Year after year, scholars and scientists at Washington University are involved in real-world and real-time breakthroughs that grab the attention of the world, and during the complex and confusing year of 2020 that leadership was more evident than ever. Research coming out of Washington University pushed scientific and medical boundaries and responded to current needs, to be sure, highlighted by numerous approaches to the testing and treatment of COVID-19. But at the same time, humanities, business, and social science-based research continues to challenge and change what we know about the world, how we relate to one another, and how we effectively and ethically lead during challenging times.

The work of research and discovery happens slowly and resolutely over succeeding generations of talented investigators and scholars, each doing their part to advance human knowledge and understanding. To support these creative and visionary faculty, universities must provide an intellectual environment and physical infrastructure that allow them to dig deep into the past’s storehouse of knowledge, collaborate freely and across academic disciplines to discover new approaches, and make changes as knowledge and technology evolve. To discover both ancient and emerging truths, students and faculty require the tools of their trades: up-to-date libraries, cutting-edge technology, and state-of-the-art facilities.

Endowed funds for research and for the creation, growth, and maintenance of specialized centers, clinics, studios, and institutes are crucial to the university’s capacity to quickly respond to emerging challenges, face and solve the world’s most complex problems, and help bring about a healthier and more productive, ethical, informed, and just world.

Working for Better Diagnoses and Treatments

In 2014, when James and Elizabeth McDonnell and the JSM Charitable Trust pledged $25 million to endow the genome institute at the School of Medicine, they trusted the gift would help fund innovative research to understand the genetic origins of diseases ranging from cancer and diabetes to autism and Alzheimer’s disease.

Just six years later, the Elizabeth H. and James S. McDonnell III Genome Institute (MGI) is already entering a new era of understanding how genetics influences health and disease, including the world-wide COVID-19 epidemic. Thanks to work at MGI, a new saliva test to detect the virus was developed in late summer, with results available in a few hours. And to help unravel the mysteries of COVID-19, MGI scientists are sequencing the DNA of young, healthy adults and children who develop severe illness despite having no underlying medical problems, looking for genetic defects that could put certain individuals at high risk of becoming severely ill from the novel coronavirus.

Over the years, the McDonnells and their family foundation have helped build the School of Medicine into a research powerhouse, especially in the area of pediatrics. In 2000, they joined with Anne and John F. McDonnell, DSc ’06, MBA ’14, and the JSM Charitable Trust to provide funding to construct the McDonnell Pediatric Research Building, a hub of pediatric research dedicated to their daughter, Peggy, who died of cancer at age two.

Working for Values-Based Leadership

With a $5 million commitment to the Olin School of Business, George, BS ’53, MS ’59, and Carol Bauer knew they were establishing something more than a center with their name on it — they were creating a vision for instilling in WashU students the values-based leadership that has been the hallmark of their own lives.

The George and Carol Bauer Leadership Center was created in 2016, and today it is accelerating efforts to develop exceptional leaders who measure success both in what they achieve for their organizations and how they impact their communities and society through the values they demonstrate. The gift also funded the George and Carol Bauer Leadership Fellows Program, which engages participants in both the science and application of leadership and provides students with business leaders as mentors.

Faculty research in the center is also focused on leading with values and purpose, such as a recent study co-authored by the center’s director, Stuart Bunderson, the George and Carol Bauer Professor of Organizational Ethics and Governance, which showed that employees with a higher purpose have more well-being, more happiness, and even lower stress from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As human beings, we are wired for purpose,” says Bunderson. “When we have clarity on what our purpose is, we are happier and more fulfilled.”

Endowment at Work