Wake Forest University has announced that the Lilly Endowment has awarded it a five-year $30.7 million grant to support the university’s emphasis on the study of character and also create a national higher education network focused on educating character.
The grant will advance the work of Wake Forest’s Program for Leadership and Character, which was established in 2017 and has become a leading center for research and teaching on character development and for infusing it into its curriculum.
In addition, Wake Forest will use the grant to help colleges and universities across the country develop and strengthen their own character education initiatives.
“We believe focusing on character can help many colleges and universities realize their aspirations to educate the whole person and generate the knowledge, capacity and character that our students will need to live and lead well in the 21st century,” said Michael Lamb, executive director of Wake Forest’s Program for Leadership and Character, F.M. Kirby Foundation Chair of Leadership and Character and associate professor of interdisciplinary humanities. Lamb will serve as the principal investigator for the grant.
About $7 million of the new grant will enable Wake Forest to:
- support the ongoing work of the Program for Leadership and Character, with a particular focus on studying the impact of character-related courses and extra-curricular programming on the leadership and character of students as well as their sense of belonging, civic engagement, career readiness and academic interests.
- host national conferences that explore new ways to develop and measure character;
- offer workshops on educating character and teaching specific virtues like empathy, honesty, gratitude, resilience, justice, citizenship, humility, compassion, respect, and hope;
- lead summer seminars for faculty and staff from colleges and universities interested in integrating character education into their teaching and campus activities;
- develop various kinds of teaching resources on character development that faculty can use to integrate character education into their classes.
More than $23 million of the grant will be used by Wake Forest to administer a national competitive grant program that will provide funding to other colleges and universities for their own initiatives focused on character. Those grants will include:
- planning grants of up to $5o,000;
- grants ranging from $250,000 to $1 million for other institutions to launch character initiatives;
- teacher-scholar grants for faculty who want to research character;
- professional development grants for faculty and staff;
“Universities are called to be catalysts for good in our society,” said Wake Forest President Susan R. Wente in the University’s announcement. “With this unique and truly significant investment from Lilly Endowment, Wake Forest will lead broader public conversations across higher education that place character at the center of leadership, and become a national resource for supporting colleges and universities across the country in developing their capacity to educate character.”
In addition to Lamb, Kenneth Townsend, scholar-in-residence at Wake Forest University Law School and director of Leadership and Character in the Professional Schools, will co-direct the grant. Nathan Hatch, president emeritus of Wake Forest and the person generally credited with founding the Program for Leadership and Character, will serve as a senior advisor.
Over the last decade, Wake Forest faculty have been awarded several grants to support their scholarship and teaching about character, helping to solidify Wake Forest’s reputation as a national academic leader in this area. The grants include:
- $3.4 million in 2019 from the Lilly Endowment for the Program for Leadership and Character;
- an $8.6 million from the Kern Family Foundation in 2021 that expanded Wake Forest’s character development work into its professional curricula such as medicine, law, and engineering;
- a multi-million dollar grant from the John Templeton Foundation that supported the Character Project, featuring research by psychologists, philosophers and theologians on topics such as honesty, generosity and empathy;
- a $3.9 million grant from the Templeton Religion Trust for the Beacon Project, which has funded Wake Forest researchers studying the psychological, cultural and spiritual factors that make people morally excellent.
- a $4.4 million John Templeton Foundation grant for the Honesty Project, which supports research about the nature and science of honesty.
Of the new Wake Forest grant, N. Clay Robbins, Lilly Endowment’s Chairman and CEO, said, “We are living in a moment of deep cultural and political polarization and increasing distrust of leaders and institutions. We are pleased to add our funding to that of the Kern Family Foundation, John Templeton Foundation, Templeton Religion Trust, Templeton World Charity Foundation, and other foundations and supporters to assist Wake Forest in developing further its character education capacity and strategies.”
“We also are pleased to support its efforts to help foster a national network of colleges and universities with the aim of educating a new generation of morally and ethically grounded leaders to rebuild trust and enhance civic engagement,” Robbins added.