Congressional Alumni Get Firsthand Briefing on GW’s Innovative Research

At a Capitol Hill breakfast, GW leadership updated alumni elected to Congress on research at the university and explored ways to expand their working relationships.

March 20, 2023

GW congressional breakfast

From left: Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-New York) listens to briefing by President Mark Wrighton at the breakfast meeting for congressional alumni. (William Atkins/GW Today)

The George Washington University hosted a congressional policy breakfast on Capitol Hill Thursday to brief alumni members of Congress on research at the university and to discuss the government’s role in spurring scientific innovation. 

The breakfast, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-New York), B.A. ’06, included Reps. Darren Soto (D-Florida), J.D. ’04, William Timmons (R-South Carolina), B.A. ’06, Jill Tokuda (D-Hawaii), B.A. ’98, and Jared Moskowitz (D-Florida), B.A. ’03, who joined GW leadership for the meeting at the Rayburn House Office Building on March 9.

“We face many challenges as a country and as a world, and our role is to contribute not only to the educational development but also to creating new knowledge that is going to be valuable for society,” President Mark S. Wrighton told the group. “Universities are places where that transfer of knowledge takes place, but research universities are where we create new knowledge that is especially valuable.”

“This is a tremendous commitment that you’re making,” Wrighton continued, expressing appreciation for the congressional support of research and highlighting the role of GW alumni—three in the U.S. Senate, nine in the U.S. House of Representatives and scores more working as congressional staff.

GW has become a world-class research institution with federal research and development funding that has increased by 72% since 2009. GW has the highest federal research and development expenditures among all colleges and universities in the District of Columbia.

That foundation was the setting for the meeting that also included GW Provost Christopher Alan Bracey; Aristide Collins Jr., vice president, chief of staff and secretary of the university; Renee McPhatter, assistant vice president for government and community relations; Abby Paulson, director of federal relations; and Gabrielle Sosa, assistant director of government relations.

In opening remarks, Bracey said that any issue or topic that “shapes our world, we really are exploring it at GW.”

"Conducting impactful research that will advance our society and improve the lives of people in our community and across the globe,” he said, “that’s what it really means for us to be a comprehensive global research institution.”

GW congressional breakfast
From left to right: Rep. William Timmons (R-South Carolina); Aristide Collins Jr; Rep. Darren Soto (D-Florida); Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-New York); and President Wrighton. (William Atkins/GW Today)

Wrighton highlighted the university’s progress and current research in science, technology and the social sciences, including research programs in the state-of-the-art nanofabrication center, the GW Milken Institute School of Public Health and cybersecurity. He noted that in April GW will host an all-day forum on cybersecurity with corporate, academic and government leaders, featuring Hans Vestberg, the chair and CEO of Verizon, as keynote speaker.

As chair of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Cybersecurity and Infrastructure, Garbarino expressed interest in having his staff working more closely with GW. “We would be interested in hearing not just what you’re doing but what more needs to be done…and what else we can be doing to help expand [the relationship],” he said. 

In his work on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Soto said he appreciated the expert witness testimony of GW professors on the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 that increased investment in semiconductor manufacturing by $50 billion and boosted investment in research as a part of the GDP from 0.5% to 1.5%.

“I would encourage the university to work with our office to make more opportunities available,” he said, including increasing internships. “There are so many jobs available, from reporters to being staff, working in the administration to even being crazy enough to run for office like we all were.”

Timmons said the best part of his experience at GW was having professors who were policymakers, including a U.S. ambassador for nuclear disarmament at the United Nations. “He [was] teaching us about the issue he’s advocating for, weeks after he was doing it,” Timmons said. “I just think that’s a huge asset, and that’s why my experience at the Elliott School was probably better than at any other learning environment anywhere in the world.”

Tokuda said she appreciates GW’s Department of Defense and cybersecurity research because of its strategic importance to her state. “I hope it translates into jobs back home so our kids can come to GW,” she said, “have an education, go back home, and work and build a life and future for themselves there. We are a huge DOD location, strategically important in the region.”

“In terms of what I would love to see GW do, I’d like to see more solid fact -based witnesses [testifying during congressional hearings]. That would be great especially when we look at the international theater of the Indo Pacific,” Tokuda said.

Wrighton reiterated a point he made earlier that “thanks to Congress, the pie is expanding for more research dollars.

“It is incumbent on us to have compelling proposals to receive merit-based awards for research,” he said.