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PEI renamed the ‘High Meadows Environmental Institute,’ following large gift

<h6>Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

The Princeton Environmental Institute has been renamed the High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI), recognizing a recent gift from the High Meadows Foundation (HMF) and their longtime support of interdisciplinary environmental research at the University.

The donation is the largest gift that the environmental institute has received to date, according to an Oct. 29 announcement. The University, however, did not disclose the amount.

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HMF is a private, non-profit organization founded by Judy Ferenbach  and Carl Ferenbach ’64, which invests in solutions for environmental and societal problems. 

“High Meadows’ support will allow HMEI to build upon our core strength of fostering innovative collaborative research and establish new research initiatives and partnerships, as well as expand our teaching initiatives to educate the growing number of students from all communities and disciplines who understand that the future of our planet and all its species — including ours — relies on them,” according to professor Michael Celia, director of HMEI.

This year, the University has faced student calls to accelerate its transition towards clean energy and net-zero emissions. University Spokesperson Mike Hotchkiss emphasized that the HMEI will serve as a center for University members to advance action on climate change.

“Faculty, students, and administrators affiliated with HMEI actively participate with the Office of Sustainability and University leadership in planning and discussions regarding the Campus Sustainability Plan, and use the campus as a lab for research studies and independent work connected to campus sustainability actions and initiatives,” Hotchkiss wrote in an email to The Daily Princetonian.

The University is also planning to create a new space for Engineering and Environmental studies, which was outlined in the University’s 2026 campus plan.

According to Celia, this complex will include a large auditorium, atrium, meeting rooms, and exhibition spaces. 

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“A new facility would not only improve the quality of Princeton's environmental laboratories but also provide a campus-wide hub for interdisciplinary environmental activities, facilitating engagement across disciplines ranging from the sciences to the humanities,” Hotchkiss wrote.

HMEI was founded in 1994 as a resource for undergraduates, postdocs, faculty, and alumni. Today, its 120 faculty members represent nearly 30 disciplines.

In an interview with the ‘Prince,’ Ferenbach noted that HMEI’s spirit of interdepartmental research makes the University an effective setting for tackling global environmental challenges.

“The beauty of Princeton being organized environmentally into an institute rather than a department has permitted the opportunity to bring in other disciplines,” he said.

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Over Ferenbach’s two terms on the University Board of Trustees, HMF has supported the University’s environmental programs with an emphasis on multidisciplinary research.

HMF previously provided funding and worked with the University to develop the Grand Challenges program, High Meadows Preceptorship, and the Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (STEP) program, among others.  

Ferenbach also sees the University as integral to the larger process of applying environmental research to policy at different levels of government.

“If the continuum starts with science and analysis and ends with action, and along the way you have science leading policy, Princeton is at the front end of the continuum,” he said.

The expansion of the University’s Environmental Studies programs coincides with a fall semester with record-high enrollment in Environmental Studies courses.

“The expansion of HMEI research and teaching programs is expected to draw even greater participation among faculty and students from across the disciplines,” wrote Hotchkiss.

Celia also anticipates that students and staff will be even more involved in the next chapter of the institute.

”Environmental literacy is an essential part of any modern education, and we will work to achieve this on campus, while also offering more opportunities to engage the broader public,” Celia wrote in an email to the ‘Prince.’  

Forty-eight percent of the Class of 2020 interacted once with HMEI during their undergraduate years, according to Celia. He hopes student engagement with the institute can eventually reach 100 percent. 

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story inaccurately described the focus of HMF’s gift and used an incorrect pronoun in reference to Celia. The ‘Prince’ regrets these errors.

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