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Academic Excellence and Innovation

IN FOCUS: Seidner Family Executive Director of the Schiller Institute


Laura Steinberg sets the stage for a research explosion.
Laura Steinberg

Laura J. Steinberg has always been obsessed with infrastructure. It started when she was a young girl in New York City, holding her mother’s hand as they took the subway to see the Twin Towers and other iconic buildings going up.

“It was very exciting, there was a kind of dynamism in the air,” she recalls. “I asked myself, ‘How can you construct a subway beneath a river? How can you make it work to serve people in the best way?’ And I realized infrastructure is what makes life in communities possible.”

Fast forward to 2021 and Steinberg—now an internationally respected engineer and academic—is forging new paths as the inaugural Seidner Family Executive Director of the Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society at Boston College. Her title is nearly as long as her stellar résumé, which most recently includes 12 years at Syracuse University in multiple leadership roles, including founding director of the university’s Infrastructure Institute and head of its Center of Excellence for Environmental and Energy Systems.

Steinberg says she is inspired by the Schiller Institute’s potential as a catalyst for interdisciplinary research, and by the support shown by the Seidners and others who have made it possible. “What makes us unique is the complete and total commitment of the University—from the highest levels through to the entire BC community—to the success of this institute and the centrality of its role as a University-wide asset.”

The Schiller Institute will anchor BC’s new science facility, which opens in fall 2021.

A Catalyst for Collaboration

Steinberg’s first days at the Heights were unusually quiet—the COVID-19 pandemic meant no welcome parties or coffee invites to get to know her new colleagues. Still, she wasted no time building the connections that will support the Schiller Institute’s work: convening faculty from diverse disciplines, matching dozens of researchers with new grant opportunities, and helping guide the development of BC’s new science facility, where the institute will operate.

One of her first steps was to organize a series of informal “salons” on her back porch where she gathered new faculty from across the University for socially-distanced discourse. At one, two professors who had just met came up with a new integrated science course that bridges chemistry and computer science in an effort to develop better ways to capture solar energy.

“That’s what came up out of just sitting in my backyard,” Steinberg says with a laugh. “There is such a hunger for this, a real thirst for faculty to work together in new ways.”

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The success we have at Schiller will reverberate in all directions across the University, it will raise our national profile. That’s the vision.

Laura J. Steinberg
Seidner Family Executive Director of the Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society

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In just six months, Steinberg had helped launch half a dozen new cross-campus collaborations in pursuit of federal research funds, bringing together faculty from social work, environmental science, global public health, history, sociology, and more, and helping them navigate the complex, highly competitive application process.

To keep the momentum going, she’s introduced a seed grant program that encourages faculty members to collaborate and a similar grant program for students interested in environmental racism, which will culminate with a symposium at the end of the academic year. Together with the influx of 22 new faculty members affiliated with the Schiller Institute, these initiatives will have a multiplier effect on BC’s current research operations.

“As we bring faculty together and support them, they will find new pathways to further their scholarship and creative activities, publish more research papers and manuscripts, and secure more grants—and then, there’s an explosion of research activities,” she says. “The success we have at Schiller will reverberate in all directions across the University, it will raise our national profile. That’s the vision.”

Learn more about Laura Steinberg and the Schiller Institute: bc.edu/schiller

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