Recent TC graduates Ray Chen and Erika Kessler have been honored with the Matilda Levy Paper Award on Environmental Sustainability, selected by TC’s Pam Koch and Ann Rivet from the Center for Sustainable Futures. Named for the grandmother of TC’s own Oren Pizmony-Levy, the honor reflects Matilda Levy’s belief that education can solve the world’s most difficult problems, like the on-going climate crisis.

If you are a current TC student and are interested in applying for this award, nominations are due by March 31, 2024. More details about submissions are available here.

Meet Ray Chen (M.A. ’23, Clinical Psychology)

Hometown: Taipei, Taiwan.

How Sustainability Shapes His Work: Chen’s winning paper, “Fatalism and Optimism: Young and Older Perspectives on the Human-Nature Relationship,” explored the relationship between humans and their connection to nature, teasing out the difference in perspectives among younger and older adults. This avenue of study is something that Chen notes is “not commonly researched…and underestimated in its importance.” Bringing awareness to the varying relationships adults have with nature was a particular point of pride for Chen. He’d like to continue this vein of research in the future to help foster deep connections to nature and improve mental health.

(Photo courtesy of Ray Chen)

What Matters: Real-life applications of theory and “how we use research to inform decisions and policy.” While academic work excites Chen as a scholar, he is driven in part by a desire to change the world for the better. Because Chen is interested in utilizing his counseling training to work directly with underserved populations, he is deeply interested in research “that is applicable to people’s daily lives.”  

What’s After TC: Chen is continuing his studies in the counseling psychology doctorate program at Fordham University. Working with Fran Blumberg, Chen is currently researching racism in digital games and how games can be used for learning. Despite the seeming disparity from his earlier environment-focused work, Chen sees potential for an interdisciplinary approach using video games as a means to connect with nature.

Meet Erika Kessler (Ph.D. ’23, Comparative & International Education)

Hometown: Albuquerque, New Mexico and Owosso, Oklahoma.

How Sustainability Shapes Her Work: Kessler’s passion for climate justice is deep rooted, born from her family’s history of displacement from Pitcher, Okla., one of the largest Superfund sites in the U.S. That passion, coupled with a deeply ingrained belief that education is essential, culminated in Kessler’s dissertation and winning paper, “What Future Are We Studying For? School Engagement and Youth Agency in the Youth Climate Movement,” an interdisciplinary exploration of youth climate activist movements.

(Photo courtesy of TC Archives)

What Matters: Collaboration and working with diverse groups of people. “I think it makes better scholarship,…better work and [a] better impact,” says Kessler. The community aspect of both her own scholarship and work coming from other areas of TC, like the Center for Sustainable Futures, is a particular point of pride for Kessler, noting that it was only with the support of her advisors, mentors, community, and the work of youth climate activists that she was able to pursue her dissertation research. 

What’s After TC: Kessler now works as a researcher at the American Institutes for Research. While Kessler’s day-to-day work doesn’t revolve entirely around climate justice, she continues her commitment to the work and was recently selected as a representative strategizing climate education solutions. “I’m very excited to continue this work in a different capacity rather than pure research,” says Kessler.