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In June 2023, the longstanding Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN) was renamed Paula M. Trienens Institute for Sustainability and Energy, in honor of a $25 million grant from the Howard and Paula Trienens Fund. The grant, which is the largest philanthropic contribution made in the history of the institute, provides critical investment in research, education, and engagement for climate and the energy transition, as well as community resilience.

The Paula M. Trienens Institute for Sustainability and Energy is one of the university’s flagship research institutes. Its roots go back to October 2008, when it was established as the Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern under the leadership of Northwestern’s 15th President, Henry S. Bienen. According to the news release announcing the initiative, it was established to consolidate and build on Northwestern's existing strengths and to foster new efforts in energy and sustainability.

The organization’s holistic approach addresses the challenges surrounding sustainability and energy across disciplines, as groundbreaking discoveries and solutions often emerge at the intersection of traditionally distinct fields.

In October 2013, the initiative expanded to become the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern. Michael R. Wasielewski, Clare Hamilton Hall Professor of Chemistry, was named executive director.

Throughout its history, the Trienens Institute has played a significant role in shaping the landscape of education and research in sustainability and energy at Northwestern. It provides seed funding to faculty affiliates and offers lab spaces designed for collaboration. In addition, the institute developed and administers undergraduate and graduate courses across disciplines. Offerings include the Undergraduate Certificate in Sustainability and Energy and the Masters of Sustainability and Energy. Additional educational opportunities have taken undergraduate students around the world to countries such as China, Germany, and Israel through study abroad program sponsored by the Trienens Institute.

From research to education, corporate and nonprofit partnerships led by the institute create impact through innovation and collaboration. These engagements provide experiential educational opportunities for students and create value for the world at large through implementation. The institute also organizes an annual symposium of public lectures showcasing recent discoveries and providing thought-leadership on timely topics.

More than 1,000 Northwestern alumni now work in the fields of sustainability and energy, bringing their values and education to benefit society at large. They serve as leaders in industries from renewable energy to consumer goods to government and beyond.

Northwestern’s standing President, Michael Schill, expressed his support for sustainability and energy in his remarks at his June 2023 inauguration, presenting support for the future of research and education in these fields. “We will focus on research in decarbonization, renewable energy, and sustainability, because little else matters if we cannot ensure a future for our students and for future generations,” he said.

In September 2023, Professor Ted Sargent, Department of Chemistry, was named co-executive director of the Trienens Institute, alongside Wasielewski.

Going forward, the Trienens Institute will further support expansion at the university from research to education with impact from the university community to life around the world.