Stacy Godfreey-Igwe sat in her dorm at MIT, staring frantically at her phone. An unprecedented snowstorm had hit her hometown of Richardson, Texas, and she was struggling to contact her family. She felt worried and frustrated, aware that neighboring areas had not lost electricity during the storm but that her family home had suffered significant damage. She eventually got hold of her parents, who had taken refuge in a nearby office building, but the experience left her shaken and more determined than ever to dedicate herself to the fight against climate injustice.
Godfreey-Igwe, the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, has long been concerned about how marginalized communities may bear a disproportionate environmental burden. At MIT, she chose a dual major in Mechanical Engineering with a focus in Global and Sustainable Development, and African and African Diaspora Studies, a specialization she helped establish and became the first student to report. Originally viewing the two fields as separate, she now embraces their intersectionality in her work inside and outside the classroom.
Through an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) project with Amah Edoh, Homer A. Burnell Assistant Professor of Anthropology and African Studies at MIT, Godfreey-Igwe learned more about his Igbo cultural heritage. and hopes to understand what the future of climate change poses for the sustainability of culture. Godfreey-Igwe herself is her family’s “Ada” – or eldest child – a role that bears the responsibility of keeping her family’s culture alive. This sense of responsibility, to her community and to future generations, has stuck with her at MIT.
For the period of self-employment during his first year at the Institute, Godfreey-Igwe traveled to Kazakhstan via MIT’s Global Education Labs. As a student teacher, she taught Kazakh high school chemistry students about polymers and the impact plastics can have on Earth’s climate. She was also an Identity X Ambassador for MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) while there, blogging about her experiences as a black woman in the country. She saw the role as an opportunity to shed light on the challenges of navigating her identity abroad, hoping to foster the community through her messages.
The following summer, Godfreey-Igwe did an internship for the startup Saathi Biodegradable Sanitary Napkins in Ahmedabad, India. While there, she researched and wrote articles focused on educating the public about the benefits of green sanitary napkins for public health and the environment. She also interviewed a director of the city’s Center for Environmental Education, about the importance of uplifting and supporting marginalized communities hardest hit by climate change. The conversation was revealing for Godfreey-Igwe; she saw not only how complex the climate change mitigation process was, but also how diverse the solutions had to be.
She also continued her interest in plastics and sustainability through summer research projects. In the summer of 2020, Godfreey-Igwe worked in a laboratory in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University to create and design models that maximize the efficiency of bacterial processes leading to the creation of bioplastics. The aim of the project was to find a sustainable form of plastic degradation for future applications in the environment. She presented her research at the Harvard National Collegiate Research Conference and received a presentation award at the MIT Mechanical Engineering Research Exhibition. Last summer, she received a grant from the NSF Center for Sustainable Polymers at the University of Minnesota to work on a research project to understand the generation of microplastics.
Ultimately, Godfreey-Igwe recognizes that in order to come up with thoughtful solutions to climate issues, those hardest hit need to be part of the conversation. For her, mentoring is a key way to get more people to discuss sustainability and inclusion. This role is especially important for Godfreey-Igwe as she knows firsthand how important it is for members of under-represented groups to feel supported in a place like MIT. “The experience of coming to an institution like MIT, as a person of low income or of color, can be isolating. Especially if you feel like there are people out there who can’t relate to your past, ”she says.
Godfreey-Igwe is a member of Active Community Engagement FPOP (ACE), a campus social action group that engages with local communities through public service work. First a member as a participant, Godfreey-Igwe became an advisor and then a coordinator; She conducts social action workshops and introduces students to service opportunities both at MIT and around Boston. She says her time at ACE has helped her build her confidence in her abilities as a leader, mentor and cultivator of inclusive spaces. She is also a member of iHouse (International Development House), where she was for three years Co-Chair of Housing and Services.
Godfreey-Igwe is also a one-to-one tutoring for Tutoring Plus in Cambridge, where, since her first year, she has provided STEM mentoring and tutoring to a low-income high school student of color. Last spring she received the Tutoring Plus of Cambridge Unwavering Service Award for her service and commitment to the program.
Going forward, Godfreey-Igwe hopes to use the skills acquired through his mentoring and leadership roles to establish greater collaborative structures on climate change mitigation technologies, ideas and practices. By focusing on mentoring young scientists of color, she wants to build disadvantaged groups and institutions for sustainable climate change research, ensuring that everyone has a voice in the ongoing conversation.
“In all of this work, I hope to ensure that globally marginalized communities are more visible in climate-related spaces, both in terms of who does the engineering and for whom the engineering works,” she says. .