Student Stories

New Pearson Institute Brings Five for Fighting

It wasn’t quite your average Wednesday night.

On September 30, Instead of filing into the Reg to work on problem sets and attend club meetings, students mingled with one another and with several well-dressed friends of the University while waiting for the doors to Mandel Hall to open. They enjoyed free popcorn, drinks, and movie theater-sized candy while waiting for the main event of the night: a free concert by Five for Fighting.

But then again, it wasn’t quite an average Wednesday at all for the University of Chicago, as we celebrated the announcement of the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts and the Pearson Global Forum. The day's festivities concluded with Five for Fighting’s concert, which was open to all students and community members. Students had received notice of the concert the week before, though the reasons for the event were kept secret until the Institute was announced in an email to all students, staff, and faculty on Tuesday morning.

Thanks to a $100 million donation—equal to the second largest gift in the University’s history—by brothers Thomas L. Pearson and Timothy R. Pearson on behalf of the Pearson Family Foundation, the University’s Harris School of Public Policy will soon host the first-of-its-kind research institute and annual global forum devoted solely to the study and resolution of global conflicts. The Pearson brothers are entrepreneurs, investors, and philanthropists with a long-standing interest in the resolution of global disputes and conflicts. They have also previously served as the benefactors of the Nobel Peace Prize concert, strongly believe in the influence of music to communicate sentiments in a powerful way. They suggested bringing Ondrasik to Hyde Park to celebrate the gift with the campus community

During the afternoon’s announcement and at the evening concert, Five for Fighting (otherwise known as John Ondrasik) performed his song “World”–a challenge to audience members to think about the state of the world and, more specifically, how the Pearson Institute and Global Forum could make an impact.

“What kind of world do you want? Think anything; let’s start at the start. Build a masterpiece. Be careful what you wish for—history starts now,” Ondrasik sang solemnly, while a stirring montage depicting the consequences of global conflicts, ranging from lack of access to clean water to soldiers at war, played in the background.

“It was a pleasure to open the Pearson Institute announcement with my song ‘World,’” Ondrasik wrote in an email. “The generous gift of the Pearsons will proactively delve into that question with the rigorous analysis the University of Chicago is built on. There is no more important issue than the understanding and reduction of global conflict.”

Five for Fighting John Ondrasik performing at the Pearson Institute concert.

Ondrasik and his band performed other Five for Fighting hits such as “Superman” and “One Hundred Years,” keeping the audience entertained by pointing out that all the students probably knew the tunes “from when you were in middle school.” Later in the set he also covered Don McLean’s “American Pie,” getting everyone–from the guests in their fine evening attire to the teenagers in their jeans and hoodies–on their feet, dancing and singing along.

However, this event was about more than just free candy and a free concert for students. Although the Institute will be concentrated in the graduate Harris School of Public Policy, this resource is one of several opportunities for undergrads to get involved in global conflict and counterterrorism research.

Fourth-year Maxwell Titsworth, who has been studying the field of global security for several years and currently works as an analysis intern at the U.S. State Department’s Office of Foreign Assistance Resources, applauded the creation of the Institute.

“The great thing is that we already have a group working on security-issues research [like the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism],” Titsworth said. “Judging by the size of many of our security studies classes, the interest among undergraduates is definitely there.”

Harris School spokeswoman Viki Conner said that there will be plenty of opportunities for undergraduates to take advantage of the Pearson Institute’s offerings. “College students will have a number of ways to get involved in the Pearson Institute–from courses to research opportunities with Institute faculty as well as non-academic programming and events,” she said. “The Pearson Institute will officially open its doors next academic year, and we encourage College students to stay connected to the Harris School to learn more as programming gets underway.”

The Pearson Global Forum will officially begin in 2018.