This is the sixth installment of a series highlighting exceptional student contributions to the Global Research Institute, as part of Undergraduate Research Month.
By Caroline Mahoney, Student Communications Assistant
This spring, two GRI student researchers, Caroline Morin ‘22 and Ann Duke ‘22, found themselves in a new role in the classroom: subject matter experts. Under the guidance of GRI Director Mike Tierney, Morin and Duke introduced the topic “Blockchain: Applications and Regulations,” to undergrads. The course covers a variety of topics in the blockchain sphere including security and privacy, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs), and general blockchain applications.
Inspired by a previous blockchain class that was also inspired by a student initiative, Duke and Morin wanted to expand opportunities for students to learn more about the growing field of blockchain. The pair had previously collaborated at GRI’s Blockchain Lab and as recipients of GRI Innovation Funding. GRI offers unparalleled opportunities to share skills and lessons with peers, Morin said.
“I wanted to help Professor Tierney create this class to empower students to further grasp the role of emerging technology in the 21st century,” Morin said. “This class was a way Ann and I could give back to GRI and pass on the blockchain knowledge we were fortunate enough to learn before graduating.”
Given the topic’s emerging nature, courses such as this position William & Mary to lead in delivering high-quality learning opportunities related to new and valuable skillsets. Duke said she hopes the coursework — which includes weekly meetings and a final 5-7 page proposal and presentation — helps students contribute to contemporary discourse about cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and bitcoin mining. Knowledge of these topics can aid students in the job and internship search, opening students up to enriching opportunities across disciplines — even once they move beyond GRI.
“When I was going through job recruitment, a lot of employers were extremely excited that I had knowledge of emerging technology,” Duke said. “I really wanted other William & Mary students to have a competitive edge in the labor market.”
The class connects students with industry experts, granting them a firsthand glimpse into expert insights and stories.
The class features guest speakers throughout the semester, in an effort to expose students to subdisciplines in the blockchain field. Morin and Duke wanted to incorporate a variety of perspectives, including those from GRI Affiliate Troy Wipongwii and Gabrielle Hibbert, whom Morin credits for teaching her and Duke blockchain in the fall of 2020. During a class in March, Hibbert provided an overview of blockchain’s potential applications, with a focus on cryptocurrency. Wipongwii’s talk focused on smart contracts, a basis of the cryptocurrency platform Ethereum. Other speakers include former Blockchain Lab researcher Amy Zhao ‘19 and Elena Giralt, a Foresight Analyst at the Future Today Institute and a Product Marketing Manager at Hiro Systems.
Amid the complexity of exploring the content, handling registration, and booking speakers, Tierney and GRI encouraged the two new class facilitators.
“Promoting undergraduate research is rare in academia, but GRI stands alone in how much trust they put in undergraduates,” Duke said. “The confidence that GRI has in me has in turn made me feel more confident in my own abilities.”
Duke and Morin hope the course equips students to engage in serious discussions about key global developments.
“As an international politics nerd, one of my favorite parts of being in the blockchain space is being able to comprehend and discuss the nuances of news headlines,” Morin said. “In 2022, cryptocurrency is a major part of the global economy. Every time a news headline related to blockchain occurs — whether it be Beeple selling an NFT for 69 million USD at Sotheby’s or China banning bitcoin mining — friends and colleagues come up to me asking for the situation to be explained.”
Throughout the semester, Morin said, students have shown promising levels of intellectual curiosity. Though this facilitation is a new experience for Morin and Duke, the pair has worked together on other blockchain-related projects for years. After they took GRI’s blockchain class in Fall 2020, the pair decided to continue investigating one of their paper topics about how a blockchain-based audit system allows for increased security, transparency, efficiency, and traceability of assets. Their work culminated this past December, when their article about blockchain’s role in elections was published in Georgetown University’s Democracy and Society Journal (read on page 16).
Morin and Duke credit GRI with establishing a supportive environment in which they could do their best work — in and out of the classroom. As key members of GRI’s Blockchain Lab, they have established innovative and engaging opportunities for students to learn about critical developments in the blockchain space. To hear what’s next from the Blockchain Lab, and to learn about future GRI coursework, events, and research roles, subscribe to the GRI Digest email.
Editor’s Note: This article describes a course that GRI students are helping to facilitate. GRI Director and Professor of Government Mike Tierney is the instructor of record and grades the associated coursework.