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Student Learning and Discovery

Bradley Sageman | February 16, 2024
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In the hustle and bustle of life in a research university like Northwestern, I take great pride in my commitment to education. Alongside multi-million dollar sponsored research awards, science discoveries that fundamentally reshape our understanding of the world, and world-class scholars, the “student experience” remains one of the things that I believe distinguishes our university. With our “goldilocks” size, Northwestern is not too small that we lack the equipment and activity of a world-class research I institution, and not too big that our students get lost in the shuffle. Both graduate students AND undergraduates are, in fact, integral parts of our research teams. 

I have been teaching and mentoring students for over 30 years at Northwestern. During this span of time, I have watched as the commitment to informing our students about the Earth’s changing climate by myself and my colleagues has progressively increased. Without a doubt, one of the most gratifying highlights of my professional career has been watching as our former students have become the first  generation of leaders in decarbonization start-ups and government agencies dedicated to the study and mitigation of climate change. 

The climate crisis – and the energy transition that it demands – will be the defining issue of this century.  

As a world-class educational institution, it has been, and will continue to be our duty to equip our students with the knowledge, skills, and hope to affect positive change as the vanguard of public and private sector climate leadership. To that end, as we approach the midpoint of this academic year, I am encouraged by the new and enduring progress that I see all around.  

At Northwestern, a vibrant fall quarter marked the arrival of the fourth cohort of our Master of Science in Energy and Sustainability program, and a new group of undergraduate students enrolled in the ever-popular Certificate in Sustainability and Energy. Current students in a range of fields and academic levels at Northwestern are curious, engaged, and learning from academic and industry experts who are giving them the best possible preparation for their future as global leaders and citizens.  

We recently welcomed two new faculty fellows who bring unique insights to the student body. Sailesh Chutani, an entrepreneur and tech leader, will teach the Special Topics course Ethics and Leadership in the Climate Crisis, while Craig Arnold, an expert in environmental impact analysis, will teach Lifecycle Assessment: Business Applications. Both of these one-year adjunct term positions were made possible through funding from the Trienens Institute, and represent a model that we hope to expand in the near future. 

Meanwhile, in collaboration with Medill, the Trienens Institute has recently launched a new graduate student fellowship for environmental reporting, with an initial commitment of five years of funding.  The program will support two incoming MSJ students beginning in the fall of 2024. We hope to be announcing similar graduate fellowships in other Northwestern schools in the near future.  

Of course, the Trienens Institute has long been supportive of experiential learning opportunities, including a longstanding collaboration with the Learning Abroad and McCormick Global Initiatives to offer Global Engineering Treks.  Students interested in a condensed study abroad opportunity focused on sustainability, energy, and climate topics across the globe should check out approaching application deadlines.  The Trienens Institute has also worked closely with the Buffett Institute for Global Affairs to send undergraduate and graduate students annually to the global climate accords, including this year’s COP28 conference in UAE. 

Speaking of travel, I am also pleased to share that the Trienens Institute is now offering limited assistance for student academic travel. This funding, which will be awarded on a rolling basis, will support approximately 100 students each academic year, up to a reimbursable cap of $500. We hope these funds enable travel for academic conferences to present research within the fields of energy, sustainability, or the environment. It may also be applied to other academic travel or conference registrations.  

Finally, the Trienens Institute is happy to announce that we’ve re-seeded our social impact project fund, which supports student and student group projects or research that address significant local and global challenges in sustainability and energy.  The funds, available at levels of up to $5,000, and up to $25,000 (depending on the maturity of the project) are intended to fill resource gaps between research and solution ideation, proof-of-concept work, and testing methods for implementation-at-scale.   

The Trienens Institute has been at the center of student sustainability and energy education and experience since its founding in 2008.  Thanks to the generosity of the Trienens family’s $25M gift last year, we’re better resourced than ever to continue the critical work.  So, while it’s easy to be cynical about (the lack of) progress on climate, I’ve never been more hopeful that we’re leaving this crisis in the hands of capable, passionate changemakers.  I wish you all a productive remainder of the Winter quarter, and remember – Spring is just around the corner!    


Bradley Sageman

Professor, Director of Undergraduate Studies, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
Co-Director and Faculty Affiliate, Paula M. Trienens Institute for Sustainability and Energy
Academic Director for Master of Science in Energy and Sustainability