Katherine Pringle, SPA/BA ’90, and her husband, John McCormick, believe that young people are the lynchpin in addressing the world’s most challenging problems, from climate change to world hunger to income disparity. To deepen the contributions of those future changemakers at American University, the couple has made a generous commitment to establish the Public Affairs and Policy Lab Fund in AU’s School of Public Affairs (SPA).
“We’ve seen that AU has been recognized for leading research opportunities. This gives AU and its students a greater pathway for engaging in advanced research. It helps students in getting internships and, when they’re graduating, they have this important experience on their resumes,” said Pringle.
The fund will support stipends to SPA undergraduate students and faculty collaborating on summer research projects through the school’s Public Affairs and Policy Lab (PAPL). The lab—founded in 2019—connects students seeking advanced research experience with faculty projects through a competitive application process. Students participating in PAPL projects gain valuable research skills, and the experiential learning opportunity gives them a keen advantage when entering the workforce.
“We see AU positioning itself to make a meaningful impact in the [student research] space, and we want to be part of that,” said McCormick, a former hedge fund executive who now teaches a seminar at Yale Law School. “We saw it as an effective way to invest in the potential of students.”
PAPL’s student research unfolds in two ways: in conjunction with faculty projects or as independent student-designed work. Access to PAPL stipends allows students to pursue meaningful research as an alternative to taking on summer jobs just to pay their bills. Pringle and McCormick are hopeful their support will help attract more students from diverse backgrounds, including first-generation students, who make up about 10 percent of AU’s student body.
The couple’s generosity comes in tandem with increased student interest in PAPL. The lab received so many applications—nearly double the number from 2021—that fewer than 13 percent of the applicants could be accepted into this year’s program. Pringle and McCormick’s support will open the program to more students going forward.
“This is not just about a more diverse enrollment at AU. This is about supporting students once they’re in the school,” Pringle said. “We want to make sure all students have the same opportunities.”
Pringle, a partner at the Friedman Kaplan law firm in New York, said there was also a personal reason why she and her husband wanted to support student research. They watched the far-reaching way their son benefited from hands-on research in biochemistry at his high school.
“We’ve seen how important research can be for kids. It helps them think about their academic work in a different way. It helps prepare them for the marketplace. It gives them something to talk about in job interviews,” Pringle said.
McCormick said financial aid was pivotal in his education, and the PAPL fund is a good way to pay it forward.
Pringle and McCormick are longtime donors to AU, including gifts through annual giving and in support of AU’s emergency financial aid funds. Pringle has served more than six years on SPA’s Board of Advisors. She has also been a backer of AU’s Women & Politics Institute.
As board chair for the Bread for the World nonprofit, Pringle is “especially excited” by AU’s interdisciplinary research focused on public policy and food—usually the research domain of land grant universities—and the ways public policy can promote healthy agriculture.
A conversation with SPA Dean Vicky M. Wilkins and the Change Can’t Wait campaign’s focus on supporting beyond-the-classroom learning opportunities were catalysts for the PAPL gift.
“We’ve been inspired by the Change Can’t Wait campaign and the university’s push overall to invest in academic leadership and in students. This is a really exciting time at American,” Pringle said.