By Aili Espigh ’17
I first heard about the Global Research Institute as a research opportunity on campus that paid. And while I first came for the resume opportunity, I stayed for three years because of the belief that the work done at the Institute was truly impactful in shaping the way policymakers found solutions — through data applied to real world problems.
It was this drive to be a part of knowledge creation (and the free pizza!) that landed me at an interest meeting for the Institute’s first ever Shark Tank, a research pitch competition funded by university alumni and friends of the Institute.
Aili presenting her work at the Institute’s annual Shark Tank Competition.
After numerous white-boarding sessions, I finalized a project exploring how donors respond to crisis situations. Because of the work at the Institute, I knew there were ways in which I could collect unreported data, and I was determined to utilize these methods to track open-source and media-based reports of crisis aid.
In a perfect world, being able to track aid day-by-day could help donors make better decisions on where to send financial and humanitarian resources to best aid a crisis. These donations help mitigate the impact and spread of crisis, such as natural disaster damage or public health epidemics. Through my data collection, my team and I found that the estimated financing to the Ebola crisis was wildly incorrect.
Encouraged by Professor Mike Tierney, we were then able to take this methodology to a USAID competition at MIT tackling global issues through actionable research and collaboration. We competed against doctoral and master students, and won third place out of 39 teams from 11 countries, proving once and for all that William & Mary undergrads can hold their own against the best of them! Though my time with my project is finished, the Institute has partnered with USAID to scale my original research idea, and the Institute’s AidData research lab is now using the methodology to look at migration patterns during political unrest.
Earning third place in the USAID competition!
I believe this project, and other student-led research projects at the Institute, are the future of liberal arts, and the future of knowledge. The Institute teaches humanities students the data skills necessary to answer their research questions. (A note to current students: These skills were highlighted in my interview during a recent industry change, and against engineering graduate students, earned me my current position!)
Today, I am a better thinker, researcher, and inquisitive member of the global community because of my time with the Institute and W&M. Those around me supported my development so that I could expand my skills to explore the research in which I was interested. This is the growing legacy of W&M’s Global Research institute – student-led innovation can create ideas that truly have an impact on the world.