Claire Wayner '22 has been named winner of the Pyne Prize, Princeton's highest distinction.

Wednesday, Feb 16, 2022

Wayner, from Baltimore, Maryland, is a civil and environmental engineering concentrator pursuing certificates in environmental studies and sustainable energy.

She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Tau Beta Pi, a two-time recipient of Princeton’s Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence and a recipient of the George B. Wood Sophomore Legacy Prize. She has also received the Truman Scholarship for public service and the Udall Scholarship for environmental leadership.

“Through her academic work, public service and leadership activities, and by observing Claire in class, it is clear to me that she is the best of Princeton University,” said Gabriel Vecchi, professor of geosciences and director of the High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI).

Wayner’s time at Princeton has been dedicated to what she calls “solutions-oriented sustainability.”

“I apply this approach to both my academic and extracurricular work because humanity is in a dire position due to climate change, and I see my life’s work as trying to fix that,” she said. “This is why I chose to major in environmental engineering: because I love the solutions-based mindset that we engineers use to study and attempt to heal our planet. This is why for the past three years I’ve been doing research as part of Princeton’s Net-Zero America Project: because I want my research to be as focused as possible on what can be done.”

For her senior thesis, Wayner is conducting research related to the implementation of bioenergy as a sustainable, low-carbon energy resource as an extension of her work on the Net-Zero America project. Her research contributes to the goal of mapping out detailed routes for the United States’ transition to a carbon-neutral future.

Her senior thesis adviser, Jesse Jenkins, said Wayner is “brilliant, mature and dedicated to using her talents to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable energy system.” Jenkins is an assistant professor with a joint appointment in mechanical and aerospace engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, and co-leads the ZERO Lab where Wayner has conducted research since 2020.

Wayner’s research experience also includes internships at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory through the Princeton Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative (SINSI) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission through the Princeton Internships in Civic Service (PICS) program.

On campus, she has been a leader of many environmental organizations, having served as president of the Princeton Student Climate Initiative, worked as an EcoRep for the Office of Sustainability, and established the Undergraduate Student Government’s first sustainability committee. A keen outdoor enthusiast, she is the co-founder of the Princeton Birding Society, the captain of the Princeton Climbing Team and an Outdoor Action trip leader.

She has also volunteered in Peru through Engineers Without Borders, written for the Daily Princetonian as an opinion columnist, and is currently a dormitory assistant in Spelman Hall and a BSE interactor, providing support to undergraduates considering engineering majors. She is a member of Forbes College.

“In everything she has been involved with, she is a quiet force that has helped Princeton be better,” said Outdoor Action Director Rick Curtis. “It is people like Claire who give me confidence that we can take on the global challenges that we face.”

After graduating, Wayner will be working on clean energy policy development at RMI, an environmental nonprofit in Boulder, Colorado. She looks forward to continuing to be an advocate for sustainability and to “drawing on the lessons of collaboration and persistence that my time at Princeton has taught me.”

To learn more about Wayner and Potter, listen to their respective episodes on the Office of Admission’s Meet Princeton! podcast.

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