‘It’s a unique opportunity for me to be able to build a research lab and a research experience that is inclusive:’ Andy Shufer ’25 leads joint Yale-College research initiative centered on technology policy, ethics


If there was one thing that Andy Shufer ’25 came to the College of William and Mary to nerd out over, it would be international relations. Yet as he neared the completion of the major, he described feeling lost in the vastness of the field and struggled to pinpoint exactly what drew him so deeply to IR. 

It was not until he took courses like Hacking Chinese Studies with Assistant Professor of Chinese Studies Paul Vierthaler and science and technology studies with Professor of English and American Studies Elizabeth Losh that he found a niche that combined his passions for social change and technology policy: digital humanities. He even turned the subject into his own self-designed major.  

Digital humanities is this idea of applying technology to the social sciences and then using social sciences to analyze how we use these technologies,” Shufer said.

Now, Shufer paves the way for other students to interact with the digital humanities as the co-founder and co-president of the Geopolitics of Technology Initiative, a student-run research lab centered on technology policy and ethics. 

To launch Geo-Tech, as it is more commonly nicknamed, Shufer teamed up with his childhood friend Pranav Pattatathunaduvil, a junior at Yale University, in 2022. The two first sought assistance from the College’s Global Research Institute Senior Research Scientist Eric Brown, who now serves as the lab’s faculty advisor. With Brown’s help, the pair successfully applied for funding through the GRI’s Student Innovation grant program. 

Geo-Tech currently functions as a cross-collaboration between the College’s GRI and Yale’s Policy Institute, with Shufer and Pattatathunaduvil leading a core team of nine paid students from the College, Yale and the University of Chicago. 

While the initiative was built as a research opportunity, Shufer shared that a much more important aspect of it is the space it provides: a community of student engagement and practice. 

“I think it’s a unique opportunity for me to be able to build a research lab and a research experience that is inclusive, that is very purposefully a community where our goals are not just to complete our research, but also to try to make sure that the students we engage with get the most personal gains out of it that they want,” Shufer said. “Our focus is always to not extract value out of our students, but rather for this to be something that they find community in, right?”

Shufer’s goal of creating a more impactful and hands-on research opportunity for undergraduate students stems from his prior experiences with professor-led research at the College and his resulting desires to change the way students are involved in research. He argued that the institutional structure of undergraduate research often makes it difficult for professors and students to both benefit from collaborative research.   

“I feel like it’s often over-emphasized at the school how important research is, and I think research is important, but it often in practice manifests as you kind of doing menial tasks for a data set, or you kind of just reading things for a professor even if it doesn’t really contribute to the final product,” Shufer said. “I really understand it from their point of view because it’s hard to really find a good way to provide meaningful experiences to students as a research lead. So it’s a really weird process where you’re engaging with research, but not really.” 

Now that Shufer has taken on the role of a research lead himself, he discussed how he aims to provide Geo-Tech researchers with more direct, tangible forms of involvement, such as published research with authorship credit and networking opportunities. 

A lot of what we tried to do was find ways to achieve intermediary success for students,” Shufer said. “So, often, that is their own publication, their own work to show off, their own ability to meet new people and stuff like that, and a lot of that came with speaker events. Last year, I spent a lot of time working on building a website for the research lab and using that as a place where people could publish things.”

As a team, the lab spent last year studying China’s development finance and produced a final report that members presented to a panel of policy officials from India, Australia, Japan and the United States that Brown facilitated. Shufer explained that these experts were meant to represent the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue that Geo-Tech members were conducting their research for, so it was especially valuable to receive insights from the very policymakers they set out to influence.  

It was really cool because I think they came with an intention to just help us and be like, ‘Hey, we want to engage with students, and we’re going to try to be as helpful as possible,’” Shufer said. “And so they gave a lot of interesting ideas for what we can do next for research, like what is important to them in their jobs, and it was just a really good way to put it to practice.” 

This year, Geo-Tech expanded its focus and is now divided into three different research teams, with Shufer leading the Biases in Artificial Intelligence cohort to investigate the ways in which AI may replicate and steepen social inequalities.

I’m really interested in AI because it’s a reflection of how our own lab runs, where you look at all these academic research labs that are focused on AI development, and you realize how the structures of these research initiatives affect how the AI is developed, how it bakes in structural inequalities into these systems and that are reflected within how these academic systems exist,” Shufer said. “It’s something that so deeply affects how people like to organize as a community and how we interact with each other, and I feel like in the policy world, it’s something that’s really deeply misunderstood.”

This intentional practice of reflecting on internal biases within the lab also defines Geo-Tech’s biotechnology research team led by Kate Carline ’26, Shufer says. 

“She is researching how academic biotech research happens and the problems with it, so if our whole focus is on how academic labs run, then we ourselves cannot replicate these problematic behaviors that we do find,” Shufer said. “And so that has been a major focus of we literally studied structures of power — we shouldn’t recreate them.”

Shufer, who also serves as the deputy director of the College’s Asian American Student Initiative, conveyed the necessity of incorporating racial and ethnic studies as well as sociology into technology studies. He says his three major influences of his coursework under his self-designed digital humanities major, research with GeoTech and community organizing with AASI taught him that the realms of humanities and science should not be seen as mutually exclusive, but rather interdependent. 

“There’s the sense that science and technology should be separated from the messy politics and human emotion of it all,” Shufer said. “If not, it’s something that can optimize the human emotion. But rather, both of these, like my major and my research, recognize that these things are not only intertwined, but depend on each other and how we understand them fully.” 

He further advocated for a more expansive, creative view of technology, which was the impetus for GeoTech’s launch of the Science and Technology Scholars Essay Contest. Applicants were asked to use any form of writing, like science fiction or poetry, to capture the future of technology for a cash prize. 

“A lot of our focus on research is also just trying to push for as much creativity with how we engage with these topics because often the technology policy world is very focused on like improving efficiency and trying to utilize technology to improve how the government runs, but technology studies is such a rich field that includes so many different philosophical topics, but also fields such as Afrofuturism, which is a really important thing within how ethnic studies and technology studies interact. And all of these things are really creative ways of looking at technology that often is missing in policy,” Shufer said.

More broadly, he also strives to demystify technology so that everybody, regardless of their disciplinary background, can have the confidence to engage with technology and work toward a more equitable society. 

“I think people often see technology as really magical and [say] ‘Wow, this is crazy,’ but in reality, a lot of the things that occur behind the scenes with technologies are all things that are accessible and important and political,” Shufer said. “And so it’s more about just getting people to care about these things, feel like they have the confidence to navigate these things and be able to exercise their own creativity and make the world a better place.”

Another goal Shufer says he and Pattatathunaduvil are looking to better fulfill this year is facilitating more external events. In the past, the two have hosted virtual speaker events with officials from the U.S. Department of State, National Security Council and Japanese embassy intended for only Geo-Tech members. This year, they plan to launch the Geopolitics of Technology Forum, a national conference in Washington, D.C that will take place April 12. Shufer credits Pattatathunaduvil for conceiving the vision for this ambitious project and collaborating with Georgetown University students to bring it to life. 

With an expected panelist lineup of over 10 significant technology policy officials like the deputy secretary of the Office of the Special Envoy for Critical and Emerging Technology, he anticipates that students from all over the country will fly to the nation’s capital to attend. 

“The point is so that the students can meet each other, but also create a space where students are able to talk to speakers and make those connections,” Shufer said.

By pioneering these types of student engagement initiatives, Shufer ultimately hopes to empower students to model this leadership and have the courage to launch their own research projects within Geo-Tech for years to come. 

“I think longevity is not something that can be guaranteed, but it is something that we want to try to work on because longevity is a symptom of us having succeeded at making students feel confident and empowered enough that they can start their own research projects as well,” Shufer said. 


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