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Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs

Milestones in International and Global Affairs at Northwestern

melville-herskovits-1929-northwestern-sesquicentennial-photo.pngNorthwestern University has long demonstrated a commitment to global and international affairs. In 1948, the university established the first Program of African Studies in the United States and opened the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies in 1954. In 1965, a $1.9 million grant from the Ford Foundation helped Northwestern create the Council for Intersocietal Studies, its first research and training program in international studiesThe University then founded the International Studies Residential College, a place for students who wanted to immerse themselves in foreign language learning and international studies.

The 1990s and 2000s marked a period of further internationalization under the leadership of Northwestern’s 15th President, Henry S. Bienen. The Center for International and Comparative Studies, later named the Buffett Center of International Studies in honor of a generous gift from Northwestern alumna and philanthropist Roberta Buffett Elliott, opened its doors in 1994. The Kellogg Global Executive MBA Program started  in 1996 and the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Center for International Human Rights in 1998. Northwestern’s Crown Family Center for Jewish Studies, Middle East and North African Studies Program and campus in Qatar launched in the years that followed and, in 2003, another generous gift from Roberta Buffett Elliott established a Roberta Buffett Visiting Professorship, which brings leading international scholars to Northwestern each year to teach courses, give public lectures, and build ties between Northwestern and their home institutions.

captioned-images-for-cascade-1.pngIn 2015, Roberta Buffett Elliott endowed the university with a historic gift of more than $100 million to “create a comprehensive, interdisciplinary research and global studies institute.” This institute was named the Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs in honor of her transformative gift, which was used to support a dramatic expansion of international research, education and engagement activities. With support from the Keyman Family and other generous donors, the Buffett Institute has also become home to the Keyman Modern Turkish Studies Program and Equality Development and Globalization Studies Program.

Between 2015 and 2018, Buffett Institute funding for multi-year research collaborations among faculty and graduate students enabled the exploration of “big ideas” and interdisciplinary projects. A growing number of undergraduates also became involved in new student groups organized around global issues and supported by the Buffett Institute. 

In 2019, the Buffett Institute formalized a Global Strategic Plan for Northwestern, writ large, and broadened its scope of support for the University’s internationalization efforts as Northwestern’s Global Learning Office, Office of Global Safety and Security and Office of International Student and Scholar Services came into its fold.

In 2020, Northwestern became the first U.S. university to host the U7+ Alliance of Universities Presidential Summit, convening nearly 100 university leaders from 48 institutions across 17 countries to explore the role higher education can play in addressing the critical global challenges youth and future generations will inherit. In 2021, Northwestern was elected to serve as the first secretariat of the U7+ Alliance of World Universities, with the Buffett Institute serving as the secretariat’s administrative home.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic that imposed severe restrictions on international mobility between 2020 and 2023, the Buffett Institute’s Global Learning Office launched a virtual Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI) program, offering students who could no longer travel abroad opportunities to engage in rigorous coursework on international development and virtual internships with nonprofits across seven countries. The program earned two major awards—NAFSA’s 2022 Paul Simon Spotlight Award for Campus Internationalization and the Institute for International Education’s 2022 Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education. Northwestern later earned the 2023 Senator Paul Simon Award for Comprehensive Internationalization, which “recognizes U.S. colleges and universities that are making significant, well-planned, well-executed, and well-documented progress toward comprehensive internationalization—especially those using innovative and creative approaches.”

donald-p-jacobs-center-will-become-the-buffett-institutes-new-home.pngToday, the Buffett Institute is a hub for international scholarship and global engagement across Northwestern's 12 undergraduate, graduate and professional schools. It serves as home to more than 10 faculty-led research groups and programs, a vibrant mix of graduate student fellows and visiting scholars, and more than 8,500 international students and scholars. The Buffett Institute also provides financial and logistical support for several undergraduate student groups, allowing them to discuss their own research and develop through experiential learning, while supporting individual student research and global learning endeavors through an undergraduate research fellowship program, the Elliott Scholars Program, world-class study abroad opportunities and more.