New funds in the Wilson School will be available for students and faculty who devise innovative and quantitative research proposals, in particular those involving education along with cross-disciplinary intersections, according to Wilson School officials.
The Overdeck Family Foundation, founded in 2011 by John Overdeck and Laura Overdeck ’91, seeks to maximize children’s potentials by funding innovative projects with quantifiable results. It has given $1 million to the Overdeck Education Research Innovation Fund. These funds will benefit University members in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 academic years, distributed in two types of grants: $5,000 or less on a rolling basis and $5,000 to $200,000 for annual consideration.
This year, proposals for $5,000 to $200,000 are due by Nov. 16. In late November, selected projects will be invited to submit full proposals due January.
The Overdeck Educational Research Innovation Fund will be considered first for proposals that align with the focuses of supporting caregivers in children’s development, preparing exceptional educators, discovering innovative and effective school systems and models, and stimulating students intellectually, both in and out of school.
“I think that the Overdeck gift will help bridge the two, the policy and the practice,” Christopher Campisano, director of the University’s Program in Teacher Preparation, said. “To be a scholar is to both engage in the research, in the policy study, but at the same time it is to use that somewhere. There has to be a value placed upon the application ... and education is absolutely that field.”
The Overdecks have contributed to the University before sponsoring this new fund, including their endowment of the Bilodeau-Overdeck Scholarship for Math/Science Teaching. This scholarship covers the costs for students who need to continue into a ninth semester or need to suspend employment in order to do their teaching practice before being certified as educators.
“I see [the new fund] as the bringing together of educational policy and practice,” Campisano said. “The two reinforce one another.”
This new research fund does not simply focus on education, but also encourages multidisciplinary intersections, preferably among areas such as economics, psychology, sociology, politics, and science.
“For me, I think [the scholarship] can satisfy my passion for both the social science aspect of Woodrow Wilson School, as well as [my passion for] the medical field,” Andy Zheng ’20, a potential Wilson School major, said.
Zheng added that he looks forward to the opportunity presented to him as an incoming student of the major.
Students and faculty may submit proposals from any process of the research continuum; the application should include a letter of intent and a detailed budget. Some of these will then be selected by a faculty committee for further perusal for the final round of selection.
“We’re just interested in bringing scientific thinking and social science together in as tight a way as possible,” said Laura Overdeck, who also currently serves on the University President’s Advisory Council. “We love seeing scientists and social science people get together.”
Overdeck developed her passion for education, math, and science during her time as an undergraduate. It led her to see the importance in K-12 educational systems and the outside factors that affect a child’s educational development.
“We’ve come to realize that many other things do count in a child’s school experience to affect their success. It’s what’s going on outside the school, the home environment, other programming that they have or don’t have access to, all the neurological stuff that goes on in early childhood, poverty, all of this changes the brain’s architecture,” Overdeck explained.
She believed that prioritizing the fund for multidisciplinary studies is crucial in truly bettering education through policy writing, teacher preparation, medical progress, and other intersections.
“There’s a lot going in the house, medical, and social science spheres that all tie in with education,” Overdeck stated. “This [fund] is the way that gives students exposure to other facets of the education space beyond just teaching.”
She added that Cecilia Rouse, Dean of the Wilson School, is a luminary in the field of education because of her research interests. Overdeck said Rouse was her perfect contact in making this fund available for the University.
“The purpose of the fund is to spark innovative research in education,” said Rouse.
She continued that having funds in-house will greatly benefit University members who don’t have enough time, resource, or experience to apply to outside grants. She commented that the fund is more “nimble” than others.
"We can help stand up those projects quickly. We can also take a little bit more risk, quite frankly, than a lot of government agencies and foundations will be willing to take,” she said. “That’s the brilliance of a university like Princeton ... having faculty and students who think creatively, who take risks when it comes to ideas.”
When asked about the expected number of applicants and the selectivity of the process, Rouse replied that she has no idea. She said so far the School has only informed a handful of faculty and she has neither sent out any big announcement, nor approached any student yet. However, she is eager to see its development.
Rouse acknowledged that there are many existing thesis research funds available on campus for undergraduates. Graduate students, however, “in some sub-fields have access to funding,” she said, “[but] many of them do not.” She suggested that the popularity and demand for this fund may be higher for graduate students and faculty than for undergraduates.
“It’s available to everybody on the Princeton campus,” stated Rouse.
Upon hearing news of the new fund, students from different disciplines expressed interest.
“It’s really exciting to see that there are people who want to fund the study of education, and encourage students to study it from all sorts of different angles,” said psychology major Sarah Reid ’18.
Reid said she’s potentially going into the field of educational psychology and was especially excited to learn about this fund. She will be looking into this opportunity.
Ted Enamorado GS of the Politics Department, who has been working on quantitative research, appreciated the fund’s emphasis on quantitative analysis. He commented that it is an important advance in research methods that everyone should take advantage of.
“Nowadays, with advance in technology, now we have access to what people call ‘big data,’” said Enamorado.
“We’re living in the greatest age of data in human history,” stated Charles Cameron, professor of Politics and Public Affairs. “People who are comfortable with [quantitative analysis] and have experience with it are going to have a tremendous advantage, not just at Princeton, but later on in their life.”
Cameron agreed with the fund’s emphasis in quantitative researches as well as multidisciplinary studies.
“No single discipline has the answer to every question,” said Cameron.
All the interviewees expressed gratitude at the generosity of the Overdeck Foundation for providing this new fund.