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Kabcenell Foundation awards MITEI $1 million for new curricula

When Paul L. Joskow, the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics, offered a new class on the economics of energy markets, he intended to limit the class to 30.

One hundred students showed up on the first day. "I took 50. That's all the seats there were in the room," Joskow said.

The economics class was one of five new energy subjects offered for the first time this spring, joining approximately 75 others offered across the Institute. There's no doubt that classes on almost any aspect of energy are in demand at MIT. Student enrollment in energy-related classes has tripled since 2002, according to the registrar. But faculty from separate departments can find it challenging logistically to develop interdisciplinary subjects.

Thanks to a $1 million gift from the Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation, the MIT Energy Initiative's (MITEI) Energy Education Task Force will gain a big boost in its ability to develop new curricula and strengthen existing programs, said task force co-chair Jefferson W. Tester, the H.P. Meissner Professor of Chemical Engineering.

"Education of a next generation of energy technology innovators, entrepreneurs, policy-makers--with a passion for environmental stewardship--and a scientifically literate citizenry that can help shape the public discourse on energy and environment is in many ways our core MITEI commitment," said Ernest J. Moniz, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems and MITEI director. "The Kabcenell gift provides the foundation for honoring that commitment."

Designing classes specifically with energy in mind "really adds a new dimension that we haven't had before. A lot of the new subjects we now teach and will develop in the future have a multidisciplinary focus that requires institutional support," Tester said.

The global energy challenge "is a complex, multifaceted issue and it will take all our collective resources to tackle the problem," said MIT alumna Charlene Kabcenell. "Encouraging cross-department collaboration is really important."

The Kabcenell Foundation grant "provides resources that are invaluable to developing these collaborative efforts," Tester said. "It frees up faculty time to develop new ideas. Also, to get faculty across departments to work with one another is pretty neat--we're excited about having that opportunity."

Through a California-based foundation in their names, Dirk (S.B. 1975) and Charlene (S.B. 1979) Kabcenell have been awarding grants in environmental and energy education for several years. Both electrical engineering and computer science graduates, the Kabcenells take a personal interest in climate change issues and alternative forms of energy. (One of their cars is electric and one is a hybrid).

"Energy issues are the defining issues of our times," said Dirk Kabcenell. "MIT has a history of working on problems in the world that really matter and certainly has the capabilities to be a leader in solving this one."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 13, 2007 (download PDF).

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