Winona Ward, a student in UCF’s online Master of Research Administration program, is in San Diego this week to receive the Society of Research Administrators International’s top award for international collaboration.

The society’s 2014 Partnership Award for International and/or Inter-collegiate Collaboration recognizes Ward’s outstanding leadership in establishing a partnership with The Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, that will create and staff an entire research office for the organization.

“It’s an extraordinary accomplishment,” said Jo Ann Smith, director of the M.R.A. program and assistant professor of public administration.

The Petroleum Institute is a teaching and research facility supported by some of the world’s largest oil companies, including BP, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Total and Shell. Last fall the institute announced a Request for Proposals to develop a dedicated office to support its growing research initiatives.

Ward learned of the RFP in her role as executive director of sponsored programs at Louisiana State University. With assistance from Smith and several partners, she crafted and submitted a proposal to the institute with details on how to structure, operate, budget and staff a research office in Abu Dhabi. The proposal called for collaborations with LSU, UCF, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the National Council of University Research Administrators and a research-law expert. The cost would be $800,000 for two years.

Ward learned this spring that the institute had selected her proposal, and in June the organization flew her and three team members, including Smith, to Abu Dhabi for a site visit. That’s when Ward’s knowledge, leadership and “a special finesse” took center stage, according to Smith.

“There were many organizational and cultural differences to consider,” Smith explained. “Winona’s ability to navigate these unique challenges, negotiate with different organizations and cultures, and nurture complex relationships were crucial to moving the partnership forward.”

Within two weeks of the site visit, the institute signed an agreement with LSU, with Ward serving as principal investigator. Now she is leading the project by email correspondence, weekly meetings and return trips to Abu Dhabi. Smith’s current role is to oversee an international search for the institute’s first director of sponsored research.

Ward can take great pride in her accomplishment. Not only did her proposal forge a significant international partnership, it also fulfilled a course requirement in the M.R.A. program, PAD 5850 – Contracts and Grant Management, for which she earned an “A.”