When Mary Dozier happened to meet Edna Bennett Pierce at a dinner for the UD faculty members who hold endowed chairs, they chatted about the work Dozier and her research team were conducting to help children and caregivers.
Pierce, who with her six children had endowed the C. Eugene Bennett Chair in Chemistry in honor of her late husband, had a longstanding personal interest in ways to prevent child abuse and neglect and to foster children's well-being. She wanted to know more about the interventions that Dozier was developing for at-risk children, and so Dozier and her students put together a presentation for Pierce about their work.
It was the start of what Dozier describes as a significant benefit to the progress of her research, as well as a personal connection between the two women.
Pierce made a donation with no strings attached, specifying only that it be used for Dozier's research and that she be kept informed about the progress of that work. She has continued the support every year, with the same provisions.
"With Edna's support, I'm able to do cutting-edge work — and often get very exciting results — that traditional funding agencies wouldn't support at this stage," Dozier says. "To get a grant from the National Institutes of Health [NIH], for example, you have to have evidence that what you're investigating works; it can't be the kind of exploratory work that Edna allows me to do."
Examples of research Dozier has conducted with Pierce's support are a brain-function study of 15 adopted children and 15 comparison children; a pilot study of interventions with toddlers (which resulted in $3.1 million in NIH funding); and a gene methylation study of children who are adopted into the United States and children who remain in Russian orphanages. In addition, the funding has allowed her to begin disseminating the intervention through agencies around the country and the world, including North Carolina, Hawaii, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
Dozier's work over the years has received numerous grants from the NIH and other agencies. But Pierce's support has often provided the kind of seed money allowing for a demonstration project that became the basis for a large grant.
"Edna and I meet every three or four months, and we talk about my work, but she doesn't put any constraints on what I use the money for," Dozier says. "That's been absolutely invaluable to me."