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WORLD FOCUS: Global initiative

January 27, 2011
Werner Weingartner believes that if you plant a seedling and cultivate it, it will grow into a strong and healthy tree. The seeds of the mature tree than will sprout the growth of many new trees.

He is a mathematician by training. But as a descendant of farmers, he is fond of explaining complex issues, like his Global Initiative project, by references to the ways how nature works.

“What inspired me to initiate and provide funding for the Global Initiative project at the College of William & Mary, was a visit to its Reves Center for International Studies,” Weingartner said during a recent interview with the Lake Placid News and The Virginia Gazette.

“I have a certain vision. I want to see American students and young people from foreign countries studying here, to unite and come forward with ideas that would have a major impact on solving the problems of the world.”

He said he believes that by supporting a student-to-student effort for ideas across ethnic, religious and political boundaries, the world may become a more peaceful place.

In his view, William & Mary is uniquely positioned to be an incubator of new ideas. It is of just the right size, has in place a superb academic support structure, and is able to provide the opportunity for its students, many of them from about 50 different countries, to interact and come up with solutions that may have not occurred to people set in their ways.

“I want to leave a lasting legacy,” Weingartner said, “because America was good to me.”

He arrived to America in 1939 from Germany, as a 3-year old with his family. After some difficult times of adjustment, his father, the former farmer, went into the furniture business and prospered. Werner, chose to become a math teacher, and landed a job at the famed Bronx High School of Science. He also invested wisely, enabling him to realize his vision now instead of later.

According to Prof. Joel Schwatz, director of the Charles Center, who runs the prestigious Monroe Scholar program, “The underlying goal of the Weingartner Global Initiative is to support faculty-student research that will have an impact on critical international policy issues by influencing policy makers and other influential actors.”

There are two components of this project, he said. Michael Tierney, who serves as the Weingartner Professor, works with W & M students analyzing the patterns and effects of aid programs around the world.

The second component supports the Project on International Peace and Security research seminar. The seminar provides students with the opportunity to conduct research related to international security that are of interest to policy makers in Washington. The students than present their research in Washington to important members of the policy community.

Hannah Thornton, a student who participate in the project, discussed her proposal for a “Virtual Library of Freedom” at an event held at the prestigious Brookings Institution.

“Hannah research demonstrated the extensive use of the internet by terrorist groups to spread their messages, network, and recruit,” Schwartz said. “She has proposed the creation of “Virtual Library of Freedom,” a website that provides, in translation, documents from the liberal democratic tradition. It will also include social networking capabilities that will allow young, educated people who are targeted by terrorist groups to learn about democratic traditions, and discuss ideas. She has recruited an extensive group of William & Mary students, including Arabic-speaking students who help with translations.”

Her goal is, Schwartz said, to engage student audiences from across the United States and then to reach out to students from other countries.

This approach seems to reflect closely Weingartner’s vision of what the Global Initiative project should accomplish.

Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.


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