Engineering Postdoc Honored for Public Service

Engineering postdoctoral fellow Leanne Gilbertson was presented Friday, Nov. 14, with the 2014 Yale-Jefferson Public Service Award. The award recognizes individuals who innovatively exemplify Yale’s values of service and achievement, and have a commitment to social responsibility.

Gilbertson, who graduated from Yale this past spring with her PhD in environmental engineering, received the award for her continued work as an advocate for, and a dedicated educator of, young people interested in STEM fields. Considered a “leader among leaders” even among her peers in the SEAS Advanced Graduate Leadership Program, Gilbertson’s outreach efforts have included the creation of an annual Pathways to Engineering Day that brings local middle school and high school students to SEAS to meet graduate students, tour labs, and learn more about engineering. Gilbertson has also had a key role in designing the Yale summer S.C.H.O.L.A.R. program, a selective summer residential program that brings more than 100 New Haven & West Haven public high school students to live and study science for two weeks on Yale's campus.

Following the award presentation , Gilbertson participated in a fireside chat with Stephen Blum ’74, Senior Director for Strategic Initiatives at the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA), and Sam Beard ’61, Founder & President of the national Jefferson Awards Foundation; there, Gilbertson talked about what drives her, as a scientist, to public service and the importance of inspiring future generations of engineers by making the material fun, challenging, and accessible.

“From a young age, my passion was for science and for understanding the world around me,” she said. “Now as an adult, I see that a young person’s curiosity and wonder is infectious—for teachers and other students alike. Programs like Pathways to Engineering provide engaging outlets to promote that curiosity, from constructing weight-bearing towers out of spaghetti noodles to building speakers out of styrofoam plates. We’re making it fun, and so the kids get excited about science.”

Begun in 1972, the Jefferson Awards are widely considered the “Nobel Prize for Public Service.” The national Jefferson Awards program collaborates with Yale administrators, Students and Alumni of Yale (STAY), and AYA to oversee the Yale-Jefferson Awards, which are annually presented to a Yale undergraduate, a student at one of Yale’s professional or graduate schools, and an alum.

The two other 2014 Yale-Jefferson awards were presented to Andrew Klaber ’04, who founded the Even Ground organization to assist orphans in Africa who were vulnerable to AIDS, and senior Leah Sarna, who created Yale’s “KeepSafe” storage facility to hold items for the homeless so that they can apply for jobs, work, or move about freely without putting their belongings at risk. You can read more about all the award winners here.