2020 Paul Gray Faculty Award Winner: Elsa Olivetti, PhD

2020 Paul Gray Faculty Award: Elsa Olivetti, PhD

“Her dedication and devotion to her vocation as an educator and mentor is unparalleled,” was one of many stand-out phrases nominees used to describe MIT Professor Elsa Olivetti, 2020 winner of the Paul Gray Faculty Award for Public Service.

Each year, the PKG Center has the immense pleasure of granting awards in public service to two MIT students (one undergraduate, one graduate), and one faculty member. Our faculty award, The Paul Gray Award for Public Service, “honors MIT’s 14th president, recognizes a member of the MIT faculty who exemplifies building ‘a better world’ through his or her teaching, research, advising, and service.

Faculty members may have taught innovative courses that engage community expertise outside the boundaries of the classroom. They may have engaged in research relating to public service to address the pressures of social or environmental issues. Perhaps most importantly, they may have inspired and supported MIT students in their own service work through advising and mentoring.

Professor Elsa Olivetti has ticked many of these “boxes.” Her research focuses on improving the environmental and economic sustainability of materials in the context of rapid-expanding global demand. In particular, her research addresses two major problems where solutions could yield significant environmental benefits:

  1. Improving the sustainability of materials through increased use of recycled and renewable materials, recycling-friendly material design, and intelligent waste disposition
  2. Understanding the implications of substitution, dematerialization and waste mining on materials markets.  Her research spans three levels of materials production: operational-level, industrial network-level and market-level strategies.

This work in and of itself aligns with the PKG Center’s mission of advancing the intersection of science, technology, and public service to address the growing social and environmental challenges facing communities around the world. What is all the more impactful is the ways in which Professor Olivetti brings this level of engagement and social practice into her classroom, and therefore into the consciousness of so many students at MIT.

As one student nominator says, “I know that I am just one of many who has been deeply impacted by [Professor Olivetti’s] kindness, generosity, and support. Olivetti tells her students that they should do whatever they’re passionate about, as long as they feel they are having a positive impact on the world. She herself lives this – service to others is her MO. In fact, all of her research is devoted to combatting climate change and finding more environmentally-friendly manufacturing methods. “

Another writes, “[Professor Olivetti] is always extremely supportive in helping us wherever she can—she responds to emails quickly and is always willing to meet. Her expertise in environmental and economic sustainability is awe-inspiring, and she is a role model for the kind of impact I hope to make after graduation.”

Professor Olivetti’s commitment not only the technical work at hand, but also to her students–their wellbeing, their engagement with the world outside of MIT, and their personal growth–sets her apart as the 2020 recipient of the Paul Gray Faculty Award for Public Service.

“Prior to the campus shutdown [due to Covid-19],” one nominator writes, “[Professor Olivetti] brought snacks to every lecture, scheduled one-on-one meetings with students to discuss any concerns (academic or otherwise) they had, and made sure that all aspects of the course were running smoothly and were not a source of unnecessary stress… Post-campus shutdown, she consistently attends online recitation sessions, as well as office hours led by our undergraduate teaching assistants so she can continue to interact with them. Given her intense schedule balancing service, administrative duties, and research, I believe that it is exceptional that she still participates in non-mandatory teaching efforts. She also reaches out personally to students who miss recitations to make sure everything is okay… It is very clear that she truly enjoys working with students and that she deeply cares about them.”

Know a faculty member who is doing great things on campus? Do you particularly inspired and supported by one of you professors? Check out the nomination process for the 2021 Paul Gray Award at MIT to submit their name for consideration.

Tags: Award, Paul Gray Award, Paul Gray Award 2020

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