Graduate students interested in climate change mitigation and who have a passion for equity have a remarkable new opportunity to make an impact on the world through a new program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. This groundbreaking interdisciplinary program, Elevating Equity Values in the Transition of the Energy system (ELEVATE), will be funded by two grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) totaling $6.3 million.
The program will draw on the campus’s longstanding dual strengths in technology and social justice. ELEVATE will ensure that the transformation of the country’s electric grid is both sustainable and benefits all members of society equitably—an aspect of energy transition often overlooked in policymaking and public discourse.
“We’re recruiting a diverse cohort of students from a wide range of disciplines now,” says principal investigator Matthew Lackner, professor of mechanical engineering and associate director of the UMass Wind Energy Center. “We’re looking for people with different perspectives and backgrounds. This award provides a really exciting opportunity for UMass faculty and graduate students from across the campus to jointly solve critical energy transition challenges.”
ELEVATE will support the training of more than 50 master’s and doctoral students across 10 UMass departments in the College of Engineering, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, College of Natural Sciences, and College of Information and Computer Sciences. Overall, more than 100 graduate students are expected to participate in ELEVATE. The students will conduct research at the intersection of electricity technology, energy economics and policy, climate science, and social equity.
“Our goal is to train people who will go out in the world and make a difference. They will work on all aspects of the transition to green energy—as regulators, for NGOs, in public service, in industry,” says Lackner. “They will produce resilient and equity-driven innovations.”
“The US is facing overlapping crises of climate change, global pandemic, and systemic inequality,” says Anna Goldstein, director of the UMass Amherst Energy Transition Initiative. “As we move toward a low-carbon energy system, we need to be intentional about righting the injustices in our current energy system, while also supporting job creation and economic recovery.”
One important aspect of the program will be teaching students how to combine science with public engagement. The campus and the public will be hearing a lot from faculty and students working with ELEVATE in years to come as they find new ways to ensure equity in this era of energy transformation.