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New Jersey Climate News

News Aggregation from the NJ Climate Change Resource Center

Institute of Food Nutrition and Health at Rutgers University

Rutgers University

Rutgers Launches Climate and Energy Institute With Wide-Reaching Goals

Institute will combine and unify the strengths of three existing institutes on climate, environment and energy research

KITTA MACPHERSON / RUTGERS TODAY – University leaders are creating an institute designed to elevate the local, national and international profile of Rutgers–New Brunswick as a locus for scholarship on climate change, renewable energy production, energy conservation and their environmental dimensions.

The Rutgers Climate and Energy Institute (RCEI) will combine and expand upon the activities of three existing institutes on climate, environment and energy research at the university: the Rutgers Climate Institute (RCI), the Rutgers Energy Institute (REI) and the Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences (EOAS).

The launch of RCEI, an initiative of the Rutgers–New Brunswick Academic Master Plan, is expected to maximize the university’s impact on finding solutions to the existential challenge of climate change.

“Rutgers–New Brunswick has long been known as a center of excellence for climate and energy research,” Rutgers–New Brunswick Chancellor Francine Conway said. “The new Rutgers Climate and Energy Institute will focus and expand upon existing resources to help build a resilient, equitable and sustainable climate future. It is part of our work to redefine excellence in higher education.”

Conway noted that the directors of the existing institutes will serve in leadership or advisory board positions at the new institute, and more than 150 faculty members are expected to affiliate with RCEI.

Julie Lockwood, a professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources in the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, will be the interim director.

“The formation of RCEI brings together scholars working on the social and physical dimensions of climate change, low carbon energy transitions, and climate and energy communication,” said Lockwood, a leader in the study of biodiversity, including its relationship with climate change and energy production. “It also creates physical and virtual spaces for faculty, staff, students and stakeholders to collaborate and innovate across these areas.”

Lockwood will be charged with hiring and supervising the core RCEI staff, creating the institute’s organizational structure with input from the RCEI leadership team, engaging with RCEI affiliates and others throughout Rutgers to identify synergies in mission, as well as initiating RCEI funding and grant operations.

The institute will have offices within the New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health (IFNH) building on the George H. Cook campus but will maintain the model of a distributed institute with affiliated faculty and staff located at sites throughout Rutgers–New Brunswick.

RCEI, with an ambitious and wide-ranging mission, will provide a focal point for climate change and energy scholarship at Rutgers–New Brunswick, enabling university investments to be directed toward their greatest effect, Lockwood said.

The combined structure also will open new avenues for the pursuit of large-scale, externally funded projects and allow philanthropic supporters to more easily identify where their interests and goals will be amplified, she added. The new institute will collaborate with the Rutgers Office of Climate Action and other units across Rutgers that engage with climate and energy science.

RCEI will include staff who supported RCI, REI and EOAS. In addition, faculty and staff who were affiliates of RCI, REI and EOAS will be invited to affiliate with the new institute.

The university will begin the initial rollout of the institute this month, with select programs to be up and running within the current academic year. All planned activities will be fully operational by the summer of 2024. Once the initial rollout is under way, the activities of RCI, REI and EOAS will be incorporated into the new institute. By summer 2024, all operations will be under RCEI. The effort is led by Senior Vice Provost for Research Denise Hien.

Financial support for RCEI will include $2.5 million from the Chancellor Challenge which will be awarded over three years, and dedicated funding from the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. Additional support will be provided by Rutgers–New Brunswick schools, including the School of Engineering, School of Arts and Sciences, Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, and Mason Gross School of the Arts. The schools’ faculty will serve in RCEI leadership roles and enhance RCEI programs. This coming together of multiple schools and divisions will expand the resources available to the institute. RCEI’s funding sources are expected to further diversify as it moves from inception to full operation.

A search for a permanent director will be launched in 2024.

Meet the Climate Corps

Angel Alguera, Rutgers Climate CorpsAngel Alguera
I am a first-year Atmospheric Science master’s degree student in the Department of Environmental Sciences, and my work focuses on meteorology and applications of climate change resiliency. My professional interests include severe weather forecasting and community preparedness regarding weather-related disasters. I work with Dr. James Shope at the NJ Climate Change Resource Center to produce applied research and reports relevant to New Jersey stakeholders. I currently assist with climate change data analysis, large dataset management, and report writing.

Daniel GilkesonDaniel Gilkeson
I’m a second-year master’s student in the City and Regional Planning Program with a concentration in environmental planning. As a planner, I hope to build more resilient communities in the face of increased risk due to climate change. With the Climate Change Resource Center, I am working on a project to aid the state in an update of its floodplain buyout program, known as Blue Acres, to be more proactive and comprehensive. Prior to this position, I interned in the Community and Economic Development Office at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Association. I’m also an AmeriCorps alum, having completed a year of service working on affordable housing in Nashville, Tennessee.

Benjamin GoldbergBenjamin Goldberg
I am a second-year Master of City and Regional Planning student concentrating in climate adaptation and resiliency planning, with experience in sustainable food systems. I joined the Climate Corps last summer to help develop a GIS-based food waste recovery tool, and currently support community resilience through flood vulnerability analysis. I hold a B.A. from Middlebury College and a Certificate in Ecological Horticulture from UC Santa Cruz.

Surya Jacob, Rutgers Climate CorpsSurya Jacob
I am a graduate student in the Master of City and Regional Planning program at the Bloustein School concentrating in community development, focused on housing, land and finance, as well as pursuing the Real Estate Development/Redevelopment Certification. Prior to Bloustein, I worked as an architect and interior designer in India and Canada and am pivoting towards a career in urban planning to engage in extensive projects at the macro level. My interests include affordable and mixed income housing, urban redevelopment, and housing finance, and I am deeply passionate about climate resilience in community planning. Being part of Climate Corps is a foundational step towards helping to solve equity issues in vulnerable communities along the coastal region.

Vineesh Das Kodakkandathil, RutgersVineesh Das Kodakkandathil
I am an urban planner with five years of professional experience in community-led ecotourism development and land use and environment management planning in ecologically sensitive areas. I have worked on and conducted extensive environmental sensitivity analyses, flood and landslide vulnerability assessments, and human impact assessments with the help of GIS tools. I’m currently pursuing my master’s in City and Regional Planning at Bloustein School with a concentration in Transport Planning and GIS.

Douglas LeungDouglas Leung
I am working with the Climate Change Resource Center to identify vulnerable communities and places affected by climate-induced flooding in coastal New Jersey municipalities. I am a Master of City and Regional Planning candidate at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. As a planner, I want to develop strategies and solve problems affecting our cities and communities that enable more equitable outcomes in housing and transportation. I am also a recent Army veteran, having served as a company commander of recruiting in the northern suburbs of Chicago and as a reconnaissance platoon leader in the 10th Mountain Division. For fun, I enjoy weightlifting, running, reading fiction, and board games.

Nihar MhatreNihar Mhatre
I am a master’s candidate in city and regional planning at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, focusing on urban design and land use planning. Before being accepted at Rutgers, I worked as an architect at JD Studio and had my own architectural practice, Vastu Insights. My research interests revolve around designing and developing climate change adaptation and resilience strategies to promote equity in urban landscapes. Having the opportunity to work on real-world projects through Climate Corps will be an essential step in the development of my understanding of addressing climate change issues in vulnerable regions.

Justin MorrisJustin Morris
Justin is a master’s student at Rutgers University studying discovery informatics and data sciences. He is working under Professor Mark Rodgers to develop an optimization model that will act as a decision support tool for university financial investments with the end goal of eliminating Rutgers’ scope 2 emissions. He is excited to apply his background in data analytics and mathematical programming to help the university fight climate change.

Josephine O'GradyJosephine O’Grady
I am a first-year student in the Master of Public Policy program. Through the Coastal Climate Risk and Resilience (C2R2) certification, I am focusing a significant portion of my graduate coursework on topics including coastal geomorphology, environmental justice, and hazard mitigation planning. Before beginning my studies at the Bloustein School, I received my bachelor’s degree in public health from Kean University, where I first became interested in how coastal dynamics shape lived experiences. I previously served as an intern at the New Jersey State Policy Lab and currently work for the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH) team.

Jessica Parineet Jessica Parineet
I am a first-year Master of Public Policy student at the Bloustein School with a strong interest in climate change policy and related topics. In my previous work, I gained experience in a number of dimensions of climate change issues through carbon capture storage research, urban heat island research, and community level engagement as I am currently on the Student Advisory Board for the Rutgers Office of Climate Action. I am excited to expand on my interests in environmental justice and local level resilience planning through my involvement in the Climate Corps.

Dillon Patel Dillan Patel
I am a second-year Master of City and Regional Planning student concentrating in Environmental Planning and International Development. I have previously worked as an economist performing cost-benefit analysis and conducting monitoring and evaluation for renewable energy in developing countries. I have also spent a summer in western Massachusetts mapping stormwater infrastructure and working with planners to identify suitable places for green stormwater infrastructure.

Moira Sweeder, Rutgers Climate CorpsMoira Sweeder
I am a graduate student enrolled in the Master of City and Regional Planning program at the Bloustein School. My concentration is environmental planning with a focus on coastal resilience. Before pursuing my master’s degree at Rutgers, I studied sustainability at Stockton University. During this time, I interned for the PSEG Institute of Sustainability Studies, the Jacques Cousteau National Estuary Research Reserve, and NJ Audubon. I am thrilled to now be a part of the Climate Corps, researching coastal resilience as a part of the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH) team.

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