With more and more people realizing that society’s needs for energy and material resources are driving Earth’s natural systems towards a precarious and unsustainable condition, Professor Jeffrey I. Steinfeld, in 2009, established a graduate student fellowship to support students in the Department of Chemistry, with preference for those students carrying out research related to environmental and sustainability issues, and for associated educational travel.
Climate change, water availability, food security, and diminishing biodiversity are just some of the challenges that Professor Steinfeld feels students will be dealing with as they pursue their careers, lead their lives, and raise families. “My own generation,” he says, “who must bear some of the responsibility for our present situation, has an obligation to ‘pay forward’ in order to make the vision of sustainable development a reality.” Professor Steinfeld hopes that this fellowship award will help support graduate student research in addressing these issues, and will encourage them to broaden their studies to appreciate how their research connects to the wider issues of sustainability.
“The objective of the educational travel option of the award,” Professor Steinfeld explains, “is to assist students’ travel and participation costs for conferences or short courses that specifically address environmental and sustainability issues.”
Professor Steinfeld established the award to honor the memory of his parents, Paul Steinfeld (d. 1983) and Ann Steinfeld, née Ravin (d. 1989). Both were the children of immigrants – indeed, refugees – from Eastern Europe who had settled in New York City in the early 1900’s. Neither attended college; they married and established a household during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, which instilled a lifelong sense of thrift and responsibility. They supported and encouraged their son in his own academic journey, even through some stumbles along the way, and Professor Steinfeld feels sure they were pleased to be at his M.I.T. commencement in 1962, his graduation from the Ph.D. program at Harvard in 1965 (a rather more formal event), a classic bon voyage party on board the Queen Elizabeth I as he embarked for a postdoctoral fellowship in England, and subsequently through the various stages of his career at M.I.T.
“I can think of few better ways of keeping their memories alive than to support the education of future generations – and to try to ensure that they will have a future,” he says.