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Peterson Foundation grant to fuel COVID-19 research at Northwestern

New $1 million research initiative will help inform and improve pandemic relief and recovery policies
covid-19 research
The program will develop research in various areas related to pandemic response.

Northwestern University has announced the Peter G. Peterson Foundation Pandemic Response Policy Research Program, a new research initiative to advance the understanding of effective pandemic policy responses.

This two-year project will help inform and improve future pandemic response policies, focusing on health care and the economy, and is funded by a $1 million grant from the Peterson Foundation, a nonpartisan organization promoting fiscal sustainability and economic strength and increasing public awareness of key fiscal challenges. 

The program will develop research in various areas related to pandemic response, including: 

  • State-level responses to the COVID-19 pandemic 
  • Economic impact of policies to address the virus
  • Socioeconomic and health disparities across communities
  • Health care delivery challenges and opportunities revealed during the pandemic

Under the program, individual grants will be made, ranging from $30,000 to $150,000, over 18- to 24-month project cycles. Research will draw upon longstanding Northwestern expertise in many areas, including public policy, economics and business, and medicine and public health. The fund will be administered by the Office of Research Development, one of the units within the University’s Office for Research, and is open to all Northwestern faculty. Research Development will disseminate the Request for Proposals in early April, with an anticipated project start date in the summer.   

“Northwestern is deeply grateful to the Peterson Foundation for this investment in our research enterprise, especially at a pivotal moment in which our researchers are pursuing breakthrough COVID-19 investigations, including work that draws on our deep social science and policy strengths,” said Northwestern President Morton Schapiro. “This new support from the Peterson Foundation will enable our faculty to continue making invaluable contributions by examining the full range of issues related to the pandemic and identifying key lessons to be learned.” 

Milan Mrksich, vice president for research and the Henry Wade Rogers Professor of Biomedical Engineering, also acknowledged the importance of the new grant. “Our faculty have been working to unlock the mysteries and understand the impact of COVID-19 in many different ways,” he said. “The Peterson Fund will help ensure that Northwestern scholars remain at the forefront of examining the pandemic’s effects on our society and economy, investigations that will continue to yield important insights that strengthen our ability to respond to the current challenges as well as to future health crises.”

Advancing policy-relevant research

Mrksich noted how the Peterson grant enhances pandemic-related research occurring throughout the University, including studies that have been funded by National Science Foundation RAPID grants — a proposal used to jump-start research in response to unanticipated, urgent events. “Similarly, the Peterson Foundation’s support is extremely valuable to allow our high-impact, policy-relevant COVID research to advance quickly,” said Mrksich, who is project director for the new fund.  

Diane Schanzenbach
Diane Schanzenbach

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, director of Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research (IPR), said the new funding is especially beneficial at this time when many of the University’s scholars are examining a wide range of impacts from the pandemic, including economic, educational and public health repercussions.

“This grant from the Peterson Foundation will help our scholars understand the wide-ranging impacts of COVID and do research to build new capabilities, resilience and productivity going forward,” said Schanzenbach, an economist who studies policies aimed at improving the lives of children in poverty. 

Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peterson Foundation, said, “This pandemic has had devastating effects on our health, economy and society. We have both the opportunity and responsibility to learn from the policy response, apply lessons and better prepare our nation for the next crisis. We are thrilled to partner with Northwestern’s talented faculty, to enhance their efforts to develop effective solutions for relief, recovery and preparedness for the future.”

The Peterson Foundation

The Peterson Foundation was founded in 2008 by Northwestern alumnus Peter G. Peterson, ’47, a graduate of the Kellogg School of Management. Pete Peterson’s highly accomplished career as a leader in both the public and private sectors spanned decades and included service as U.S. Secretary of Commerce, chairman and CEO of Lehman Brothers, and co-founder and chairman of private equity and investment management firm The Blackstone Group. He also served as chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations from 1985 to 2007. A champion of ethical business and political leadership until his death in 2018, Peterson was an engaged supporter of Northwestern, including endowing a chaired professorship in corporate ethics at the Kellogg School. Peterson’s distinguished legacy of service continues to exert beneficial impact in many ways, including through the foundation he established. 

The Peterson Foundation grant counts toward We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern.

The funds raised through the “We Will” Campaign are helping realize the transformational vision set forth in Northwestern’s strategic plan and solidifying the University’s position among the world’s leading research universities.

More information on We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern is available at

Matt Golosinski is director of communications in the Office for Research.

For Journalists: view the news release for media contacts