Gift to fund WWS undergraduate task forces, policy conferences

Nov. 3, 2006, 1:26 p.m.

A gift from an alumna of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and her husband will fund undergraduate policy task forces and, ultimately, undergraduate policy conferences focusing on issues related to natural resources or international affairs.

Beth Heller is a 1978 alumna, and William Heller is a managing director at Falck Renewables, a European wind energy company with headquarters in London. They are donating income from one of their company's windmills operating in Europe.

The gift initially will support two task forces, which are considered the most distinctive aspect of the undergraduate experience at the Wilson School. The school has offered approximately 10 task forces each term; juniors enroll in one task force in the fall term and another one in the spring term.

In each of these exercises, approximately six to 10 juniors work together with a faculty director and one or more seniors or graduate students toward proposing solutions to current problems in public and international affairs. Each junior conducts a piece of research on a carefully chosen topic to shed light upon the larger problem that is central to the group. Topics for independent work are derived from the overall needs of the task force, and students are encouraged to use any intellectual discipline or skill that may help solve a problem.

Recent examples of policy task forces include "The Drug Trade and the Future of Afghanistan," taught by former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Robert Finn, and "Enhancing U.S. Oil Security," led by Harold Feiveson, co-director of the school's Program on Science and Global Security.

The primary difference between the undergraduate policy conferences and the task forces is that the policy conferences are larger, featuring the participation of 12 to 15 students. This allows for students to more easily break into subgroups as they explore the policy questions at hand and conduct research. The ultimate product for a task force as well as a policy conference is a final report, which is drafted after debates within the entire group and which includes in-depth analysis of the issue under investigation and policy recommendations.

The Wilson School stopped offering policy conferences, which were introduced into the curriculum early in the school's founding, during the 1997-98 academic year. It plans to re-introduce them into the undergraduate curriculum during the spring 2008 semester, at which time two policy conferences will be held. The school will continue to hold undergraduate task forces each fall. Starting in fall 2009, the school will hold eight to 10 task forces each fall semester and four or five policy conferences each spring.

In the 2007-08 academic year, the Heller gift will begin supporting one task force and one policy conference each year.

"I am thrilled and inspired by the Hellers' generous gift," said Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Wilson School. "It will allow larger groups of our undergraduates to explore in greater depth issues in international affairs as well as natural resource policy.

"The intersection of natural resource issues and national security will be particularly important in coming years and should be an integral part of our students' education," she continued. "This wonderful gift will make such study possible, as well as enable our students to focus on other important foreign policy issues."