Rist Institute for Sustainability and Energy Awards First Fellowships


By Ed Brennen


The university’s Rist Institute for Sustainability and Energy (RISE) recently awarded its inaugural 2020-21 fellowships to Asst. Prof. of Economics Kelly Hellman, plastics engineering major Kerry Candlen and chemical engineering major Maria Fonseca-Guzman.

A collaboration between the Office of Sustainability, the Climate Change Initiative and Energy Engineering Program, RISE brings together the university’s efforts across climate change mitigation, resilience and energy innovation.

The RISE Fellowship Program supports faculty and students interested in pursuing sustainability-related research, education or engagement projects.

Hellman received a $15,000 faculty fellowship to create a new course, The Economics of Climate Change, which will examine the current, measurable impacts of climate change on the economy, human health and the environment. Students will also learn about economists’ predictions for future impacts.

“As climate change now plays a large role in many companies’ decision-making processes, students in any discipline — business, engineering, science, public policy, health — will benefit from this course in their future careers,” Hellman says.

Hellman, who joined UML in 2019, says she was inspired to create the course after learning about the diverse research projects taking place around campus through her involvement with the Climate Change Initiative.

“I would like to introduce students to various UML faculty members’ climate change research to both facilitate their learning and create a bridge between climate change research and instruction,” says Hellman, who will use the funding for a course buyout that will allow her to spend a semester developing the course.

Candlen received a $12,000 graduate fellowship for her research work on creating biodegradable food packaging films made from high oleic soy oil.

Candlen will complete her bachelor’s degree in plastics engineering in December and continue for her advanced degree through the Bachelor’s-to-Master’s program. She will conduct the research with her faculty mentor, Asst. Prof. Wan-Ting Chen.

“If successful, this project can prevent plastic waste from entering landfills or incineration, which are now used to handle food packaging waste materials,” says Candlen, who is from Westford, Mass.

As an undergraduate research assistant, Candlen studied the degradation of food packaging films over long-term exposure to a highly acidic substance: hot sauce.

Maria Fonseca-Guzman, a senior from Georgia, received a $5,000 undergraduate fellowship for a new clean energy research project she is conducting with Asst. Prof. of Chemistry Michael Ross.

Fonseca-Guzman will investigate the unique properties of ultraviolet light-absorbing SnAu metallic nanoparticles, which she recently helped synthesize in Ross’ lab, and look for ways to use them for sustainable clean energy-powered catalysis.

“The work will focus on light- and electricity-driven catalytic approaches that are promising for sustainable chemical production,” says Fonseca-Guzman, who adds that the research could lead to “carbon-neutral solutions to our energy and environmental problems.”