New Purdue graduate fellowship program designed to prepare interdisciplinary leaders

May 3, 2013  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A student-led initiative has opened the door to Purdue University for a new program designed to prepare the next generation of leaders for tackling complex challenges that require an interdisciplinary-driven solution.

Fellowships for up to five graduate students will be offered at Purdue through the new program, Emerging Leaders in Science and Society, thanks to efforts by Purdue doctoral students Jennifer Burks, Aaron Goldner, Lindsey Payne and others.

Emerging Leaders in Science and Society (ELISS) fellowships will be offered beginning the spring 2014 semester through the Office of the Provost and the Office of Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs at Purdue and American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The pre-application process opens Tuesday (May 7), and formal applications will be taken from June 18 through July 15. All current Purdue graduate students are eligible. For more information, go to

"This new program will help Purdue graduate and professional students understand the complex problems confronting our society and to set and achieve shared goals," said Purdue Provost Timothy Sands. "This one-year, extracurricular experience is suited for students from all fields including science and engineering, professional fields, and the arts and humanities. A powerful component of this new program is that it's student driven."

In the first year, the Purdue ELISS fellows will collaborate with ELISS fellows at other campuses and mentors in different disciplines to examine a challenge in one of two theme areas: health and well-being or energy and environment.

In addition, they will attend training and planning meetings and volunteer 2-5 hours per week to research the impacts of their issue in communities around the country. They also will organize local events, a national briefing, and an online portal to help the public and key stakeholders address these challenges, Burks said.

In return, fellows will learn to apply their expertise more broadly, gain leadership skills, and join a cross-boundary professional community with the drive and talent to tackle society's most complex issues, she said.

"This will be a great experience for students to gain the depth and breadth for addressing the vexing challenges of our world by working with students in other disciplines and at other universities," said Burks, who will receive her doctorate degree in agronomy this spring. "ELISS Fellows from Purdue will connect with other graduate students who are passionate and driven to find solutions to the great challenges of our world today."

Goldner said addressing societal challenges requires collaboration across academic disciplines. But that can be difficult among those who speak in different disciplinary jargon, face institutional barriers and have few professional contacts outside their discipline or region.

"Not only will the ELISS fellows learn to collaborate more effectively, they will become members of the inaugural class of passionate graduate students empowered and equipped to tackle society's toughest challenges," said Goldner, who is receiving his Purdue doctorate degree in earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences this spring.

Purdue participated in a national signature drive sponsored by the AAAS from Oct. 22-Nov. 23, gathering interest from students across all academic disciplines on campus.

Led by Burks, Goldner and Payne, Purdue gathered 156 signatures, finishing third behind the University of Washington (209) and the University of Pennsylvania (170). Invited to join Purdue as founding partners of the ELISS program are Washington, Penn and Stanford University.

"What's exciting is the strength of our signature drive, which had representation from every college at Purdue - from physics, environmental sciences and agronomy to linguistics and history," said Payne, who is pursuing her doctorate degree in ecological sciences and engineering.

Led by AAAS, ELISS unites national leadership and resources with the passion of students from multiple campuses. A group of early-career Ph.D.s with experience in government, industry, and academia founded ELISS. AAAS is a nonprofit organization that reaches 10 million individuals. It draws upon AAAS's experience in leadership development and public engagement, while maintaining the grass-roots, student-driven culture of its founders.

Writer: Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133,

Sources: Timothy Sands, 765-494-9709,

            Jennifer Burks, 812-345-2211,

              Aaron Goldner, 503-544-7170,

              Lindsey Payne, 949-357-4514, paynel@purdue.ed

Related websites:

American Association for the Advancement of Science:

Purdue Office of Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs:

Purdue University, 610 Purdue Mall, West Lafayette, IN 47907, (765) 494-4600

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