leaders in their fields. As Nitya Labh ‘22 explains, “GRI has always embraced my intellectual curiosity and celebrated academic ambition...The Institute is like an incubator for creative thinkers and future analysts, and that’s what makes it so powerful.”

As we advance these dual goals of creating insights and developing leaders, we help to implement W&M’s vision: “People come to William & Mary wanting to understand and change the world – and together we do.”  

During FY21, we made particular progress in the following 3 areas:

  1. Advancing our strategic approach. With a new leadership team in place and a new reporting line to the Provost’s Office, we codified some of the key lessons we have learned in the past 10 years. We are now more deliberate and focused in our investment strategy. We do not spend money or time on new initiatives or reinvest in existing ones unless we can see how they accelerate our flywheel. In this report, we provide more information on the GRI flywheel and its 6 spokes that guide our investments. 
  2. Expanding our diversity initiatives. Diversity is one of GRI’s 5 longstanding values. We know we are better equipped to solve challenges with a team that has a variety of lived experiences, backgrounds, and training. In 2018 GRI developed a pilot program to help recruit talented researchers from underrepresented groups to GRI. This past year we identified out-year funding for the program and sharpened the focus to make the program more sustainable. We’ve also made other efforts in the DEI space, and the immediate results reported below are striking. Importantly, these types of initiatives are designed to institutionalize such changes.
  3. Expanding the number and breadth of Research Affiliates. The most significant constraint on providing more high-quality mentored research experiences for students is the lack of senior researchers willing and able to provide these experiences. This past year we made a significant push to include research affiliates from across the university, in addition to lab directors. We also created new cross-university programming and start-up funds to support this expanded research network.
We have set the following 3 priorities as we head into FY22:
  1. Plan and execute events that drive research. GRI will bring W&M to the world and the world to W&M. This initiative is designed to attract external resources in order to leverage applied research that could inform policy decisions and practices. The first of our high-level convenings will occur in the spring of 2022 (with a focus on China) with two additional events (so-called “Gates Forums” named in honor of Chancellor Robert Gates) in the fall of ‘22 and spring of ‘23. We will implement high-quality events that provide our students and faculty with access to leading researchers, policy practitioners, and potential partners. If well-executed, these events will raise the profile of W&M and GRI and make Williamsburg a destination for high-quality meetings where people convene to explore evidence-based solutions to real-world problems. 
  2. Catalyze and scale research teams. We will realize the goal of producing more high-impact research by supporting more great researchers and providing better support to our existing research teams. One part of this effort will be increasing the number and diversity of faculty affiliates who are conducting applied research. Another means to the same end will focus on scaling GRI postdoctoral programs. Postdocs support our 10 existing research labs, but also directly produce applied research and provide students with an increased range of mentored research experiences. Finally, we will invest to help move one or more current GRI research labs from the “start-up” phase to a more mature phase where funding is more sustainable and research outputs are more robust. 
  3. Space for the future. Over the past year, we have learned that we can flex to deliver our research even when we cannot be together in person. However, this remote year also highlighted the costs of remote work, especially if that work relies on new collaborations between researchers who don’t already know each other. Studies on innovation provide systematic evidence for something we already know - bringing people from different backgrounds together in both formal and informal settings is crucial to creating intellectual “collisions” that are the lifeblood of creative multi-disciplinary work. Right now, GRI lacks adequate space to support such collaborations. There are no empty seats for additional researchers, the physical building is decaying (there are windows falling out of offices, and buckets on tables to catch water leaks), and we are now denying requests by faculty to collaborate with their research teams at 427 Scotland Street because of space constraints. It is a problem when we win new grants to tackle exciting challenges, but we then have no place for our researchers to sit and engage with each other.

As always, thanks to you, our stakeholders and partners. Our ability to support student-faculty research at a world-class level depends upon your support. Together we can make William & Mary a leader in applied research that makes a difference in the world.


Mike Tierney
Director, Global Research Institute
William & Mary