Transformative Investments

Greater Good  /  02.13.18


The Board of Visitors established the Strategic Investment Fund in 2016 to serve as a funding source for initiatives that have the potential to transform a critical area of knowledge or operation within the university.

The timing couldn’t be more appropriate.

UVA stands on the cusp of its third century in service to the state, nation and world, with ambitions to dramatically build on its mission to prepare citizen leaders and offer higher education leadership for tomorrow in a continuous pursuit of excellence. Transformative investments provide crucial support to power these ambitions and ideas, and they are critically needed in a time of tremendous pressure on the business model for public higher education.


The Strategic Investment Fund is a powerful tool to help accomplish that work. Without relying on tuition or tax dollars, the fund is projected to support up to $100 million annually in perpetuity for projects or areas with the potential to significantly advance the quality of education, research or health care services at UVA.

Since the fund launched, the Board has approved more than $307 million in support of 33 projects that fall under one of four broad investment areas: research, research infrastructure, academic experience, and access and affordability.

Initial investments have included new endowments enabling student scholarships and professorships, research and strategies that aim to end Type 1 diabetes, an initiative created to strengthen global democracy, and a cross-disciplinary center that could one day regenerate human tissue.

Proposals undergo a rigorous review process, and projects selected for investment must demonstrate measurable return on their stated goals and promise.

Here are some of the bold initiatives earning support from the Strategic Investment Fund.


Academic Experience

  • The Bicentennial Professors Fund provides a matching fund pairing philanthropy and strategic priorities for solutions that will continue to elevate the quality of a UVA education. In this case, a $75 million, multi-year commitment will enable the creation of an estimated 70 endowed professorships. The new fund supports a top priority of deans — hiring and retaining the best faculty — at a time when the University is affected by a national generational turnover among faculty ranks.
  • The Mcintire School of Commerce is partnering with top business schools in Spain and China to develop managers’ cross-cultural understanding and international knowledge. Students in the Global Commerce program live and study as a cohort on three continents, learning from each other and from business faculty at three universities. The experience helps young managers learn to handle complex global business operations and skillfully move across cultures.
  • Undergraduate Student Opportunities for Academic Research (USOAR) matches first-year, second-year and transfer undergraduate students who have financial need with paid research positions. Support from the Strategic Investment Fund will help expand USOAR by providing a 30 percent match to leverage federal funds, which cover 70 percent of student wages in the program.

Soaring Out of Africa

Kevin Bahati experienced first-hand the consequences of not having reliable access to clean water. “I’ve been affected by water-related diseases for most of my life,” said Bahati, who has lived in Congo, Zambia and Uganda.

At UVA, Bahati already is working toward his goal of improving conditions back home by working in chemical engineering professor Geoffrey Geise’s water purification lab. Bahati’s involvement is made possible through the USOAR program, which helps undergraduate students get research experience early in their college careers.

“It’s a good experience because it challenges me, and I’m loving it,” said Bahati, who plans to take what he’s learning in USOAR and apply it to the water-quality issues plaguing his native Africa. According to USOAR Director Brian Cullaty, that’s the idea: “We want USOAR to be the introductory program into research where students get experience and can go on to do something great in the future.”


Affordability and Access

  • The Bicentennial Scholars Fund is a powerful statement of UVA’s commitment to affordability, keeping the University’s doors open wide to talented students from any background, regardless of their ability to pay. With an investment of up to $100 million over five years, this fund matches philanthropic commitments to endow need- and merit-based scholarships for undergraduates. The fund could grow to as much as $300 million and serve as a bridge to funding financial aid entirely through philanthropy rather than tuition dollars, greatly reducing pressure on tuition rates.
  • Cornerstone Grants, created in January 2017, provide cost-of- attendance relief to qualifying middle-income, full-time Virginian undergraduates. Through the Cornerstone program, new and continuing in-state students with family incomes below $125,000 are eligible for grants of up to $2,000.
  • As part of its ongoing effort to Increase Enrollment by nearly 1,200 in-state undergraduates by the fall of 2018, the Board of Visitors also designated $1.5 million from the Strategic Investment Fund to help accommodate an additional 100 new in-state students.

A Foundation of Our Future

The Bicentennial Scholars Fund is the latest step to provide students and their families access to one of the finest undergraduate educations in the country.

“Investing in scholarships opens the doors of the University of Virginia even wider for all admitted students, regardless of their ability to pay,” said Board of Visitors member John A. Griffin, who chairs the Advancement Committee. “The Bicentennial Scholars Fund matching component provides an important incentive to continue our focus on this critical fundraising area, which is key to the long-term success and sustainability of the University.”

The Board and administration have been building a framework for sustainable, long-term financing for operations and strategic priorities, while pursuing ways to ensure and sustain affordability. The Bicentennial Scholars Fund helps put the University on a reliable financial path for its third century while also strengthening its ability to offer an excellent education that does not overburden Virginia families.



  • The future could bring new methods to diagnose and treat brain injury, epilepsy and tremor from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases thanks to research advanced by a $15.7 million investment into Bold Research Advancement in Neuroscience at UVA. Using brain mapping, focused ultrasound, bioinformatics, imaging and data mining, faculty will accelerate research and improve diagnostics and treatment while pursuing cures.
  • The Democracy Initiative recognizes the world’s urgent need for meaningful study of democracy’s successes and failures, opportunities and threats, and for policies strengthening democracies worldwide. Led by the College of Arts & Sciences, the initiative will feature research, teaching and public engagement.
  • A School of Medicine team of doctors and faculty members has been leading the way in detecting, controlling and eventually curing Type 1 diabetes. Research partners include UVA’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Data Science Institute, and an international research network based at UVA known as the Center for Diabetes Technology. A $17 million strategic investment boosts this cross-disciplinary approach. The need is great, and the ambitions are for even greater good.

Once and for All

Dr. Richard P. Shannon, executive vice president for health affairs at the UVA Health System, said the diabetes-related investment will allow medical researchers to focus as never before on finding a cure for the disease. “The investment will allow us to develop further our artificial pancreas studies, create a statewide genomics screening program to identify children at risk of developing Type 1 diabetes and advance our existing work on human beta cell regeneration,” Shannon said.

In individuals with Type 1 diabetes, beta cells — which are found in the pancreas and are responsible for producing insulin — get destroyed. If regeneration of beta cells were possible, though, the body’s own ability to make insulin could be restored. Project success would make the University a global leader in Type 1 diabetes and would position UVA to undertake future research in related areas involving genomics, data science and immune therapy.


Research Infrastructure

  • An investment into research computing will expand and strengthen UVA’s Computing Infrastructure. The project will provide more reliable and resilient service for advanced high-performance computing clusters, helping maintain a level of computing resources that assists efforts to attract and retain top research faculty.
  • The Multifunctional Materials Integration Initiative brings together more than 40 researchers developing materials and devices with unprecedented energy efficiency and functionality. As technologies become more powerful and pervasive, the need to better manage the energy they consume and produce becomes more important. New materials could be the key. Another promising area of research backed by this $10 million investment is in “manufactured senses,” such as artificial vision. The materials initiative will enable faculty to conduct competitive research in materials design, synthesis and characterization, while also facilitating hiring and retention of key faculty.
  • The Center for Advanced Biomanufacturing will help UVA compete for new federal funding for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Applications include limb and organ replacement and treatment of birth defects and nerve damage. This $3 million investment in research infrastructure and equipment will advance these programs, accelerate translational research and support state-of-the-art tissue regenerative materials and tissue biofabrication.

Putting Soldiers Back Together

George J. Christ, a UVA Professor of biomedical engineering and orthopaedic surgery and expert in regenerative medicine, wants to help combat-injured soldiers with soft-tissue injuries from explosive devices. “A doctor can fix you to some extent, but nobody’s talking about how you can actually get your muscle back,” he says.

The Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute’s goal is to accelerate regenerative tissue research and create state-of-the-art innovations in biomaterial and cell processing. A public/private effort, the Institute brings together UVA and nearly 100 partners from industry, government, academia and the non-profit sector.

The schools of Engineering and Medicine bring expertise in cell and tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, orthopaedics, computational modeling, advanced materials research and chemical engineering. Christ pursued the opportunity for UVA to participate in the consortium, working with biomedical engineering professor Shayn Peirce-Cottler to identify a team of physicians and researchers, including Dr. Bobby Chhabra, chair of orthopaedic surgery for UVA Health System.

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