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$10 million gift to establish new school of climate change studies from Vickie Riccardo
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$10 million gift to establish new school of climate change studies from Vickie Riccardo

Clark University has received a $10 million donation to help establish a new school to further understand and fight the impacts of climate change.

The gift arrives from Clark trustee Vickie Riccardo and her two daughters, Jocelyn Spencer and Alyssa Spencer, a 2017 Clark graduate.

Up to $90 million more is needed to build the School of Climate, Environment, and Society. Clark will turn to fundraising, grants and other sources to fill the gap, said a university spokesperson. The school is expected to open by fall 2025.

Riccardo called climate change “one of the world’s most intractable challenges.”

“Clark’s School of Climate, Environment, and Society will offer a truly interdisciplinary approach to addressing one of the world’s most intractable challenges, drawing from nearly every University department,” said Riccardo’s prepared statement.

The statement continued: “Clark’s approach will distinguish it from other programs at other universities. Climate is a universal, multilayered, multifaceted challenge. I am tremendously excited about the potential to elevate Clark’s distinctive reach and impact through an innovative and inclusive curriculum, rigorous research program, and outreach collaborations.”

A dean will oversee the school’s academic programs, and a national search will be conducted to fill the post, said a university spokesperson. Existing faculty in several of the school’s departments will collaborate in the new school to conduct research and lead community projects to mitigate climate change impacts.

A two-year planning process that involved several dozen faculty and staff led to a recommendation to establish the school. The university’s board of trustees, faculty, staff, students and alumni supported the recommendation.

“We are tremendously grateful to Vickie and her daughters for this transformative gift,” said Clark President David Fithian. “It will make an immeasurable difference for our University and, even more importantly, the world as we are better enabled to bring forward new solutions and have even greater impact.”

Existing climate-focused efforts at Clark include projects in Central Mexico to understand climate, water and social justice issues; generating data in Africa to balance agricultural expansion with conservation; and studying global climate change in polar areas like Antarctica, Siberia and Alaska.

Other projects include predicting economic benefits of water-quality policy developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and identifying areas where preventing the loss of forests and expanding tree cover will create climate benefits.

On that last front, Clark faculty and students have conducted climate research that shows wide temperature disparities in so-called urban heat islands in Worcester. The research identified downtown areas of the city that are at least 10 degrees hotter on some summer days, compared to other parts of the city with more tree cover.

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