Georgetown Environmental Initiative sprouts with $20 million donation


The Georgetown Environmental Initiative has officially been launched, thanks to a $20 million donation from an anonymous family affiliated with the University. The Initiative aims to orient the Georgetown community toward advancing the study, understanding, and implementation of sound environmental policy.

The donation was announced to the student body via email on Thursday, Nov. 1. “Institutions around the world are creating a growing body of research on the environment and sustainability,” wrote John DeGioia, President of Georgetown University, in the email. “[A]nd we think that Georgetown is uniquely positioned to make vital contributions to this effort.”

The Initiative, led by a steering committee of professors and administrators, has three main goals: to foster and spread awareness and education concerning the environment; to fund interdisciplinary research, particularly that which concentrates on humans’ interactions with and effect on the environment; and to strive to implement environmentally-friendly public policy.

R. Bartley Moore, Vice President for Advancement at Georgetown, is responsible for development and fundraising and helps coordinate the University’s academic leadership to raise support for programs such as the Environmental Initiative. In a recent interview, he explained the structure of the donation, and how the allocation of the funds was determined.

“This is a distinctive gift because it was the result of a prolonged collaboration between faculty, academic leadership, and the donor,” he said, “the result of which was to produce an unusually detailed plan for how the $20 million commitment will be used to advance the objectives and ambitions of the Environmental Initiative.”

The donation will be used to fund a series of seminars and programs designed to educate students and spread awareness about environmental issues on campus.

Initiative leaders also hope the new classes will advance the recruitment process for three new faculty members by attracting distinguished members in the field of environmental studies to campus.

“The expectation is that the three hires will be in the core disciplines of the sciences—biology, chemistry, and physics,” Moore said. “They will be well-established researchers who have demonstrated a capacity or interest to do what is, although based in science, highly interdisciplinary.”

Beyond additions to the payroll and class lists, the donation will enable the university to continue to fund environmental research grants and scholarships. These grants and scholarships will allow a greater integration of faculty and student involvement in environmental studies—an aim bolstered by an additional $250,000 commitment from the Initiative’s own budget.

When asked about student involvement, Moore was enthusiastic about their opportunities for collaboration with faculty

“From the very beginning, one of the highest objectives of the donor was that there would be palpable effects felt by the undergraduates and graduates,” he said. “The grant agreement with the donor, and the University’s own plan, envisions the creation of a Georgetown Environmental Initiative advisory board on which we expect there will be diverse representation, including both undergraduate and graduate student representation.”

He added that the Initiative’s reach will extend into both the classroom and laboratory. “In the grant funding process there will be a high priority attached to proposals that create fields and other research opportunities for students—undergraduates and graduates—as contributors to the larger studies,” he said.

“Over time, students will feel a very direct impact in their classrooms and laboratories, and in off-campus learning experiences from programs that are directly funded by the Initiative.”

Matthew Hamilton, Associate Professor of Biology and Chair of the Environmental Initiative Steering Committee, also expressed desire for ample student involvement in both the planning and implementation processes of the Initiative.

“I think that the students are critical to the mission of any university, but particularly here at Georgetown,” he said. “What we’re hoping is to provide as many opportunities to students as we do to faculty; those things are intertwined. We want to see the students bring ideas to bear in energy, and they’ve done that. The faculty looks at that and says, ‘Look at this enthusiasm, and these great ideas, maybe these students will be interested in getting involved in what I am doing.’ There is a lot of positive energy that comes from when students interact with the faculty, and we recognize that.”

In addition to this sort of collaboration, Initiative leaders are also hoping for the creation of an administrative center to help further unify and empower environmental innovators. Planning is still in its nascent stages, but Hamilton says the center would advocate for the creation of new majors and minors across all disciplines that focus on the interdisciplinary nature of environmental issues.

As to where the new office might be located, Hamilton has one particularly ambitious idea.

“I believe that the renovation of the Heyden Observatory is a fantastic potential idea, and I really like the metaphor of that. It could be a great symbol for the way we experience the environment, and the impact we have on it,” he said. “We can imagine a historic building like that, coupled with a newer wing, that represents the old and the new. Who knows? Maybe we can even get that old telescope working.”

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Scott Dennis

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