New PEI director Michael Celia plans to build on Institute’s strengths, expand reach

Morgan Kelly ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute

Michael Celia, the Theodora Shelton Pitney Professor of Environmental Studies and professor of civil and environmental engineering, has been named director of the Princeton Environmental Institute effective July 1. Celia succeeds François Morel, the Albert G. Blanke, Jr., Professor of Geosciences and professor of geosciences and the Princeton Environmental Institute, who had served as director since 2014.

“To me, PEI is one of the great environmental institutes in the world,” said Celia, who has been involved in PEI’s research, teaching programs and governance for many years.

“PEI provides leadership for the broad range of environmental activities on the Princeton campus and beyond,” he said. “Given the importance of environmental studies in the University’s strategic plan, I expect PEI to play an increasingly visible and important role across campus in environmental education, research and outreach.”

Celia has been a member of PEI’s executive committee since 1996. From 1998 to 2004, he served as director for the Program in Environmental Studies. He has been involved with PEI’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative — a 20-year-long University-industry partnership — since it began in 2000. He also has developed and taught several environmental studies courses, including, most recently, ENV 302, “Practical Models for Environmental Systems.” In recognition of his teaching, Celia received the 2017 Distinguished Teaching Award from Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science during the school’s Class Day ceremony June 5.

As director, Celia plans to build on PEI’s many collaborations with researchers and academic departments across campus, he said. The Institute works to encourage comprehensive and multidisciplinary environmental research and activities by establishing partnerships with faculty and researchers from the humanities, natural sciences, engineering and social sciences. Celia wants to continue to strengthen PEI’s relationships with other units on campus, including the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, the University Center for Human Values and NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory located on Princeton’s Forrestal Campus.

“PEI’s historical strengths are in the environmental sciences, with exceptional strength in climate science, including ocean and atmospheric dynamics and land surface interactions,” Celia said. “PEI also has great strength in the broad areas of biocomplexity, biodiversity and ecosystem sciences, as well as hydrology and water science, environmental policy and infectious disease.”

Celia intends to foster increased collaborations between faculty, researchers and students in the natural sciences and the humanities, further developing PEI’s initiative in the environmental humanities. That initiative seeks to bolster the participation of artists, writers, historians, musicians and filmmakers in the study of environmental topics.

“Looking forward, we need to maintain and enhance our current strengths in the environmental sciences while expanding activities in the humanities and social sciences,” Celia said.

Celia also wants to further expand PEI’s outreach and engagement with faculty, students and the public through research, education and events such as public lectures, film festivals and art exhibitions.

Across campus, PEI’s initiatives, including Grand Challenges, provide resources and other forms of support for basic and applied environmental work among faculty and researchers, Celia said. Graduate students aspiring to careers in environmental studies have at their disposal PEI programs such as Princeton Energy and Climate Scholars (PECS) and PEI-STEP Environmental Policy Fellowships, the latter of which is offered in conjunction with the Woodrow Wilson School. Undergraduate students are able to pursue research internships and awards that fund their independent projects. Environmental studies courses such as the recently debuted “Environmental Nexus” seek new ways to ingrain in students the breadth and complexity of environmental issues.

“In these and many other ways, PEI serves Princeton faculty, students and research staff, as well as the community at large,” Celia said. “The global importance of current environmental issues motivates us to increase the size of our footprint off-campus, with a focus on national and international partnerships and collaborations.”