Princeton ENV senior Claire Wayner wins Pyne Prize

Emily Aronson ・ Office of Communications

Claire Wayner, a senior civil and environmental engineering concentrator pursuing certificates in environmental studies and sustainable energy, has been named one of two winners of the 2022 Moses Taylor Pyne Honor Prize, the highest general distinction conferred on an undergraduate at Princeton. Wayner and co-recipient Christian Potter, a senior concentrating in the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), will be recognized at Alumni Day on campus Saturday, Feb. 19.

The Pyne Honor Prize, established in 1921, is awarded to the senior who has most clearly manifested excellent scholarship, strength of character and effective leadership. Previous recipients include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and the late Princeton President Emeritus Robert F. Goheen.

“Through her academic work, public service and leadership activities, and by observing Claire in class, it is clear to me that she is the best of Princeton University,” said HMEI director Gabriel Vecchi, professor of geosciences and the High Meadows Environmental Institute.

Wayner, who is from Baltimore, Maryland, is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Tau Beta Pi, a two-time recipient of Princeton’s Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence and a recipient of the George B. Wood Sophomore Legacy Prize. She also has received the Truman Scholarship for public service and a 2020 Udall Scholarship for environmental leadership. In summer 2019, Wayner worked with Engineers Without Borders through the HMEI Environmental Internship Program on the implementation of a gravity-fed potable water system in Pusunchás, Perú.

Wayner’s time at Princeton has been dedicated to what she calls “solutions-oriented sustainability.”

“I apply this approach to both my academic and extracurricular work because humanity is in a dire position due to climate change, and I see my life’s work as trying to fix that,” she said. “This is why I chose to major in environmental engineering: because I love the solutions-based mindset that we engineers use to study and attempt to heal our planet. This is why for the past three years I’ve been doing research as part of Princeton’s Net-Zero America Project: because I want my research to be as focused as possible on what can be done.”

For her senior thesis, Wayner is conducting research related to the implementation of bioenergy as a sustainable, low-carbon energy resource as part of the Net-Zero America project. Her research contributes to the goal of mapping out detailed routes for the United States’ transition to a carbon-neutral future.

Her senior thesis adviser, HMEI associated faculty member Jesse Jenkins, said Wayner is “brilliant, mature and dedicated to using her talents to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable energy system.” Jenkins is an assistant professor with a joint appointment in mechanical and aerospace engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, and co-leads the ZERO Lab where Wayner has conducted research since 2020.

Wayner’s research experience also includes internships at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory through the Princeton Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative (SINSI) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission through the Princeton Internships in Civic Service (PICS) program.

On campus, she has been a leader of many environmental organizations, having served as president of the Princeton Student Climate Initiative, worked as an EcoRep for the Office of Sustainability, and established the Undergraduate Student Government’s first sustainability committee. A keen outdoor enthusiast, she is the co-founder of the Princeton Birding Society, the captain of the Princeton Climbing Team and an Outdoor Action trip leader. She also has written for The Daily Princetonian as an opinion columnist, and is currently a dormitory assistant in Forbes College and a BSE interactor, providing support to undergraduates considering engineering majors.

“In everything she has been involved with, she is a quiet force that has helped Princeton be better,” said Outdoor Action Director Rick Curtis. “It is people like Claire who give me confidence that we can take on the global challenges that we face.”

After graduating, Wayner will be working on clean energy policy development at RMI, an environmental nonprofit in Boulder, Colorado. She looks forward to continuing to be an advocate for sustainability and to “drawing on the lessons of collaboration and persistence that my time at Princeton has taught me.”