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American University's 2023 Signature Research Initiatives


Changing Aid: Understanding and Transforming aid in Violent, Insecure, and Crisis-affected Environments
Led by Dr. Susanna Campbell, School of International Service; Dr. Lauren Carruth, School of International Service; Dr. Ernesto Castañeda-Tinoco, College of Arts and Sciences; and Dr. Joseph Young, School of Public Affairs and School of International Service.

The international aid industry employs hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. and developed countries and benefits millions of people around the world. This industry is charged with improving lives and livelihoods; saving lives in the midst of humanitarian emergencies; and securing the human rights of people displaced by violence, climate change, and geopolitical disputes. At the same time, governments, citizens, and civil society actors are calling on the international aid industry to become more evidence-driven, equitable, sustainable, and accountable to and representative of the people it serves. This SRI aims to establish American University as a hub of scholarship, training, and policy-relevant debate on the changing nature of international aid and how international aid actors can be more effective.

By building multi-disciplinary research collaborations on international aid, this hub will produce cutting-edge research that addresses the multiple dimensions of the aid challenge. By offering education and training for the aid industry in the DC-area and internationally, as well as for AU students, the hub will translate this cross-disciplinary research into courses that facilitate better and more accountable aid. By organizing public events with diverse policymakers, practitioners, and scholars to discuss pressing issues facing international aid, refugee resettlement, and irregular migration, the hub will offer aid actors crucial space for critical reflection and build AU’s reputation as a center for policy-engaged research and training on international aid and migration.

Inclusive Technology Policy
Led by Ms. Fiona M. Alexander, School of International Service; Dr. Derrick L. Cogburn, School of International Service and Kogod School of Business; Mr. Gary Corn, Washington College of Law; Dr. Nanette S. Levinson, School of International Service; and Dr. Sasha Cohen O’Connell, School of Public Affairs.

The Inclusive Tech Policy (ITP) focuses on advancing inclusivity in global technology policy by lifting underrepresented voices. Technological innovation forms the foundation of modern society. It underpins our collective ability to address global challenges ranging from the environment and health care to human rights and national security. The policies that guide the design, development and use of technology determine, to a large extent, the role that these innovations play in society. As such, technology policies, and the policymakers who shape them, are powerful arbiters of future human welfare.

AU community members influence global technology policy through research, workforce development, policy engagement, and community building activities designed to advance inclusive technology policy, strengthen global leadership, and achieve a more socially equitable technology infrastructure.

Unmasking Antisemitism
Led by Dr. Jeff Gill, School of Public Affairs; Dr. Nathalie Japkowicz, College of Arts and Sciences; and Professor Wendy Melillo, School of Communication.

This project studies coded antisemitic hate speech and trope evolution with the goal of developing machine-learning detection and monitoring tools. With the ubiquity of the internet and social media, technology has increased the speed at which language evolves. Propaganda in the form of hate speech now travels the world at such a dizzying pace that it is beyond the ability of social media platforms or governments to effectively monitor and control. Harmful words unfold, take on new meanings in both direct and coded ways, quickly inciting hatred in the minds of those only too willing to believe them because they reinforce and justify preexisting prejudicial views. Starting from a collection of seed words known to be antisemitic, data are scraped off barely moderated extremist social media platforms and analyzed. New antisemitic terms and tropes are then identified. The spread of this coded extremist language to the general population is then tracked through survey experiments, and scrutiny of mainstream media content. Software tools are designed to automatically track coded language evolution and trope trends over time. The project’s faculty members believe that the model for the dataset, surveys and software tools can later be adopted to track hate speech directed at other frequently attacked groups in American society.

About the SRI Program
The SRI program mobilizes university-wide research efforts that require a holistic, cross-disciplinary approach. SRIs are designed to be short-term initiatives enabling faculty researchers to develop sustainable collaborations within and outside of the university and driving the initiative toward a self-sustaining portfolio of outcomes.

SRI Goals

As noted in the university’s Changemakers for a Changing World strategic plan, today’s increasingly competitive higher-education landscape necessitates that universities establish zones of clear distinction. To that end, the plan now includes five areas of strategic focus—cross-disciplinary fields involving some of the most significant issues facing society today. The SRI program will direct attention and action toward urgent challenges within these broad focus areas: health, data science and analytics, security, social equity, and sustainability.

The goals of the SRI program are threefold:

  • Elevate Reputation – SRIs will strengthen AU’s research enterprise by harnessing the collective strength of our existing research entities, academic programs, investigators, and partners and targeting their work toward specific societal challenges.
  • Grow External Sponsorship – SRIs will enhance our ability to pursue and secure large, sponsored research grants from an expanded collection of sponsors, as well as significantly grow philanthropic support for our research-based initiatives.
  • Accelerate Impact – SRIs will strengthen opportunities for impact within our university community by increasing opportunities for collaborative research and student engagement, while strengthening our global community through targeted research-based interventions that address complex societal challenges.

The Office of Research will provide administrative and operational support, as well as seed funding, for up to three SRIs for a period of two years each. SRIs are designed to be short-term initiatives that have the potential to generate significant funding through a combination of sponsored grant and philanthropic support and to launch a portfolio of self-sustaining activities. Each SRI will be supported through a combination of incentives and enabling mechanisms that help faculty researchers develop sustainable collaborations within and outside of the university, and that drive the initiative toward a self-sustaining portfolio of outcomes.

SRI Selection

The present SRI selection process is currently completed. Selection for the forthcoming SRI program year will be announced via the Office of Research website. SRI are selected and launched based on the potential of the initiatives to accomplish the goals of the SRI program and the university’s capacity to provide operational and strategic support. The selection process proceeds in phases.

Proposal Submission
Finalist Notifications
Finalist Discussions
Results & Launch

The SRI announcement, along with its FAQs, will be available for faculty review. The Vice Provost for Research and innovation (VPRI) will be available for consultation as necessary. Timeframe: TBD

SRI proposals must be submitted as a pdf via email to See bleow for proposal information. Timeframe: TBD



All submissions will receive notification of their status. Timeframe: TBD

The selection committee (Provost, VPRI, and VP Development or their designees) will hold a 45-minute discussion with each of the finalist groups regarding their proposal. Additional details on these discussions will be provided in advance. Timeframe: TBD


AU will announce the selected SRIs. Timeframe: TBD
SRIs will officially launch. Timeframe: TBD


Proposal Requirements

SRI proposals include three sections that combined total no more than 10 pages (excluding appendices). Proposals should be written in 12-point font, single-spaced, with 1-inch margins.

  1. Executive Summary (1 page maximum)
  2. Purpose and Goals (6 pages maximum)
    (a) What is the complex societal challenge to be addressed? The proposal must make a compelling case for urgent action and the role that AU can play in making a dramatic and scalable impact.

    (b) How will the proposed SRI elevate reputation, grow external sponsorship, and accelerate impact? Discussions of potential sponsorship should be grounded in recent successful fundraising, either through grants or philanthropic support, and should also address strategies for near-term engagement with sponsors – including the agencies, foundations, and/or individual funders to be targeted, and the rationale for their inclusion.
  3. Participants (3 pages maximum – Biographies or brief center descriptions of no more than 1 page per participant may be included as an appendix outside of the page count.)
    (a) Who (individuals, centers, academic units, or other university-affiliated entities) will participate in the SRI? Include an attestation that all listed parties have agreed to participate in the SRI.

    (b) Describe the collaboration. Do the principal participants have a track record of recent collaboration? How will the proposed SRI elevate the cross-university collaboration that currently exists? Who will serve as the SRI point(s) of contact? Will non-AU affiliated partners engage in SRI activities?
  4. Appendices – a maximum of two appendices are permitted. Appendices are optional and not included in the 10-page count.
    (a) Appendix A - Biographies or brief center descriptions of no more than 1 page per participant.

    (b) Appendix B – Supporting documentation illustrating recent (since 2019), related activities of the principal investigator(s), with particular emphasis on sponsored work and existing sponsor relationships.

Proposals will be evaluated by the SRI selection committee, which will include the Provost, the Vice Provost for Research, and the Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations (or their representatives). The selection committee may consult with the President and other university stakeholders before making a final selection. SRIs will be selected based on the committee’s assessment of how well they will advance the goals of the program and of AU’s strategic plan.

Frequently Asked Questions

SRIs may be linked to university research centers in several ways. First, in the case of existing centers, the SRI may serve as an amplifier by offering surge support to address urgent topics within the portfolio of work being conducted through the existing center. Second, the SRI may highlight transformational priorities that ultimately re-shape and enhance existing collaborations. Third, the SRI may serve as a launch pad that ultimately results in a new center as one of the SRI outcomes.

The SRIs will not replace university research centers. University research centers play an important role in building both disciplinary-based and cross-disciplinary research expertise. These collectives provide a home for the development of sustained research in specific areas of inquiry and are established with the goal of relative longevity. Conversely, the SRIs are temporary by design. The goal of the SRI is not to develop new intellectual capacity, but rather to leverage existing capacity across the university. As a general rule, an SRI project will be more narrowly focused and targeted than our existing university-wide centers.


Yes, any AU individual or group of collaborators may jointly propose an SRI.

No set number of participants is required to propose an SRI. Proposals should highlight the collaboration, potential for impact, and why this group is the right group to initiate the effort. It is expected that the number of SRI participants may evolve over time.


SRIs will be coordinated through the Office of Research and will include participants from various university units, as appropriate for advancing the topic.

As the initiatives evolve, interested members of the community may contact the program through and visit the Office of Research website to learn more.

The SRI selection process is outlined above. SRIs will be synergistic with ongoing and emerging AU areas of research breadth and depth, as evidenced by an existing record of cross-disciplinary research, recent funding, and potential to achieve the SRI program goals.



The SRI selection process is outlined above. The first SRIs were launched at the beginning of FY23. Future SRIs will be identified and developed on an ongoing basis and as funding permits.


The SRI cycle is two years. At the end of the two-year period, an SRI will transition into a portfolio of self-sustaining outcomes.

The SRIs will receive financial support through the Office of Research, sponsored research, and philanthropic giving. Current funding is not required. However, recent (since 2019) external sponsorship for the principal participants on the topic should be described in the application and will be considered in the selection process. The VPR and other members of the Office of Research will provide strategic and operational support to the SRIs. A new SRI Manager, reporting to the VPR and collaborating with faculty investigators, will coordinate activities across the SRIs. As additional resources become available through sponsored research and philanthropic giving, the SRI manager will help to transition the SRI into a portfolio of self-sustaining activities under the direction of the faculty investigators.

As many as three initiatives will be supported at any one time.


The SRIs will advance the research imperatives outlined in the Changemakers for a Changing World strategic plan and fostered by the Change Can’t Wait comprehensive campaign by focusing investment in areas where AU can make an extraordinary impact on our world. The SRIs will provide a mechanism for targeting specific and critical topics within these focus areas. Through them, we will more clearly define the AU research brand, increase sponsored research, grow research-related philanthropy, and provide additional opportunities for students to thrive.

The foundational pillars of the Changemakers strategic plan underpin the signature research initiatives. Each initiative will expand strategic partnerships within and outside of the university, include broad and contextualized learning opportunities, leverage our unique position within the Washington, DC and global communities, and take a forward-leading approach that informs the future of learning, work, and citizenship.




Please e-mail with any questions regarding the SRI.