Williams’ Renewable Energy Interns are helping the college and community to reduce their carbon footprints

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Students Take on Renewable Energy Projects

Several Williams students are working to help the college meet its commitment to reducing its carbon footprint by 35 percent of its 1990 levels by 2020. Two of the college’s Renewable Energy Interns spent the last year on a program that will deeply impact the town of Williamstown—a program the students hope will carry over to the campus in the near future.

No later than this summer, all town buildings will receive their electricity from the solar array on top of the capped landfill on Route 7. The construction phase of the project—which resulted from a partnership between Williams and the town—is complete, and the renewable energy source will soon feed the grid with almost two megawatts of solar power each year.

Williamstown will use the energy to power its municipal buildings, the fire district, town streetlights and the public schools. The clean power comes to the town at less than half the price it currently pays, with the added perk of new structured property tax revenue.

The next step is determining how to engage the community in a project that might otherwise go unnoticed or lead townspeople to believe there’s no more work to do. That’s where interns Elliot Fong ’19 and Korrina Garfield ’19 come in. “Locals won’t necessarily feel the impact of the landfill solar panels,” says Fong, who plans to major in political economy. “Our goal is to find a way to make it tangible.”

Garfield, who plans to major in environmental studies, adds that people sometimes become complacent when they know their energy is renewably sourced. “We researched the most effective ways to display the information coming from the array and to give subtle nudges to people to keep working to reduce energy dependency,” she says.

The pair is developing a widget to add to the town website, where community members can see how much energy the solar array is producing and just where it’s being used. They hope to link to a larger website that will provide even more information about the town’s energy use.

The students see this as a pilot project for what they’ll be able to do when the college is producing more renewable energy for its own use. “We envision a website that will show how much power each building on campus is using at any given time,” says Fong. “We could show how much CO2 is being offset by renewable energy production to help people understand the impact of renewable energy.”

Adds Garfield, “We want to include a fuel breakdown, so people can see how much total energy is actually coming from renewable sources. A pie chart that shows we’re only getting a percentage from renewable energy will help motivate people to keep pushing forward, to keep investing in this so that it grows.”

That’s exactly what Williams is doing. “From the construction of energy efficient buildings, impact investment and the development of our own renewable energy sources, the college is working every day to reduce our carbon emissions by 35 percent of its 1990 levels by the year 2020,” says Matt Sheehy, associate vice president for finance and administration. “We have learned a great deal from the landfill project, and that experience will help us as we move ahead with projects to help us meet these very aggressive goals.”

—Julia Munemo

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Shedding light on Williams’ substantial endowment, how it’s invested, what the money is used for and more

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Impact Worthy

Shedding light on the college’s substantial endowment and why it needs to grow even more.

Williams and its peers have come under fire for their large endowments. Ours stands at $2.3 billion—a large sum by any measure. There are calls for the college to spend down the endowment to reduce costs, pressure to divest from fossil fuels and threats from the federal government of penalties and taxation. With the endowment under increasing scrutiny, Williams Magazine brought together President Adam Falk, Provost and Professor of Economics Dukes Love and Chief Investment Officer Collette Chilton for a conversation with Lizzie O’Leary ’98, host of American Public Media’s Marketplace Weekend, about where the endowment comes from, what the money is used for—and why Williams is seeking to raise even more.

Lizzie O’Leary ’98: What do you see as the purpose of the endowment?

Adam Falk: To support the mission of the college, which is to educate young women and men and prepare them to be effective in the world. It’s the most important resource we have to fulfill that mission. It’s what makes possible the faculty, the programs—everything we do.

O’Leary: Walk me through how the endowment figures into the education of current students.

Dukes Love: We spend about $105,000 per student per year. Fifty-nine percent of that goes directly to compensating faculty and staff. Sixteen percent is spent on the annual costs of operating buildings, capital renewal and paying off debt. The remaining 25 percent is for everything that’s not a person or building—chalk boards, chairs, library books, energy, computers, travel.

Falk: The largest source of funding for the college’s $225 million annual operating budget is the endowment, which covers 49 percent. We spend roughly 5 percent of the endowment value every year to run the college. If we didn’t earn money on the endowment, after 20 years it would be gone.

Collette Chilton: One of the most powerful things about Williams is its close-knit community. That’s what the endowment supports. Our student interns tell us what it’s like to work in their professors’ labs, go to their houses for dinner or stay in touch with them after graduation. It’s hard to put a dollar value on that.

Falk: Oh, we can put a dollar value on it. It’s the most expensive thing we invest in, and I’m super proud of it: our student-faculty ratio, seven to one.

Love: A lot of the endowment is also going to support students on financial aid, to make sure that the most talented students from around the world can come here, independent of their families’ financial circumstances. That’s at the heart of what we do.

O’Leary: What percentage of the endowment goes to financial aid?

Falk: In a sense, all of the endowment supports financial aid. Everything we pay for with the endowment we don’t have to collect in tuition. (Tuition covers 36 percent of the cost per student.) Over the past 15 years, the net tuition revenue hasn’t grown faster than inflation, and that’s possible because of the endowment.

Love: It’s important to keep in mind that it’s not a single endowment. We have 1,660 individual endowments. The smallest has a market value of $1,133. The largest is $100.3 million to support faculty and compensation. The endowments all have different restrictions and purposes, but they’re invested as one.

O’Leary: Can you explain the 5 percent benchmark?

Chilton: Five percent is what the college needs in order to cover 49 percent of its operating expenses. Every year we model our portfolio and then structure it to support the college and try to deliver 5 percent real return over the long term. There are some single years where we perform much better than that and others where we perform much worse, like during the financial crisis. What matters, though, is the performance over time.

Falk: We do everything we can to smooth out the ups and downs. Every dollar we spend is precious. As much as it’s a great benefit to Williams to have a large endowment that supports much of what we do, we know that extended periods of growth are often followed by corrections. We take a comprehensive view in the good times and the bad.

Chilton: We’re long-term investors. We make changes at the margin. We might move 1 percent from equities into hedge funds. We have very little exposure to bonds. In the financial crisis, we had much more exposure to debt.

O’Leary: Was that because of returns or because of the volatility you saw in the market?

Chilton: It’s really about the college. Considering how much of the budget we support, we need to be careful about volatility. We don’t want to have high highs and low lows. We want to chug along in the top half of our peer universe, because over long periods of time, that will be very good for us. (View annual investment reports here.)

Falk: As president, I find that very comforting. The idea that we’re not reacting to every perceived change in the economic environment matters a lot to me, because I think of leading the college as a very long-term play. Williams has been here for 200 years. We don’t change things quickly in our educational programs or residential programs. Being supported by an investment office and investment committee that also take a long-range, steady view in their values and approach fits with the philosophy of how we lead the college as a whole. (The investment committee consists of eight alumni volunteers who assume the fiduciary responsibility of investing the college’s assets.)

O’Leary: You’ve seen the study from (Stanford economist) Raj Chetty and his colleagues looking at how colleges shape students’ prospects of upward mobility. Eleven percent of Williams students come from the bottom 40 percent of the income bracket. How do you use the endowment to increase that number? Should you?

Falk: We do use the endowment, and we should. The most important change over the last 15 years at Williams has been the increasing diversity—in particular the socioeconomic diversity—of the student body. The endowment is critical to that because of the amount we’re able to put into our financial aid program, which has grown by a factor of four over the last 15 years. That speaks directly to recruiting students in the bottom 40 percent of the income bracket. We’ve also invested in recruitment. It’s not about whether we are selecting those students once they’re in our application pool. The work is to get those students in our application pool and get them to think about Williams, to think about the liberal arts, to think about coming to a beautiful and yet somewhat hard to get to corner of Massachusetts. Our ability to do that aggressively comes from the endowment. So, too, does our ability to support students when they get here. We make incredibly important investments into academic support, mental health services, the dean of the college’s office. We now have a dean who works with all our first-generation students and one who works with international students. We’re in a position to make those investments because of the endowment. They’re as important as financial aid and recruitment to true access to Williams.

O’Leary: The college is in year two of a $650 million campaign. Why do you need to raise the money?

Falk: Every one of us at the college, whether we’re a student, faculty or staff member, benefits from the philanthropy of those who came before. We are the beneficiaries of the commitment to Williams of past generations. That gives us a moral obligation to take the same responsibility for those who will be here in the next 200 years. We also raise money because we need Williams to become better and evolve in response to a changing world. That requires resources. It’s appropriate to look to those who have benefited from the college to provide the resources that will allow others to benefit in the future.

Love: It’s also a fact that every one of our students, even full-pay students, receives a substantial subsidy from the college—the gap between the sticker price of $65,480 and the actual cost of $105,000. Every single student is receiving value well in excess of what they pay. Also, our students are going to go on to generate an enormous amount of social good in the world. This guides our educational mission, and we want to make this place accessible to more students, independent of family means. This is fundamental to the college and a socially worthwhile purpose of philanthropy.

Falk: As is access to a Williams education. We have an aspiration that, over the generations to come, we should endow our entire financial aid program. Right now, about a third of our financial aid comes from dedicated endowments. With what we’re spending on financial aid today, if we raised another $600 million solely for financial aid, we could endow the entire program. That’s more than we can do in this campaign. But in declaring a goal of $150 million for financial aid, we are conscious that, over the next four campaigns, we can get to a point where the entire program is endowed.

Chilton: The investment office just had its 10-year anniversary, and we did some data mining on the money we’ve sent to the college and the number of students it affected. During those 10 years, 4,000 students received financial aid, and the entire financial aid budget for those 4,000 students was equivalent to the outperformance of the endowment versus the market. People think, “The endowment is so big. Why should I give?” It’s the engine of opportunity for the college. And it’s those 4,000 kids.

O’Leary: Let’s talk about divestment. We just finished the hottest year on record on this planet. Is it hypocritical to invest in products that are harming the world Williams students are going to graduate into?

Falk: If I thought divestment would make any significant difference in this critical, existential crisis facing humanity, I would do it. But I don’t think anyone’s made a remotely compelling case that divestment is a demonstrably effective step toward changing the behavior of corporations in our society.

O’Leary: There’s an argument that, if Williams divests, it sends an important signal to the world, even if it’s symbolic.

Falk: What’s the cost of a statement whose value is in its symbolism? What’s the cost of the ability to support the financial aid program or faculty relative to the impact of that symbolism? It’s an assessment that we are morally obligated to make. The only way to divest fully would be to change fundamentally the way Collette and her team invest the endowment—to give up the outperformance we’ve had over the past decade. As she said, the cost would be the entire financial aid budget over the last 10 years—and over the next 10 years. Choosing to invest in the sustainability of the campus and in the academic program is a more powerful statement about the college’s values. (Read the statement by the board of trustees and President Falk on climate change.)

O’Leary: The holdings in fossil fuels are in commingled funds; they’re not direct investments. What about putting those holdings behind renewables instead?

Chilton: That’s exactly what we’re doing with some of our funds. The investment office spent the last year mapping the market. We changed our policy statement to reflect the fact that we’re going to be doing impact investing. We sent a letter to all our investment managers asking them to keep in mind—to the extent that they can—when they’re investing that the college cares deeply about sustainability. That’s the only time in my 10 years here that we’ve sent a letter to every one of our investment managers on any topic. We recommended our first investment in alternative energy to the investment committee in September, and the committee approved it. Our average period to research and investigate any investment tends to be one year, whether it’s impact investing, venture or anything else. This money is incredibly important. It’s not ours. It belongs to everybody who touches Williams.

O’Leary: The planned investments in sustainability will total about $50 million over the next five years.

Falk: Yes. So that’s not $50 million in endowment. That’s the total investment in buildings, academics, community projects and impact investment.

O’Leary: Is $50 million enough?

Falk: Over the next five years, we believe $50 million is the amount of money we can spend responsibly. At the end of five years, we’re not finished. We’re going to look at the landscape of local renewable energy, at the academic program, at impact investment, at the college’s financial position and make decisions from there. However, I do not want to cut into the financial aid program in order to address sustainability. As important as climate change is, it’s not more important than access to Williams.

O’Leary: What is the biggest miscommunication between the college and its stakeholders when it comes to the endowment?

Falk: It’s the notion that the endowment is a large, static pool of money rather than a dynamic engine for everything we do here that is in our mission. It’s the impression that it’s a savings account—that we’re saving for later. But, in fact, the endowment works every single day to allow Williams to be the institution that it is. If we want to be the same college in 10, 20, 30 or 40 years, we have to earn on the endowment. If we want to do more, we need to grow it. The endowment is like your retirement account, but you never die. It’s the engine of this college, and we are so fortunate that for 200 years people have been contributing to it. It gives us a profound responsibility to steward it and use it to do the good things we do at Williams.

Love: The endowment allows us to bring talented students to campus. It allows us to put them in classrooms and laboratories with professors. It allows us to have tutorials. Everything that is part of our institutional identity is coming from the endowment.

Falk: There’s a question of responsibility—my responsibility—having come to a place that has so much. I don’t believe my responsibility is to give it away, because it was given to the college by people who wanted to support Williams. But the responsibilities are twofold. The first is to make this place as accessible as it can be to people from every corner of society. The second is to educate students in a way that allows them to go off and be effective in the world—to magnify their impact. The number of alumni doing remarkable things is far disproportionate relative to the size of each graduating class. Meaning, the scale of the impact Williams has on the world is not set by just 550 students a year. The scale has to be an impact worthy of a $2.3 billion endowment.

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Biology Professor Matt Carter wins NSF CAREER Award

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Biology Professor Matt Carter Wins NSF CAREER Award

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., April 24, 2017—Matt Carter, assistant professor of biology at Williams College, has been awarded a prestigious CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The five-year, $586,000 grant, awarded to junior faculty, will support Carter’s research into sleep and wakefulness.

“I am so thrilled to receive the CAREER award. This grant will create so many great research opportunities with students over the next several years,” Carter said. “The NSF recognizes the high quality of the preliminary work that Williams students have already performed in my lab. All of the preliminary data in this proposal came from the excellent students who have worked alongside me over the past few years.”

The CAREER awards are the NSF’s most prestigious in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through research, education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations. The reviewing, award, and selection process is one of the most competitive within the NSF.

Carter’s research project, titled Bidirectional Control of Sleep and Wakefulness by the Hypothalamic Arcuate Nucleus, studies two populations of neurons to better understand mammalian sleep. Preliminary evidence from his lab shows that one population of neurons maintains sleep while the other promotes wakefulness. His research project is using cutting-edge optogenetic and pharmacogenetic methods in conjunction with electroencephalography (EEG) and behavioral analyses in mice to test the necessity and sufficiency of these neurons in promoting sleep or wakefulness.
“The purpose of this grant is to study how the parts of the brain that regulate hunger also influence sleep and wakefulness,” Carter said. “Everyone has occasionally experienced fatigue after eating a large meal, and it’s harder to fall asleep when you are hungry. Over the next several years, my students and I will investigate how brain food intake systems interact with other parts of the brain to influence the quantity and quality of sleep.”

The project will provide research experience and laboratory training to several Williams students. Additionally, Carter will develop a course on the science of sleep. The course will use active learning strategies to provide a better understanding of sleep science to undergraduates, including a lab module based on his research. Carter’s students will also partner with the Center for Learning in Action at Williams to design and present seminars about sleep to local communities.

“The NSF grant will also provide opportunities to educate the campus and community about the science of sleep,” Carter said. “Many people on college campuses are extremely sleep deprived, and Williams is no exception. This grant will provide excellent opportunities for students and community members to learn about what happens in the brain and body during sleep, and how to improve sleep hygiene on a daily basis.”

“CAREER awards are extremely competitive and having Matt receive one is exciting for our students, the department and the college,” said Washington Gladden 1859 Professor of Biology Joan Edwards, chair of the biology department. “It is a testament to the high quality of scientific research done by Matt and his students at Williams.”

Carter, who has taught at Williams since 2013, holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Stanford University. He received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Whitman College.

END

Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.

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Choreographer Will Rawls ’00 is one of four Williams alumni to be named Guggenheim Fellows this year

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Four Alumni Awarded Guggenheim Fellowships

Robin Broad ’76

Four Williams alumni were awarded Guggenheim Fellowships this year: Robin Broad ’76, a professor at American University’s School of International Service; novelist Fiona Maazel ’97; poet and MacArthur fellow Claudia Rankine ’86; and choreographer Will Rawls ’00.

The grants are made freely and with no conditions, allowing the fellows—173 scholars, artists and scientists this year—“blocks of time in which they can work with as much creative freedom as possible,” according to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Selections are made “on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise,” the foundation states.

Will Rawls ’00

Each of the Williams fellows is using the award to further current projects. Broad, a professor of international development, is conducting research on a project that she says debunks the myth that “people in poorer countries don’t care about the environment.” Studying a grassroots campaign to ban metal mining in El Salvador, she plans to publish a book based on her findings.

Rawls, who describes himself as a creator of “solo and group works that engage and attenuate relationships between language and dance,” says he is committed to expressing “the nature of multiple selves within socially inscripted constructs.”

Claudia Rankine ’86

He and Rankine, who recently collaborated on a performance called What Remains, which is to premiere at Bard College April 27-30, are both using their Guggenheim Fellowships to continue their creative work.

Rankine is the author of two plays and five collections of poetry, including Citizen: An American Lyric. The recipient of many awards and fellowships, she recently co-founded The Racial Imaginary Institute, described on its website as “a cultural laboratory in which the racial imaginaries of our time and place are engaged, read, countered, contextualized and demystified.”

Fiona Maazel ’97, (c) Nina Katchadourian

Maazel, whom the L.A. Times called “a dazzling prose stylist,” and whose novel A Little More Human came out earlier this spring, says that “besides the day I sold my first novel, winning the Guggenheim has been the best moment of my professional

life.” She says the fellowship will allow her to step away from other commitments and focus on writing a new novel, her fourth. “I couldn’t be more thrilled or grateful.”

Learn more about the 2017 class of Guggenheim fellows.

 

 

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Six months after graduation, most members of the Class of 2016 are employed full time or in grad school—and they’re happy with what they’re doing

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At a Glance

Six months after graduation, most members of the Class of 2016 report that they’re employed full time or in graduate school and they’re happy with what they’re doing—and they say Williams helped them get there, according to the Career Center’s first-ever First Destinations Survey. “This speaks directly to the hireability of the Williams liberal arts graduate,” says Don Kjelleren, Career Center director. As of January 2017: 

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The Forests of Antarctica, a new painting series by Williams Professor of Art Mike Glier ’75, addresses the environmental implications of place and globalism—“a tremendous stretch of perception and an experience that defines our time,” he says

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The Forests of Antarctica

The Forests of Antarctica, a new painting series by Williams Professor of Art Mike Glier ’75, depicts what he calls “a distant future, where the temperature is warm enough to support exuberant life in Antarctica, but it’s life we can’t quite recognize.”

Glier, who has been teaching in the art department since 1988, says two previous projects also addressed “an environmental agenda about place and globalism.” Along a Long Line, a collection of paintings that was also published as a book in 2009, was composed en plein air, or outdoors. “The paintings tell the story of a yearlong trip along the line of longitude that begins in the Arctic Circle, runs through my studio in Hoosick, N.Y., continues to New York City, and ends in the rainforest on the equator,” he says.

Working on that project, Glier says he realized that he is part of the generation of people asked to consider the implications of their actions on a global scale, and at the same time to be aware of the uniqueness of the local environment, and to protect it. “To be aware of the global and the local simultaneously is a tremendous stretch of perception and an experience that defines our time,” he says.

After Along a Long Line, Glier embarked on another project, Antipodes, which brought him to several locations that are on opposite sides of the globe. It was in New Zealand, while working on Antipodes, that he got the idea for his current project. “It was very windy there, and despite the rocks I’d put to hold down my easel, the wind kept picking my panel up and tossing it,” he says. “The wind was winning, so I decided to draw it.” He was encouraged by the unexpected results of drawing something that is invisible but can be felt. So, he says, “I began to include sound and smell and touch as sources.”

That was in 2013, and since then he has made hundreds of sketches based on the things he can sense. “I am not a synesthete, but I am using all my senses to make myself think differently and invent a set of unexpected images,” Glier says. He’s currently drawing in four forests he’s come to know over the years, one in the Berkshires, one in northern Maine, one in the Virgin Islands and one in the central mountains of New Mexico.

Back at his studio, Glier uses the plein air sketches to make compositions whose shapes suggest, but don’t fully describe, animals, plants, watercourses and outcroppings. “Sometimes the positive form is the image and sometimes the negative form is the image,” he says. “Like walking in the woods, the images flicker in and out of focus. Things have separate edges and seem independent, but at the same time things share edges and seem totally dependent on the surroundings to have any shape at all.”

Glier says his studio work all begins as black and white, or black and tan drawings. But a visit to that space reveals that many of them, in their finished form as paintings, are quite colorful. “When I’m out in the forest, I make color notes, which I use to make the studio paintings,” he says. He works in oil on paper or linen and the sizes range from what he calls “over the sofa to public mural.” The largest pictures, which are about 6 by 10 feet, are some of his favorites. “You can walk around in the big ones.”

This summer Glier will continue to develop the Forests of Antarctica as the artist in residence at Hauser and Wirth Somerset, in Bruton, England. He will be drawing and painting in a garden designed by Piet Oudolf, the landscape designer who created the Highline in New York City, as well as in the hedgerows, forests and fields of Somerset. Then he’ll return to Williams, where he says he loves to teach and live in a community “that is incredibly supportive of creative production.”

Learn more about Mike Glier’s work.

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Teach It Forward

The Campaign for Williams

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Teach It Forward

Visit TIF Today to read the latest news about the college’s $650 million comprehensive campaign.

Visit the Williams Campaign website.


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