William & Mary has received a $19.3 million gift from an alumna who wishes to remain anonymous to establish a landmark Institute for Integrative Conservation (IIC). The gift will position the university as a global leader in transformational research to protect ecosystems and safeguard world populations. It will cultivate leaders prepared to drive policy, advance advocacy and inspire action at the local, national and international levels.
To be launched in 2020, the IIC will be the nation’s premier cross-disciplinary institute in this critical field. In its innovative programming, academia combines forces with public, private and nonprofit sectors to advance solutions to the world’s most pressing conservation and sustainability challenges.
“The institute will enable collaboration with key external partners and create new synergies across the university. Only via such cross-disciplinary collaborations can we ensure the vitality of the most valuable asset on this planet — our environment,” said President Katherine Rowe. “In addition, because diversity accelerates problem-solving, we are committed to expanding the pipeline of under-represented students, staff and faculty entering conservation professions.”
“We are so deeply grateful to our alumna for her passion and bold vision. We believe the institute has enormous potential to accelerate actionable conservation solutions in the near term and for the future,” said Rowe.
The institute will support multidisciplinary teams of faculty, staff and students to address conservation issues in a multitude of ways. Teams drawn from all of William & Mary’s five schools — the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Law School, Faculty of Arts & Sciences, Raymond A. Mason School of Business and School of Education will collaborate on research projects and convene international conversations with leading experts at other universities, the federal government, nonprofit organizations and private companies.
“Integrative conservation” is a holistic and evidence-based approach to improving ecological, social and economic outcomes. It considers human and environmental challenges, aiming to balance conservation strategies with economic sustainability and the well-being of indigenous populations.
Among the issues that could be tackled at the IIC are sea-level rise and coastal stability, biodiversity threats, human-wildlife conflict, development of new technologies that enable more effective conservation as well as challenges outlined in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
In order to identify conservation priorities and ensure maximum impact on the environment, William & Mary will establish a network of conservation professionals from a broad range of sectors. The collaborative network will drive research agendas on campus, generating actionable policy data to advance conservation on the ground.
“Conservation requires collaborative partnerships that transcend traditional boundaries and redefine the status quo. Time is of the essence and I believe that the institute is just what we need to bring significant change to our world,” said the alumna, who serves on the William & Mary Foundation Board of Trustees.
“William & Mary is uniquely positioned to be at the forefront of global conservation efforts because of its strength and expertise in the humanities, public policy, sciences and data analytics. The university’s diverse student body combined with its size, focus on entrepreneurial thinking and proximity to the nation’s capital, where many of the top conservation organizations are located, are all assets that will be crucial to advancing the institute’s mission,” she added. “This is an investment in our future, in our environment and in the people at William & Mary and beyond who will undoubtedly help change the course of history.”
As part of the institute’s goals — all of which will be fully funded through this gift — William & Mary will:
- Harness the benefits of emerging technology and data analytics to enable more effective conservation efforts on the ground and in the oceans. Such advances will address the human and economic dimensions of sustainability, including impacts on indigenous populations.
- Establish robust internship opportunities and an international scholarship program to prepare talented and diverse students for thriving careers in this rapidly growing profession. At the same time, ensure a robust pipeline of human talent across conservation fields, by drawing under-represented, international and first- generation students and women into this critical work.
- Hire internationally renowned experts and utilize the talent and expertise of current faculty members to establish a new multidisciplinary educational model for integrative conservation.
- Grow sustained and focused collaborations between conservation organizations and researchers, to inject new ideas and solutions into conservation practices while guiding university-based researchers toward pragmatic solutions. These partnerships will enable the university to train new conservation practitioners in ways helpful to the world’s leading conservation non-governmental organizations.
“We are thrilled to partner with William & Mary in tackling tough environmental issues and advancing science-based research that will inform sound policies at every level of government, both domestically and internationally,” said Michael Ulica, president and COO of the National Geographic Society. “This groundbreaking institute has the potential to revolutionize the way we address some of the gravest threats facing nature and humankind.”
According to Class of 1938 Professor John Swaddle, who helped steer the establishment of the IIC, “An integrative curriculum for conservation will soon be developed, enabling the university to broaden course offerings that enhance in-depth research and discovery. We are expanding the skillset and pipeline of future conservation practitioners — leaders who can help prevent the degradation of our environment, and interrelated ecosystems, which is happening at such a rapid pace.”
Funding from the gift will support a new integrative conservation curriculum for undergraduate and graduate students to prepare students for emerging careers in conservation. A key aspect of this work will be protecting indigenous people living in areas where adverse environmental changes are occurring due to climate change, pollution and habitat loss, among other issues. As part of this effort, the IIC will engage and educate international students so they can actively participate in conservation efforts back in their home countries to improve the well-being of native populations.
William & Mary also announced today its commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. The announcement represents another step forward for the university in its sustainability efforts, according to Swaddle, who also co-chairs the university’s Committee on Sustainability (CoS). William & Mary will soon unveil a Climate Action Plan developed by the CoS and facilitated by the Office of Sustainability, which will include strategies and goals for research and education to promote sustainability and carbon neutrality — all of which will have great synergies with the design and launch of the new IIC, Swaddle added. The climate action plan includes commitments to partner with the University of Virginia in data sharing and best practices.
“The institute is a game-changer for William & Mary and for our global conservation and sustainability efforts,” said Director of the Center for Geospatial Analysis Robert Rose. Rose, like Swaddle, played a leadership role in envisioning the institute.
According to Rose, the IIC will function interdependently with existing William & Mary schools and departments as well as external partners. This approach will enable the institute to bring about well-informed change in conservation policy and action through collaborative, interdisciplinary research and education.
The $19.3 million gift is part of the university’s $1 billion For the Bold fundraising campaign, which will conclude next year. To date, William & Mary has raised more than $920 million in its campaign.
“This transformative gift enables William & Mary to continue to convene great minds who can push boundaries, overcome barriers and find solutions to the most pressing issues that impact our future,” said Vice President for University Advancement Matthew T. Lambert ’99. “The institute will change the trajectory of how we address these global issues and will enable our students, faculty and the university as a whole — together with conservation leaders from around the globe —to collaboratively solve the greatest environmental challenges of our time.”