Buffett Institute expands programs, launches new initiatives


Daily file photo by Sean Su

Roberta Buffett Elliott (Weinberg ’54) smiles at a crowd gathered in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall to honor her more than $100 million donation to the University. More than a year later, Elliott’s donation has allowed the Buffett Institute for Global Studies to fund several new and existing programs and create an executive director position.

Courtney Zhu, Reporter

A new executive director position, visiting postdoctoral fellows and expanded programs are among the developments that have come out of Roberta Buffett Elliott’s (Weinberg ’54)  donation of more than $100 million about a year ago.

With its expansion into an institute, intended to make the former Buffett Center into a hub for global research and education, the Buffett Institute for Global Studies created an executive director position to be filled by former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry.

Eikenberry’s selection, however, prompted more than 40 Northwestern faculty members to call for University administrators to withdraw his appointment and select someone with a more academic background, though University President Morton Schapiro and Provost Dan Linzer responded affirming Eikenberry’s appointment.

Sociology Prof. Bruce Carruthers, director of the Buffett Institute, acknowledged Eikenberry’s different background, but said it provides more varied opportunities.  

“He opens the box a little wider in terms of his personal experience and connections from his high-level military and diplomatic career,” Carruthers said.

Elliott’s gift also supplied funding for the existing Global Engagement Studies Institute, more faculty research and the creation of the Buffett Award for Emerging Global Leaders, a postdoctoral fellowship program.

The institute’s new postdoctoral fellowship program invites visiting scholars from varying disciplines to NU, where Carruthers said they will have office space and opportunity to conduct research. The postdoctoral fellows will have a teaching obligation, he added, so they will be required to teach an undergraduate course during their two years at NU.

“They will have different kinds of expertise, so it will keep things lively for undergrads,” Carruthers said.

Additionally, social entrepreneur Khalida Brohi, who was named the inaugural recipient of the Buffett Award for Emerging Global Scholars, will come to NU in April to talk to students, Carruthers said. Brohi, who founded a nonprofit organization in Pakistan to provide socioeconomic opportunities for tribal and rural women, received a $10,000 scholarship as part of the award, recognizing her outstanding leadership.

“It gives undergraduates a chance to meet her, hang out with her, and understand what she does,” Carruthers said. “It’ll be more exciting for undergraduates to meet someone who is less than ten years older and still remember what college was like.”

Carruthers said undergraduates had the opportunity to identify potential candidates for the award, then vote on them through an election.

The Buffett Institute’s GESI program also benefited from Elliott’s donation, awarding a record number of scholarships and financial aid to participants over the past year.

Katherine Hapeman, senior program coordinator at the institute, said adding more scholarships has increased student diversity in the GESI program by making it more financially accessible.

McCormick sophomore SueSan Chen went to Doringbaai, South Africa, through GESI last summer, an opportunity she said was enabled by Buffett’s donation.

The program sends undergraduates to Doringbaai to work on socially-driven businesses and initiatives, and particularly focuses on collaborating with locals.

“The most valuable aspect of my experience was getting exposure to a different culture, meeting the people there, and learning about their way of life,” Chen said.

Carruthers said although the institute is not responsible for overseeing undergraduate scholarships, University President Morton Schapiro “earmarked” $20 million from Elliott’s donation for increasing aid to international students. Carruthers added that he hopes allowing international students from lower-income backgrounds will enrich all students’ experiences by creating a more diverse environment.

In addition to the programs they have already funded using Elliott’s gift, Carruthers said the Buffett Institute will continue to expand on its visions and aspirations.

“We are a research institute in a research university, and the core of this research is the faculty,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is develop a set of signature programs that will help Northwestern on the map as a leading global institution.”

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